Art Without Media and Artists

Art from data — Aaron Koblin, TED

Art—generated from data, Aaron Koblin/TED

Art is now taking new turns. In the metamorphosis of art, new characters and catalysts are emerging into the play where the individual medium and artists are gradually becoming insignificant than before. Like artificial intelligence in technology, art itself is turning into an independent catalyst of this transformation, and is somewhat working independently off the artists! Specialised formats of art which result in single pieces hanging on one person’s wall are rendering themselves irrelevant. They are now being replaced by a thriving proliferation of mediums with infinite combinations and possibilities. It’s a time when each work is a new experiment, a new format and possibly a completely new style. It’s a turning point of embracing new dimensions of diversity and experiments, and perhaps most exciting time to be an artist!

Transformable form in workspace, self assembly

Transformable, self assembling forms—Self Assembly Lab, MIT, Google

Technology is having a huge impact in these accelerating changes. We have seen data as art, where parts of the works are done by a machine-intelligence and parts by a human. Self-assembling, self-generating objects, forms, patterns and fractals are not new concepts anymore. Blurring these lines between an artist’s planned moves, and the uncertainty of randomness of nature, mathematics, quantum superpositions or AI, is the new reality. Also the concept of collaborative works has gone to a new level, where an entire symphony is composed by random people, or design of a house is crowd-sourced by dozens of architects together. Even simple everyday objects, cellphone photographs and videos are edited, tied and taped to make remarkable works of art! Then there are these blurring lines between performing, visual and experiential arts. A dance choreography, for example, is more than dance nowadays; it is a designed experience. One notices similar things in theatre and film.

Art, now more than ever, is everything, and for everyone. Ai Weiwei famously wrote “Everything is art. Everything is politics.” The critical word here is “everything”! To elaborate, Weiwei said: “My definition of art has always been the same. It is about freedom of expression, a new way of communication. It is never about exhibiting in museums or about hanging it on the wall. Art should live in the heart of the people. Ordinary people should have the same ability to understand art as anybody else. I don’t think art is elite or mysterious. I don’t think anybody can separate art from politics. The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention.” Everything is influencing and shaping one another in this hyper-connected world. As Juhani Pallasmaa said in one of his lectures at Bengal Institute, “Every book that you read, you are a co-author because otherwise it’s just a book and printed letters.” The way readers join hands in creating the meaning of a book, the spectators become artists too! The spectators’ experiences, feelings, understandings and definitions are a part of every artwork.

There is no way to look into art, architecture, literature, politics or even technology and science separately anymore. The quicker we learn to embrace them together as integral parts of each other, the more we will prepare ourselves for the future. 

Originally published on the newsletter-magazine of Bengal Institute, Vas—issue 04

A day with the curators and artists of Dhaka Art Summit

Fine Arts Department, Dhaka University, Muzharul Islam

Dhaka Art Summit is a rare festival of artists and curators from all over the world. The phrase ‘all over the world’ is not an exaggeration here! A group of around 60 artists and curators signed up for a tour of architecture by Muzharul Islam in Dhaka. Two of his masterpieces were in the list of places, the Department of Fine Arts and the Central Library of Dhaka University.

The Fine Arts building doesn’t need any selling, people immediately fall in love the moment they walk in here. Three bus full of guests showed up by 09:30 in the late winter morning at Charukala. The tour was originally supposed to be guided by Nurur Rahman Khan. Muhtadin Iqbal, Sujaul Islam, Farhana Nizam Chowhdhury and me had to take over the role as NRK had to suddenly travel to India.

I explained the group how radical it was when Muzharul Islam decided to design the Charukala building back in 1952. If you look around the works of that time of the world, very few architects were actually taking on the mission of modernism this way. This building was capable enough to compete with any work of that time and still today. With the help of the founder of the Institute Zainul Abedin, Muzharul Islam got the opportunity of freedom of thinking. Mr. Islam got this commission right after coming back from Oregon, and it was his first built project. Eventually it was also the first modern building of South Asia.

The entry to the building disappears in the space, there is no defined entry per se! You were walking in the street, you crossed a threshold and suddenly you get inside the premises! This subtlety of arrival at a place is uncanny, it gives me a feeling as if the moment I embarked on the plinth the architect gave a smirk smile from somewhere, saying “see what I just did there!” Damn you Mr. Islam!

Then it all flows around like liquid space. With gentle, tricky thresholds between public, academic and administrative spaces. Few subtle elements like the perforated jali walls and the spectacular stair, those two walls and the stair gives you an outsider an invisible instruction that this is your comfortable limit, you may not go beyond this area just like that. The fluid space flows around the curve walls of the galleries within the rectilinear flat-plate structure like a magic.

