Abhishek Hazra…Immaterial (Based on a conversation over tea)
by Franck Barthelemy
Abhishek Hazra uses language as a tool to create. Writing occupies a major place in his art practice. His works are not biographical. The audience is not offered any ready explanation of what he creates. They are rather expected to interpret on their own. Frank Barthelemy discusses.
Abhishek is one of those artists you want to meet knowing in advance that the interaction will be out of the ordinary. He carefully prepares for the meeting and sends you the samples of his art practise. But no biography. He believes it does not help his viewers. They should focus on the art works and not on him. He does not like people trying to connect his history with his works. There is nothing to understand from his bio and he is very clear about that. He likes people who try to access his works. It might not be easy. It might take more than a few seconds. It might be disturbing, challenging and questioning. But this is what it takes 'to make connections between things'. Abhishek sees his art practise as an 'excuse to talk about things', a kind of 'bricolage'1 he offers to the viewers. He defines his performances and art works as 'pegs'. As soon as he creates, the creation becomes a material thing, a support on which we can build up our own interpretation of the art. That is what Abhishek has been doing for the last decade or so, creating opportunities for the viewers.
Language is a recurrent theme or rather tool in his work. Abhishek plays with words as much as he plays with languages. Writing has a predominant place in his practise. He writes his text about his own works. He writes about other's works as well. He writes fiction. He believes that language 'cuts away material distraction' and opens doors towards the immaterial. When Abhishek calls his website 'floccinaucinihilipilification', the second longest word in English as per the Oxford English dictionary, he illustrates his ability to fool around with words and his dexterity to use words that catch attention. He is a master at doing it. He selects titles for his art works with a delicate humouristic precision. He wants to be 'as straight as possible', says he. Shouting Needham from the Rooftops2 is a great example of Abhishek's relationship with languages. In a 7 minute video, the artist explores how a language, in that instance, Bengali, can be wrongly associated with a religion, in that instance Islam, based on partial knowledge on a population. To conduct his demonstration, Abhishek shouted one of Joseph Needham's texts on history of Chinese sciences in the street of Vauxhall (UK) at typical prayer's time. Abhishek refreshed my memory explaining Joseph Needham was this established British scientist who tried to convince the scientific community in the 50s that most sciences find roots in ancient China. In a cold war context, he probably was a great political tool for the Chinese government. In one performance, Abhishek deals with the language as an identity, the language as a communication medium, the language as a political tool and the language as a chain of noises. It makes the viewers, rather the listeners, deep into a world of immateriality. It takes us to uncomfortable zones where meaning is not obvious and requires thinking. The performance is typical of the artist's willingness to engage his audience, to make his audience grasp his work and experiment it. We might also find here an interpretation of the 'Nouveau Roman' that the artist likes so much. Though he does not like dropping names and prefers hiding references in his works, Abhishek admits being a fan of Samuel Beckett or Georges Perec who were both masters to talk about nothing and making it a unique experience for the readers.
There is a quest I particularly appreciate in Abhishek's works, the search for structure. Not that he wants to find structures and impose them. The artist is interested in exploring order vs. disorder, digging into the 'grey space' between two interstices. He likes the small cracks that no one seems to see but that he spots. He likes connecting the unusual with the unexpected. He finds 'things' to connect in his everyday environment, reading, memories or his researches. There is a hunger to represent complexity in a simple and visual way; I was about to add in an aesthetic way too though I believe the artist would reject that qualification. Take the good old sin(x) trigonometric function that most of us have buried in the category of the bad memories imposed by a tyrannical mathematics teacher. What can he do about it? Laugh! In Laughing in a Sine Curve3, Abhishek strives to perform the regularly-going-up-and-down curve by laughing and crying, two representations of well categorised opposed emotions. Abhishek transformed a complex mathematical model understandable by few into a simple representation understandable by many. Or is it the other way around? Has he tried to represent in a mathematical model the complexity of human emotions? The answer to the question is probably irrelevant as long as the artist engages his audience in a discovery journey. Taketa Maluma with Google Glas4 is another such journey that explores patterns and structures. This time he takes us to a Google algorithm. Google has developed smart word recognition algorithms in order to impose personalized ads to every user. Abhishek used different inputs (Tintin and the Prisoners of the Sun, Levi Strauss's Myths & Meanings). He studied, represented and juxtaposed the results with Matisse's patterns. Tintin's text makes you a holidayer or a naval engineer. Levi Strauss' text makes you a banker or an IT geek. How immaterial is that? It makes me suddenly think about Milan Kundera's famous book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. You start your life as a surgeon and finish as a farmer. Human beings are full of surprises. Attempts to find models and patterns will always be fascinating I suppose. Abhishek will find more to bring us and will surely astonish us.
Abhishek has another passion in life: science. Whether it is the history of science, scientific errors and controversies, anthropology or history of ideas, he is fascinated and finds their great source of inspiration, or shall we say an immense field of potential connections. He reads original texts. He attends seminars. He conducts personal researches. He experiments and challenges status quos. He looks for the unsaid. To that extend, I found Let a Thousand Proteins Bloom5 an interesting way of doing it. Did you know you can produce ammonium nitrate out of breast milk? The milk that is supposed to be the healthiest can be turned into a lethal explosive. Abhishek's challenge about what is seen as good and what is seen as bad questions our stereotyped perceptions. At the same time, the useless deconstruction of the molecules brings useless knowledge to the viewers. You said immaterial … The way Abhishek talks about it brings lots of insights into his practise: 'I am serious about being non serious'. It gives him a lot of freedom obviously. It also gives him thousand of opportunities to engineer and re-engineer ideas. He lately exhibited in Art Basel To Know It Like the Back of Your Small Intestine6. Maps, seismic recordings, strange shapes floating around. The installation appears to be a summary of Abhishek's relationship with science, curiosity and opportunity.
Through language(s), models or sciences, Abhishek is re- engineering our perception of life. Every new work is a surprise. Every new surprise brings food for thought. Absolutely delicious if I can dare the metaphor!
1. French for do-it-yourself
2. Single channel video, 2008
3. Single channel video, 2008
4. Single channel video, C-prints, 2009
6. Installation, 2011