ll-seeing, all-knowing, can we predict the future? It all depends on the perception of it. On a pragmatic level, the truth is that applying any logic to the future manifestation is impossible. However, nourishing the agility to improve continually in the present-day and positioning our thought processes to prepare for unpredictability to make quick, intelligent pivots when the time comes makes the idea appealing.
Rashid Rana and Risham Syed, the curators of the exhibition Co-Exist, Co Exit – The Future was Today, are prolific visual artists and esteemed educators. They brought forth select creative practitioners in the visual arts and design who bridge cultural, chronological and geographic chasms. The exhibition was part of a thought-provoking conference called School of Tomorrow, Guardians of the Future – a brainchild of a far-sighted visionary Kasim Kasuri. It was held at Beaconhouse Newlands Campus. The convention sets standards for acquiring new knowledge to prepare today’s educators and learners as enablers of the future.
Whether paying attention to a piece of a systematically organised orchestra or listening to some spur-of-the-moment music, hearing is a unique sense that influences us in numerous ways, not just elevating emotions, feelings and moods. Flow – An Experiential Journey, a multimodal interactive installation by designer Usman Saulat, allowed the viewer to experience sound in a non-traditional - sonic and visual - manner. Imagine your arm gestures animating the visuals and determining the volume of the video on a large, highly illuminated screen. It leaves you with a profound emotional effect; it is as if you are a musician, a performer, a filmmaker and an enthusiast who can captivate the elements of nature at the same time. It is awe-inspiring trans-fixation. Our perspectives shift as we mature into adults, and many of us develop a degree of cynicism.
An enormous metal piece with a mirror-like surface on its sides was placed in the middle of the exhibition area titled Don’t Grow Up, it’s a Trap. It’s an offering by multi-disciplinary Diaspora visual artists Qinza Najm and Saks Afridi. This interactive sculpture with a long plank balanced in the middle on a fixed support, known as a see-saw, permitted the visitors to illustrate the loss of innocence in childhood. It cleverly played with the regular human factored ergonomic, in which sitters on each end see their reflection in the mirror, not the sitter on the other side. The interactivity was aimed at tearing down the barriers that separate us by embracing people for who they are (without labels).
In an exciting installation titled Live the Impossible, seasoned visual artist, Imran Ahmad Khan, showed a trap between a subtle protest of form and material. A dismounted ceiling fan, supposed to cool down a room in summer, had ended up under a step ladder. It could no longer function as rotating blades were blocked by the four legs of the ladder. The concept of the home as a work-in-progress served as the foundation of Sara Aslam’s trans-disciplinary installation Utopian Fragments.
A home represents a location one yearns for beyond-the-immediate. The collection of botanical readings, plants and various organic materials — such as soil, crop fibres and cow dung — modified or preserved, was meticulously arranged. These objects were pinned up on soft boards or perched on various plinths and food shelves. The multimedia display provoked a sense of modularity to visualise multiple ways to imagine a perfect home.
Did the age of information technology bring us a different viewpoint to revisit history and bygone civilisations? Artist Abdul Rehman’s practice revolves around bringing the past to the present and amalgamating it with the future.
Has the age of information technology brought us a different viewpoint to revisit history and bygone civilisations? Abdul Rehman’s practice revolves around bringing the past to the present and mixing it with the future. His painted canvases turned into augmented reality, seamlessly merging a real and a virtual past, called The New Past. As a creative practitioner, Airaj Ahmed Khan’s concern was examining how people perceived good, bad and evil. It demonstrated the subjective aspect of morality. Depending on the user’s replies, the arbiter made various decisions in his artificially intelligent trial chamber in a short video. To demonstrate that human character is not universal and that human judgement is dependent on the circumstances, Airaj used the AI as a moral proxy while denying the user any background.
Rehman Zada’s screening of a video installation, One and Many, was a juxtaposition of human fingers interacting with the track pad of a laptop that wasn’t connected to the outside world. Rehman created an analogy with the rendering technique known as pardakht in the miniature tradition. The fundamental notion of his practice is the use of things to archive time, repurpose obsolete technology and generate new perspectives and narratives.
Abbas Murad’s Talking Images was an augmented reality-based immersive experience. The experiment was about a sensitive topic, body dysmorphia. It used three-dimensional animations mapped on 3D printed figurines, added with binaural sound to peek into people’s minds about this lesser-known mental health condition. Basil Malik’s virtual reality demonstration, Interactions with Impossible Infinities, flaunted the fractals (geometric shapes containing detailed structures at arbitrarily small scales) from the universe and consciousness using Oculus headsets. The cosmos seemed composed of limitless self-similar patterns at all scales.
Educator and artist, Ejaz Nadeem Ahmad, made people experience The Fall, Turtles All the Way Down through VR headsets. A healthy fear of heights is understandably a logical tendency, instinctive self-preservation. Even though we all fell down, we all got back up because we didn’t want to be there.
Fatima Ashraf, a multi-disciplinary experience designer, used her visual and material exploration to examine the subject of acoustics and damped oscillations with everyday objects with a range of frequencies. The human body becomes a component of this circuit. It plays music on the items placed on a table when vibrations are detected and received by sensors on one’s skin through touch that combine these mechanical vibrations — our capacity for understanding oscillatory data results in an auditory experience that generates pictures.
A serene projection mapping project, Still Conversations, by the visual artist Maryam Ashraf, explored the ideation of a reflective conversation with water. Maryam developed these concepts via daily observation, such as the movement of polythene plastic sheets that she compared to ocean waves. She has created this installation using sand, stones and a projection to blur the line between life in digital media and reality.
In the more overarching schema — the internet of things, technology in its simplest form has added multidimensional tangents for visual communicators to manipulate human emotions and thoughts to explore unprecedented experiences — both neural and sensorial. The technology has significantly impacted dissemination and decipherment in the recent history of meaning-making and its rhetoric. The future isn’t as distant as some of us think.
The writer is an art/ design critic. He heads the Department of Visual Communication Design at Mariam Dawood School of Visual Arts and Design, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore