Maudlin Gremlin and Other Monsters

“People confuse rudeness with intellectual honesty and fail to notice that intellectual honesty is required only of intelligent people – others can go fuck themselves.”

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The deception of memory makes it impossible to identify real. I am grasping at straws. I started writing this in February, when things were different. I don’t know why I bother to write things down. I am hopelessly incompetent with words. Recently, somebody I don’t know emailed me and said that they could relate to the crap on this blog “because you write in a very mundane, natural way” and I wanted to go hide in my overflowing closet. And perhaps never come out.

Can’t anyone see that I live in fear? I am overwhelmed with fear and confusion most of the time. Everything I thought was real was at best a temporary illusion. All the myths fall apart. What is left behind is something broken and empty. When they talk about the absence of presence and the presence of absence I want to cackle hysterically. I am absent.

I want to tell myself mundane shit about how this is a passing phase, but my gut tells me otherwise.

Don’t you see, I am a monster too.

Debunking the Myth of the Artist?

I stopped writing. Suddenly, I had nothing more to say than the occasional 140 characters on Twitter. But a student showed me something she wrote – something so honest and painful and here I am again. What particularly struck me was the belief of my students that anything was possible in my studio class. Anything. And that, just that, reduced me to tears. What have I done?

In building the myth, I broke my own heart.

This myth of the artist is a notion I need to address over and over – in my work and in teaching young people who want to make things. The sheer responsibilty of it scares me silly. Every day I am frightened of what I might be doing. I am not ashamed, I am simply very, very scared.

I found something I wrote a few years ago in a statement of purpose for something I barely recall.  And all I could read in it was the damn myth:

If I were to really think about it, the question simply asks me who I am. Or maybe, what I am. Or what I think I am. This, ofcourse, existing within the context of art-making and studying art. Then who indeed is this I? And what makes me different or distinct as a student and an artist? I am compelled to make art. Whenever something happens, I make art about it. I don’t even know what to call it anymore. It has become a default process. A reflex action. I document my life through my work. I tell my story through my work. It is my language – a language I’m still learning how to speak.

It is the honest truth, but what rot! It sounds like emotional bullshit.

Can I claim this makes me distinct? I’m just trying to understand who I am. Perhaps my work can help others understand something. I question the functionality of art-making. I question what it can do. I value teaching, which has helped me as I have helped my students. I want to continue teaching for the rest of my career.

And then the justification:

There is a question others ask me, and I ask myself: What good is any of this? What is the point of it all? I cannot know everything all at once but I do know it’s important in the greater scheme of things. Artists represent the time and space of now.

It all sounds so thought out and complete and utter bullshit at the same time. The truth is, I don’t know what good it is anymore. I don’t know if what I do makes any sense. I have no clue.

Yesterday, a friend told me quite truthfully that he didn’t get my work. And he sounded apologetic. And that made me very sad indeed. Why should he feel the need to apologize? You either like something or you don’t. You either care or you don’t. This insane pressure to understand and appreciate art also frightens me. All I did was make a few drawings because I was pining away for somebody who doesn’t give a shit. And then I put it up on the wall to satisfy my exhibitionist urge to display my tragic broken heart. And my friend was apologizing for not getting it and for not liking it as much as he assumed I wanted. So this is what it comes to?

I am sick of the myth. I am sick to death of the pressure this myth puts on other people. Good people who are kind and generous. Also, I hate what the myth does to us – to the artists who live it. To young students who believe in it because you (as their teacher/mentor) look so cool spreading it like it was the absolute. You make them think it is all OK and then they face the world as handicapped as you are. With no weapons but the myth itself.

Loadshedding

Today I stopped pretending I was in idyllic serenity. This is a funny kind of hell. The heat makes it worse. This funny kind of hell burns me up and burns me down. My feet are burning in my silver shoes.

This loadshedding situation is never going to stop, is it? I cannot believe there was a time when I hoped that it might someday. I have this sinking feeling that perhaps the people who are supposed to fix problems are not really capable of fixing anything. Infact, they might not be the least interested in fixing anything either. So I grit my teeth and suffer the heat and the lack of electricity.

