September Issue 2008

By | Art | Arts & Culture | People | Q & A | Published 16 years ago

“New Media inspires me because of its endless possibilities”

– Faisal Anwar

On his recent trip to Pakistan, New Media artist Faisal Anwar, who is involved in several collaborative projects in Canada and is initiating an ambitious project titled ‘Odd Spaces,’ in three cities across South Asia along with the Vasl Artists’ Collective, spoke to Newsline about his past and present work in a relatively new and different realm of art.

faisal-anwar-1-sep08Q: How did you get involved in the visual art/conceptual side of New Media, considering that you had trained as a graphic designer at the NCA?

A: In many ways New Media is an extension of design as well as other forms of media such as theatre, film, storytelling and screen-based and visual arts. I had been involved in most of these activities throughout my college days at the NCA (1992-95), and even afterwards. New Media inspired me, as it combines art, design and technology and then de-constructs them, forcing the viewers or users to interact, based on their cognitive responses, which could be in public or private spaces or in a dining room or a classroom.

It inspired me because of its endless possibilities in terms of working with the elements of design and creating a new experience. Even when I was doing conventional graphic design work, I was always looking to do something new and out of the box. However, I have still not moved away completely from traditional design jobs as I, like many artists, need to earn a living!

Q: New Media art has many facets to it. What is your personal definition of this form of art?

A: New Media or next media is a contemporary way of working with conventions of art, design, technology and moving images. The nature of this process tends to de-construct these conventions, redefine them, mould them and bring them back to connect them with urban cultures and global communities.

Q: The connection between human behaviour and consumerism is an important territory that you explore in your work. Does technology impact on human behaviour?

A: Technology plays a huge role in our everyday life today and one has no choice but to be affected by it. But at the same time, we are generally apprehensive or believe that technology is simply a tool existing to assist us. I believe that it is not as simple as that anymore. Today, human behaviour, our responses and perceptions, and global cultures are evolving around the capitalist environment. Our behaviour has layers of different agendas. On the other hand, we are standing on the threshold of global and cultural conflicts, wars and environmental crises. My work is an attempt towards ‘applied art,’ a journey to create new experiences/forms and stories, which work towards social change in urban cultures.

Q: In the project ‘Diplomatic Immunities,’ you were part of a team, and the artistic director Darren Odonnel set up frameworks in which the audience participated through their own stories and memories of personal trauma. How did this project come together?

A: For ‘Diplomatic Immunities,’ I stayed involved at every stage of the project. Along with providing the visual effects, the idea involved selecting a neighbourhood, then interviewing people and communities and so on. And then, within the process, each one of us had to talk about ourselves and our opinions in front of a live audience.

I had considerable experience in shadow puppetry, theatre and music through my performances at the NCA. We were the first ones to introduce live cinema shadows in Pakistan and worked with issues of child abuse, child labour and Partition. But with ‘Diplomatic Immunities,’ the process had no script, no story. We selected neighbourhoods, took our AV stuff and randomly started talking to the residents. We asked them questions about personal and emotional scars, the end of the world, their belief in God and the worst and best way to die.

faisal-anwar-2-sep08Q: How do you see such a framework working in urban Karachi?

A: A similar project would definitely be doable in urban Karachi, but the responses and reactions to the project would be vastly different. Also, there are numerous ways to approach it, since I feel that there are so many aspects in the life of a Karachiite that one would have to define. An average person would use this as an opportunity to vent some pent-up opinions and frustrations — simply to be heard, to be sympathised with. I feel that in South Asia we are rapidly losing a very precious element of our culture and tradition, which is the sharing of stories, interacting and staying connected with each other. Unfortunately, with every successive visit to Pakistan, I see the distances and differences between people growing.

Q: What project are you initiating in Karachi?

A: The project ‘Odd Spaces’ has been set up with the Vasl Artists’ Collective, as part of their upcoming show, ‘Six Degrees of Separation: Chaos, Congruence and Collaboration,’ in September, at the VM Art Gallery.

‘Odd Spaces’ is a time-and site-specific video installation that examines conventions of everyday life and how human behaviour is modified by unexpected interactions with others in ordinary, shared spaces in urban architecture, such as hallways, elevators and gallery space. It is also a comment on the impact of surveillance, globalisation and global networking on contemporary urban society.

For the Vasl show, ‘Odd Spaces’ will connect three cities in three different South Asian countries, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, through real time video projections relaying simultaneously in each of the selected locations. There will be three video projections at each location (9 in total). One projection will be connected with the remote locations, shuffling the locations one by one in a pre-defined time-lapse, while the other two projections will relay a continuous live feed of the host location. This project creates a connection as well as a conflict, where the viewer is also the object on display.

Q: You had brought the installation ‘Zero Cluster’ to Lahore last year, as part of the Rafi Peer Festival. What was the concept behind it?

A: Zero Cluster’ is a collaborative multi-arts installation, using hybrid technologies, live music performance and real-time video/film with a multi-layer projection experience. This project reflects on unconventional uses of consumer technologies and stretches the limits of integrated experience. It takes both the audience and performers through streams of audio/visual presentations, and provides them opportunities to explore and find ways to connect with the music, the visual imagery and sound. The concept of ‘Zero Cluster’ is based on ‘Deportation,’ the recent album by the Toronto-based band LAL, comprising Rosina Kazi, Nicholas Murray, Lan de Souza and Rakesh Tewari. This album draws upon LAL’s own activist work and life experiences, as well as the global effects of 9/11 and its aftermath.

faisal-anwar-3-sep08Q: Many of the projects that you discussed at the Vasl Artshare in Karachi recently have a strong collaborative nature, such as ‘Double Date,’ initiated by your partner Tazeen Qayyum, who comes from a miniature painting background. This draws on the tradition of ‘tableau vivant.’ What value does collaboration have in your thought process?

A:In most of my projects, collaborations have come up organically, as those projects were developed in a group dynamic. I enjoy working with other creative people, as I get to learn a lot during the discussions and arguments that end up being the essence of the process.

Also, I feel the collaboration is an important structure in the New Media industry. It will be a new way to work in present/future time, where things become too specialised, too complicated or too simple.

Q: You had mentioned in our previous conversation the way New Media artists are re-structuring the structure. What do you mean by that?

A: Since it’s so new, artists are working hard to define [New Media] in the present structure of corporate culture. It’s hard to sell your concept to the CEO of a company or a film department that knows and works in a system accustomed to working well with old media. It is tough to suggest to a new way to develop an idea, a product or a project.

Generally people are not interested in thinking beyond their own vision, and that is why it becomes complicated to break the box or even think outside of the box.

It becomes our challenge to do what we believe in and work towards creating exciting new ways of communication and connecting contemporary urban cultures.