Then the academic spaces begin, the climatically oriented and intricately crafted elements of design! Look at those brick walls and the wooden louvers! He custom-made those bricks just for this building and closely supervised the masonry works throughout the project. The whole idea of pavilion-like structure that perfectly fits into tropical climate is visible all around. You keep going, then suddenly the building turns into an arc, embracing a pre-existing pond. The corridor takes a slight turn towards North, and abruptly ends at the walkway around the pond, with a stark beauty and surprise.

When he was asked how did he come up with this design, his answer was simple, he said that, he just followed the landscape. The site was like a garden full of large trees. His idea was to flow the fluid spaces in and around the trees without cutting any one of them, then embrace the pond. Unlike other projects where people design the landscape around the building after the design, here the landscape was already there, and he designed a building around it.

I showed one of my favorite spots in the compound, the ‘Sculpture pond,’ some curators took refuge there.

We all went to the Central Library of Dhaka University. Which originally was designed as the main public library for Dhaka City. Later the University acquired it as their own. And they have ruined it. This beautiful peace of architecture is now a place of disgust. Extremely poorly maintained, notoriously dirty with no respect to design and art, they have managed to kill everything that was beautiful about this building. For architecture enthusiasts, I’d say, don’t go there to see anything, if you go, then go there to protest. Such utter disappointment from Dhaka University management! Shame on them!

Penelope Seidler, Prajna Desai, Cara Manes, Jeanette Plaut, Jay Levenson Director of International Program and Martino Stierli the Chief Curator, Architecture and Design of MoMA wished to visit two more sites in Dhaka before going back to the hotel or the Summit. Martino’s interest was seeing the recently built mosque by Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury, the Gulshan Society Mosque, and the Aga Khan Award winning project of Marina Tabassum, the Bait Ur Rouf mosque in the North of Dhaka. Along with that, they wanted to visit Bengal Institute and meet Kazi Khaleed Ashraf there. We all hopped on to the van I brought along with me with our driver Tamim. The route was ambitious, as both Bengal Institute and Marina Tabassum’s mosque are far away from the city.

Starting from Charukala towards Gulshan via Hatirjheel, we stopped at Holy Artisan Bakery for lunch. Holy Artisan relocated themselves at a small scale near the Gulshan-2 circle after the devastating incident in 2016. But they are still the best place to eat where I can blindly take any guest with confidence. Everybody loved Holey!

It was quick to reach the Mosque by Kashef. It’s a massive building in terms of being a mosque. Everybody was startled by the fact that it is multistoried and so big, vertically! Personally I am not a big fan of this project though.

The next architectural destination was Marina Tabassum’s mosque Bait Ur Rouf near Tongi. This is one of the project where I take anyone with absolute confidence that they will be blown. And it exactly happened that way. Everybody was stunned by the beauty of this little piece of architectural masterpiece in the middle of nowhere in a remote corner of Dhaka. This mosque is the answer to where modernism and religious structure should go. A perfect harmony of minimalist modernism with spirituality and local community. You have to see it to believe it.

Day 1 of Dhaka Art Summit 2018

Dhaka Art Summit is one of the big events I look forward to! It’s one of those defining festivals of Dhaka that makes this city proud. I feel proud myself to be able to visit this show in my own town!

I like the fact that how they keep it completely open, no tickets, no registration, anyone can simply just walk in. This is exactly what I miss nowadays in most fancy places and events in Dhaka. That simply-walk-in comfort, without much of the annoying security protocols and nuisances, aha, no flinging of those useless, stupid metal detector wands.

Also the types of people who come in here is remarkable. I think brining in new people who would have never visited an art exhibition is a critical measuring point of a show like this. Which DAS2018 has ‘somewhat’ managed to do well. I saw people talking selfies (which is ok!) who I could tell from overheard mutters that they absolutely have no idea about what is going on here. Well, that’s the power and beauty of art, that it is just there, for literally anyone to see, hear, observe, experience and interpret the way they want.

And here comes the play of diversity! This year, DAS2018 is quit diverse! It’s a lovely set of curation, ranging from obvious to out-right daring. Here is the link to the programme brochure to give you some clue. Dhaka Art Summit aptly doesn’t confine itself in a traditional shell of what we used to know as ‘art.’ It embraces various media including music, video, architecture etc. although, I would not say it is something radical. DAS is still conservative at a global scale, but for Dhaka it is quite an eye-opener rebellion for local art scene.

Samdani Art Foundation deserves praise and thanks for creating, nurturing and funding such a remarkable show of an international significance.

A sneak-peek of Dhaka Art Summit 2018

I got lucky to have been introduced to the chief curator of the show Diana Campbell Betancourt, just a few days before the Dhaka Art Summit 2018 began. She gave us a generous tour and a prequel of the big event on January 31st evening that is about to start off from February 2nd at the Shilpokala National Art Gallery in Dhaka.

Highlights of the tour were the works by Raqib Shaw. Borrowed from the British Museum, two of his works worth one million pounds each is now hanging on the walls in Dhaka!