How am I supposed to work in this madness? Sometimes, all I want to do is find a cooler place to crawl into and sleep – and dream. Dreams are better than this. In my dreams, I draw all the time. In my dreams, it isn’t so hot. I’ve heard great art comes from great suffering but seriously, I need to stop suffering to make something. The sweat in my eyes makes it a little difficult to even stare at blank paper.

Soon the batteries will run out and I’ll have nothing to do but stare at the walls and sweat. I know I sound like a ridiculous brat complaining about loadshedding when there are people out there with less. Even so, I am sorry but I am suffering. And I cannot help but whine. Even if it does make me sound like a twat.

Inbetween Days

The summer is always a dangerous time. I hide in the summer. It is an old habit. And so, I find myself sleepless and introspective, with too many images floating in my head. I have no choice but to make sense of them. If nothing, I might produce tangible images even if they are only castles made of sand.

What is incoherence? When does meaning collapse? What is responsibility? My body in space is moving and I make a space, a shape in the world. My language rides on my back. My culture rides on my back. I cannot shake them off.

These are inbetween days. And I suffer them. Suffering reveals what is otherwise hidden. But sentimentality can be cloying. Orlan calls her art carnal. Is that like pinning butterflies on walls?

Once upon a time, a woman called Sumaiyya said intellect is irrelevant. She flipped her dark hair and turned her insane gaze on me and said find your instincts. Intellect is illusion.

The instinct to flee and hide takes over. But what about movement and line? One cannot ignore the flesh of the line. Requiems. Subtle grays of memories. Distracted by anticipation of passion. See, connect and do. Connect the dots. Connections are liberties taken in whimsical moments. Yellow piss in a bar. Objects of desire. All flesh and not flesh. So looking for flesh becomes a purpose. Even in lines moving downside up and sideways.

derivations and real behaviors
filling and emptying shells
flickering between violations
inspite and despite visceral visions
deleting instances of discomfort
making clear and unclear remote and indistinct
traitorous, perfidious scum rising to the surface
inbetween days

The Pain of Perspective

Pain: 1. A symptom of some physical hurt or disorder; 2. Emotional distress; a fundamental feeling that people try to avoid; 3. A somatic sensation of acute discomfort; 4. Something or someone that causes trouble; a source of unhappiness

Afflicted with insomnia, I can’t help thinking about where I am now. Everything that surrounds me seems surreal at best. This place, this time and all that has happened in a past few years. Nobody said it would be easy.

 Embody: 1. Represent in bodily form; 2. Represent, as of a character on stage; 3. Represent or express something abstract in tangible form. Personify. Substantiate.

Is meat an abstract notion? Is flesh an abstraction?

On 03/27/07 navin hyder wrote: they dont represent the body, they are the body.

Bodily discharge and libidinal expulsions. These are some of my favorite things. What makes the body real? A sensory experience, perhaps. The realization or awareness of physicality. Such is the body. What is my body?

What is inside me? Inside the ox? Are we all the same inside? Confess your sins. And even then, what is inside remains. Practice with patience your private voyeurism. Why is my body changing? My body, my personal mythology; movement, to and from. Where does it begin and where does it end?

I hate hearts, he said. Have some if you want some.

Some things are felt but not seen. Pulling it out from somewhere, you don’t know where it came from. You see the transparent? You see and don’t see. Not intrusive? Intrude with transparency. Words become images and now what do you see? Do we see anything at all? Inside dark places and spaces, do you see anything at all?

Nonsensical truths in make believe.

Round and round I go. Nonsensical truths in make believe, indeed. Where do all these dreams come and go? I wonder why things are the way they are. Why must I recalibrate myself to fit into spaces that I don’t even care for?

