Breaking barriers of time and space

Artist Rashid Rana talks about creating regional pavilion as part of contemporary art exhibition Venice Biennale

Inside, there is a surface where the audience in Venice are projected through live-streaming. PHOTO: SHAFIQ MALIK/EXPRESS


‘My East is Your West’, a joint project by two contemporary artists, the Lahore-based Rashid Rana and Mumbai-based Shilpa Gupta, was recently showcased in the city. Set in the heart of public property, Liberty Market chowk, this is the first of many public art projects undertaken by the Lahore Biennale Foundation (LBF) in collaboration with Gujral Foundation.

The project offers a two-way window between Venice, Italy, and Pakistan and India. The identical rooms have been created as part of Rana’s works for the Venice Biennale, through which he aims at breaking physical barriers of time and space between the people in Lahore and Venice. “Over a series of semi-immersive settings, visitors will experience a meditation on the liquidation of time and space, which will challenge their preconceived notions of fixed coordinates in either,” said Rana.

He recalled that the idea for a regional pavilion came like an epiphany two years ago when he met Feroze Gujral, art-enthusiast and owner of the Gujral Foundation. “I met Gujral at the last Venice Biennale in 2013 and we both sulked over how neither India nor Pakistan had a pavilion,” he said. “I was also aware that art transcends such categorisation, so we wondered how to make sure that creative practitioners from Pakistan and India are represented at the Venice Biennale without drawing a line around their works,” he added.

White on the outside, the room has been installed in Liberty Market and has been decorated in a way identical with the room created in Palazzo Benzon, Venice. Inside, there is a surface where the audience in Venice is projected through live-streaming. While the backdrop in the rooms is exactly the same, the audiences on both sides are diverse. This way, the audiences in the two spaces become as much a part of the artwork as they are spectators.

Rana shared, “While making these works, an almost irrational desire to feature Lahore was working itself on me, and I’m lucky to have received support from the LBF.” Qudsia Rahim, director of the LBF, stated, “The partnership between the LBF and Rana fit neatly as we both seek to engage the public in art.”

Rana’s approach to art is similar to that of Gupta, who explores the relationship between the citizens and the state. This facilitated smooth conversations between them when they visited the Palazzo Benzon together at the start of the project. “Our conversations at the time were important since they helped us identify broad common concerns in our practices, such as visual perception, location and dislocation, and an individual’s transaction with authority,” he said. “Since then, we have been working independently on our respective works but remain in touch over email. Our correspondence is both delightful and invigorating.”

Of his personal artistic vision, Rana said, “I’m interested in the negotiation between the actual and the remote in constructing reality. The former is direct sensory experience with the body as the site of knowledge, while the latter is made up of indirect sources of knowledge, which may be as diverse as the internet, history and collective knowledge.” He added, “I don’t subscribe to an East-West dichotomy and don’t think the two are polar opposites. This is one of the reasons why I’m interested in unsettling the ground beneath our feet with this project.”

Rana looks forward to the fun, surprising and meaningful ways in which audiences in Pakistan and Venice will interact but he hopes it will give rise to introspection about the fallibility of location and chronology. ‘My East is Your West’ is the Lahore Bienalle Foundation’s first of many projects ahead of the first Lahore Biennale, which is set to take place in 2016. Based on the model originally started in Venice in 1895, it hopes to offer critical breakthroughs in the ways visual expression can be produced, experienced and examined within the city. ‘My East is Your West’ will be on till October 2015.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2015.

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