Let’s Play And Follow Wisely, Obaid ur Rahman
Let’s Play And Follow Wisely, Obaid ur Rahman

In art circles the world over, opportunities to play with the “real-virtual” boundary between the viewer and the digital dimension are increasing. Artists are becoming more comfortable with technology and viewers are adjusting to observing artworks on a screen as well.

A recent three-artist exhibition, In Real Life (IRL) at VM Art Gallery focuses on this very boundary between the real and virtual. Taking their cues from existing anomalies between the “real-virtual” aspects of life, residency artists Arsalan Nasir, Obaid ur Rahman and Zeerak Ahmed translate their issue-based physical installations into digital experiences.

Juxtaposing outdated video game features with current hi-tech software, Nasir reminds viewers of the gaming culture frenzy and subsequent digital evolution. His installation, a set of six office cubicles with desktop computers, has three monitor screens on one side installed with video games titled ‘In God we Trust’, ‘Blame Game’ and ‘Press Conference’, in an old conventional format. The other three computer screens contain QR codes of the same games, which can be scanned/accessed/played on home computers and mobiles anywhere, making the office set-up, the desktops and video games obsolete.

Initially, video games were appealing because they were both a virtual /fantasy world and a means to excel at something. Their complex and competitive win/lose features were addictive. An overwhelming public acceptance led to increased comfort with virtual worlds and the pursuit of new means of interaction.

Three residency artists translate their issue-based physical installations into digital experiences

Evolving hand-in-hand with internet culture, the video game industry has undergone dramatic change both technologically and culturally, and the pace of that change is only accelerating. Today, matches taking place between the best players on popular games such as ‘Fortnite’ and ‘League of Legends’ are broadcast live to millions, while thousands fill stadiums to cheer on their favourite gamers. Nasir’s premise rests on revealing the ease with which the digital and the real have begun to intermix into a new digi-reality.

Apnay Mahal Ma, Zeerak Ahmed
Apnay Mahal Ma, Zeerak Ahmed

Technology is not only changing how art is being created, but also what art is being created. Rahman’s artwork, ‘Let’s Play And Follow Wisely’, highlights a real/virtual malaise — screen addiction and excessive dependency on electronic toys and gadgets by children. Rahman is a 3D anamorphic artist and muralist, and the only Pakistani who paints animated murals — this combination gives an edge to his work. His mural can be experienced as a live act, if seen from the proper angle.

An anamorphic image is one that can only be interpreted when viewed from a particular angle or through a transforming optical device, such as a mirror. His mega mural of a child at play, on the gallery wall, transforms into a 4D painting with the incorporation of Augmented Reality (AR). AR is a technology that overlays information and virtual objects on real-world scenes in real-time. It uses the existing environment and adds information to it to make a new artificial environment.

How sound can evoke past realities is the main feature of Ahmed’s sound installation, ‘Apnay Mahal Ma’. Migrants longing for the sights and sounds of homes they have left are the stuff poets and writers have excelled at, but to explore the physical quality of sound to recall sonic memories requires technical assistance. Ahmed’s audio/visual projection suspended in an amorphous space is a nuanced piece of voice overlays and tonal mixes. It recreates her grandmother’s song Suno Sakhi which was passed down to her mother and subsequently to her. This weightless aural rendition reconnecting three generations reminds Ahmed of her origins and brings comforts and meaning to her life.

Video Game, Arsalan Nasir
Video Game, Arsalan Nasir

Unlike complex hi-tech exhibits, IRL is easy to understand because it focuses on familiar relatable issues. Even the art-shy can feel and comprehend its content.

“In Real Life” was exhibited at VM Art Gallery in Karachi from November 16 to November 23, 2020

Published in Dawn, EOS, December 6th, 2020

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