Dream – collaboration between A and Nadia, netmedia drawing, 2005

Memory is seductive. It draws you. You draw it. Losing sense of self. Seductive poetic fantasies. Tired sun caught in a net. My body in space. Spaces insideout and outsidein. Strange powers. Some stories never get old. Light and dark and shade. So long Mr. Grey.

Pulling it out of somewhere. You don’t know where it came from. Drawing it out. You see the intrusive transparency now? Membranes and skin. Seductive veils. Do I see anything at all? Meat. If you cannot see, then you can only feel.

Maybe baby. Things could be the same yet different. Duality vs. Unity. Many vs. One. How now cow? She cries, she flies. Do you remember anything Nadia?

Memory = Lies?

We are all liars? Cutting ties, building lies. Forgetting and unforgetting. What is the space between? Sitting here, I can’t tell. Where am I situated? Between truths and lies, maybe.

Isn’t everything a pattern? Looking for signs in the dark; god, have you left me in the dark? Looking for signs. They were looking for perfection. Humans being.

There is something about spaces. I make a space. I make space.

Hysterical notions. Out of touch. Out of reach. Take it to my knees. There is no substitute for a one way street. Closer now. Parts and one. Soul and identity. Identifiable categories of soul within outside manifestation. Slip into madness. Slip into what is right and wrong. What is normal? I have a perverse interest in perversion.

What isn’t transgression? Stay up and make some memories. Who is watching me smiling to myself as the orange lights pass by the window? Midnight rolls. Living within structures and systems. Don’t you dare! But it’s only one foot out of the door.

Do you freefall once the rules are gone? Do you fall apart when there is no up and down?

I dance in your head and I make disco lights. I’m a dancing brain. Jiggling encephalon. I’m more man than machine. What about you? Are you meat?

Let’s go eat the heroes. Let’s go eat right and wrong. Up and down. Even sideways. I don’t know right from left anyway. Or left from right. But life goes on.

How many of my memories are not made up? With my mind made up too; a game of pretend. A story told and told again, a ball of string growing and growing and growing…and then myths emerge. My personal myths. How many lies, Nadia? She doesn’t know, really. The smell of bread at age five, at the little shop down the street. The red airplane. Look, it really flies. Dusty days. Remote control. Mangoes become soap. Rub it all over your body. The mango seed is orange soap. Mosquitoes like dots on my arms. Feeling my stomach curve outwards. What’s happening to me?! Bumps and lumps. Fingernails painted halfway. Henna sometimes. Isn’t it beautiful. Goat head in the driveway. Blood on the streets. Lazy days hiding from the sun. She’s crazy, that daughter of mine. Weirdo, freak, lunatic. She screams when they hurt her. Why doesn’t she stop screaming? She’s just hysterical, that girl. Oh she’s a cow. Look at her stare wide-eyed at everything. Ugly girl! Your feet are too big. Nobody will marry you. Where does the rage come from doctor? Why does she act so strange? What’s wrong with you?

Nadia, you aren’t good enough.

Where does the screaming come from? Who decides? Who makes the rules? I watch them – so self satisfied in their truths, but all I see is discrepancies. I’ve fallen in love. I’ve fallen out. I’ve fallen into my body. Such a shameful thing. Why did you give it to that boy so easily? You’re just easy. Bad girl.

Why is meat so shameful. They eat it. They tear it apart with glee. Bad girl, aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Your body is sacred. Hide it under layers. Keep it away from bad boys. If you will think too much, you’ll be just like those bad women. What bad women? The ones who aren’t ashamed? They put them in fancy dress and make them dance. Why do you sing so loud? Everyone will hear. They will think you’re bad. Feel guilty for everything. Your body is bad. Bad and ugly. Bad bad bad. Make it stop wanting. Make it stop dancing. Come home and hide in your room. Don’t let them see who you are. It’s your attitude. Its just wrong.

How do you clean what is dirty? This body is dirty? Flesh is dirty? Blood is dirty. You can’t pray in blood. You just cannot. Wash it off. Wash it all out. What if I don’t want to? Enraged, they glare. Headlights. Deer caught in the glare. Doesn’t it make a fine picture? You ring the bell, and the man will come and bring you in. Maybe.

