Of chance and other encounters

September 18, 2022

In her solo exhibition at Canvas Gallery, Aroosa Rana contemplates the mysteries of existence

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referred synonyms for the word ‘probable’ include: likely, expected, anticipated, predictable, foreseeable, presumed, potential, credible, possible, feasible. In this dictionary description, one can add ‘maybe’, and ‘perhaps’ also. More words and the confusion continues. The only clarity amid this list is that human beings spend most of their time, often their entire life, in the shadow of doubt.

Or chance. Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilika– on the first page of his novel The Severn Moons of Maali Almeida– declares, “There are only two gods worth worshipping. Chance and electricity.” Like electricity (which is described as power too), the importance, impact, expanse and effect of chance are confronted by all of us, since in many stages of our lives, chance is the supreme, the ultimate and the most deciding factor.

For creative individuals, the stroke of luck is the hand of chance. Sometimes you start a project, and some unplanned encounter, unintended experience, unusual observation make you change the tack. A mistyped word, an accidental mark on canvas (which remained a source of inspiration for the Spanish painter Joan Miro), a miscalculated move in a film, frequently bring brilliant outcomes. So an artist, writer or other professional of a similar type tends to think about the nature of chance. Not more than multiple variations/ versions of a certain situation, which surprise or shock those who are so ingrained in the regular pattern of reality – the cycle of routine.

Aroosa Rana in her new digital prints and video installations (from her solo exhibition Probable Disbeliefs, September13 to 22 at Canvas Gallery Karachi) contemplates on this aspect of existence. In order to develop her ideas and sharpen her imagery, she compares two disciplines of human knowledge/ creativity. Stating that “I initiated a dialogue between mathematics and visual arts and the works are an outcome of this integration”.

Both mathematics and art negotiate with abstraction, as well as with long chains of possibilities.

Taking inspiration from this dichotomy and connection, Rana has constructed layers of possibilities that appear related, logically joined and similar with minor differences; but in their aesthetics these works indicate something larger and far beyond what seems to be presented. In her prints, there are several arrangements of three women, wearing identical white shalwar and kamees, sitting on a couch of dark grey.

Rana has based their setting, composition, and looks on the variations of mathematical formulae, like the number of a dice’s counts. The artist mentions the idea of vastness attached to that small unit, which, with its six sides, when paired with another, contains a large number of possibilities.

Aroosa Rana’s work could be a comment on how simplicity, banality and familiarity of life, situations, characters and combinations are neither perceptible nor predictable. In her print on archival paper titled, 50% Promising Possibilities, she has created a group of three females, as the grid of nine pictures, by altering their grouping. Same characters, similar setting, ditto compositions that remotely look like a repetition (a feeling endorsed by solidity of the sofa set, standard colour of the background and uniformity of floor), but each is a unique piece, enhanced by the shift of flower bouquet from one hand to another.

Rana has been investigating this game of hide and seek by shuffling the focus and altering the required order, in the past, with work containing rows of flowers being at an official banquet, in which all the dignitaries got blurred and non-existent. In a sense that body of works (from her solo exhibition, part of the Cross-pollination Series in Mississauga – August 3 to13, 2018) could be connected to her new art pieces (as the title of another solo show Suspended Disbelief echoes her present theme). The artist has pointed out on an infinite number of possibilities that are predictable but not surmised. Like all the possible moves in a chess game.

In her other print Predictable Possibilities, Rana indicates how differences can be managed, controlled and tamed. Three sequences of three female figures are replicated within the picture frame in which women change their positions, but the position of the bunch of flowers is markedly significant. It is placed on the floor in the left panel, while held by humans in the picture on the right. The content, quest and question continue with a third work with comparable concerns (Probable Impossibilities). There are familiar models, identical dresses, usual settings and similar flowers; yet the equation changes drastically. The top four sections are without human models, but the empty sofa set, and flowers in a glass vase, are varied – in an illogical scheme. The lower half of the same composition contains three women, sitting formally, perched as if falling, or in a slightly angular position, with the obvious tilt of settee either to the left or the right.

With its sparse elements, carefully chosen colours, characters and cropping of the composition (all reminding one of a mind tuned to the starkness of a mathematical equation), these works look like the poetic essay on a philosophical question illustrated through characters who, in their placement, expressions and attires are not much different from the signs and numericals of a statistical formula or equation. Rana has achieved her ‘content’ not only by varying her models and props, but also by treating them as part of a greater, larger and disinterested truth.

The game of possibility, like fascination with arithmetic riddles – continues in another digital print Probable/ Improbable, in which instead of house-help, the artist acts as a pair in each of the 20 panels, comprising her interaction with her other self in the presence of a chair. In some, both of them (actually the single human) are standing; in others, sitting around the chair; or one in the chair and other standing next to it; behind; in front; leaning; balancing; positioned on the side; holding the backrest – there are 40 ways how to engage with a chair. Interestingly the artist has carefully chosen a white shirt and an orange trouser in each visual, so the concept of duality continues: two colours on one body, two people who are one individual – a human being and a piece of furniture.

One realises and recognises that the artist is striving to create this league of sophisticated work about logic and chance and the imperceptible difference between the two. At the same instance, the work can also be read as a note to post-human condition. There is hardly a difference between living beings, and the cluster of flowers, and an industrial product such as a sofa set. Likewise, human figure and a chair participate, equally to concoct a narrative; and maids and the maker of these images appear in front of the lens as solid, as static, and as remote as any household item.

Perhaps, probably, arguably, and imaginably, another context – if not the major content of her work – is, that it is not a piece of dice, or some shuttled objects, but humans embody all these options of chance, probability, predictably, impossibility; because mankind, as per ancient Greeks, is the measure of all things.


The writer is an art critic based in Lahore



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