When there is no wrong and no right, where will everyone go? They will fall into empty space. I make my own spaces. I celebrate my spaces. I celebrate my fall from grace. I dance with myself. I can put flesh on my bones.

War is Beautiful

True drama can be conceived only as resulting from the collective impulse of all the arts to communicate in the most immediate way with a collective public. – Richard Wagner

Air Raid Precautions

On April 13th 2012, students from 4th Year Fine Arts (with their friends from other years and the Department of Architecture) declared and performed a “beautiful war” at NCA Rawalpindi Campus. This was their response to the following (given to them by the brilliant Fatima Hussain as part of their minor project):

“War is beautiful because it establishes man’s dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flamethrowers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metallization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns. War is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the cease-fire, the scents, and the stench of putrefaction into a symphony. War is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like that of the big tanks, the geometrical formation flights, the smoke spirals from burning villages, and many others … Poets and artists of Futurism! … Remember these principles of an aesthetics of war so that your struggle for a new literature and a new graphic art … may be illumined by them!”

– Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, 1912

It is interesting that Marinetti was able to ‘abstract mass destruction into the “world’s only hygeine” and he was able to view war as an aesthetic gesture.’ The objective of this assignment, however, was not to just find beauty in carnage, but to somehow transform ideas and notions about war and beauty. I couldn’t help thinking of Bertolt Brecht and his War Primer scrapbook project from the 1940s:

Popular war imagery is always beautiful. Popular war notions are also beautiful and moving. A friend recently said to me that “war is man at his best.”  Considering all of this, one has to contextualize war within the standards of beauty and attempt to understand how it can be transformed into process and product (another aspect of the assignment).

Meanwhile, the following illustrate the process and product of the response:

More pictures here.

The Living Newspaper

On April 4 2012, a group of final year students from the NCA Rawalpindi Fine Art Department, performed the “Living Newspaper” at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi. This is on a day when Murree Road was blocked for a strike protesting the rising petrol and gas prices. In a way, it made sense for them to perform the agony (and ecstacy) of the news in public. Unfortunately, not many people were lying about at the Liaquat Bagh. I have often stared vacantly into Liaquat Bagh, to and from work since late 2007. Usually I see many people sprawling or sleeping on the grass as if the park was their personal space. In my head, I see it as a public bedroom. It has many romantic connotations – a bed of grass and a ceiling of sky. Considering the history of the park, one has to stop and wonder at how this space becomes a bedroom for so many people.

The Public Bedroom

From Wikipedia:

Liaquat National Bagh (Park), usually just referred to as Liaquat Bagh (Urdu: لیاقت باغ), is a famous park on Murree Road in the city of Rawalpindi, Punjab, Pakistan.

Two Prime Minsters of Pakistan have been assassinated in this park.

The park was formerly known as Municipal Park, but was renamed “Liaquat National Bagh (Park)” after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951. It is known as a place for political gatherings and for speeches. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on 27 December 2007 while leaving an election rally at the park.

One would think that this park was relevant to the Living Newspaper performance. However, it was used because it was most convenient on the day of the strike. Responding to convenience is usually the next best thing.

Following are some pictures from the performance in the public bedroom:

What I observed was a general apathy – a sleeping nation. I have no right to make sweeping statements, really. Some people roused themselves when the students seemed to be making a commotion (one performance involved loud shouting which gained some attention). I read the entire experience like an experiment of sorts. I have been accused of apathy time and again. It was interesting to see that everyone was apathetic. They didn’t really give a shit. These are the masses (well, a small fraction of the masses) that are referenced in everything – conversation, as expected (or unexpected) audience and in the news. It was hot and they were tired. They wanted some entertainment. Humor was gladly accepted. They were also confused about what we were doing there. One individual thought we were silly “not involving the media” in our cause. Did we have a cause? Did it seem like we did? I had a marvelous time.

He wanted to get his picture taken.