Merging into a digital reality

Digitisation is changing our world faster than we could have imagined. It’s confused our realities and identities and provided for critical analysis, engaging many artists. Last month, contemporary artist Baiju Parthan’s exhibition Necessary Illusions dealt with the subject. Now, Sharmistha Ray offers her own interpretation of the matter in her solo show We are all Islands.

Ray’s show reflects the artist’s thoughts about a contemporary existence in the digital age. On display is a mix of paintings, sculptures, drawings, light installations and photographs. The artworks represent an exploration of Ray’s own life experiences within the multicultural, multi-global context: the migratory being between spaces, places, people and cultures. “I wonder whether in the idea of globalisation — the subversion of transnational identities and borders, the notion of a global utopia of merged selves — have we opened up the sensory realm or curbed our ability to sensitise? We are living in hyper-connected times. I am ambivalent about what that does to us as human beings,” Ray says.

The artist believes that the sense-perception reality of human beings is what makes us unique. However, the race to further connectivity is dulling the way we sense our way through the world. “The digital realm is in direct opposition to our counter-reality, so to speak,” says Ray. She warns against experiencing the world through a flattened, digitised plane. Here, she draws an analogy to people in a 3D cinema theatre with glasses on, staring at the screen. “You think you’re the only one in there, but you’re not,” she says. “We are all looking at the same thing. We are all merging into one flattened out, uniform notion of self.”

And yet, despite being offered access, we are drifting apart. That’s the crux of the exhibition, and her divided, separated pieces of paintings and installations. The works imagines life as fragments of humanity adrift in the ocean of virtual connections in a globalised world. Our gaze, and how we appear to be, also becomes an important sub-theme of the layered works.

With We are all Islands, Ray also takes an opportunity to discuss queer identity and acceptance. “I have always been concerned with the realm of personal experience, especially zones of internal conflict that address identity politics and migration,” says Ray. “I am further interested in how these personal ambivalences can be used to reflect on the scope of humanity-at-large.”

For instance, in the two frames of the ‘Brea(d)th of life is a measure of time’, Ray is seen swimming a short distance in an infinity pool overlooking the sea. In one, she looks straight ahead, and in the next, she’s peering into the distant horizon. Her line is naturally ‘straight’ in relation to the closer edge of the pool, which has been distorted into an unnatural curve by the panoramic lens of the iPhone 6 on which the images were shot.

“In reality, we know that the horizon line has a natural curve, but the horizon is almost always depicted as a straight line in relation to other pictorial devices in pictorial conventions of depicting a landscape,” says Ray. Here, she draws parallels to social conventions by subverting the manner in which lines have been (ab)used to measure and rank sexual difference in society, thereby bringing our attention to the spatial liminality of queer experience.

Another work, ‘In Search of Rainbow #2’, is based on a painting of the same name made by Ray in 2014. By using the colourful icon for gay pride (first used by artist Gilbert Baker in 1978) and elements of the earth, the artist equates queerness as a search for meaning and the universal notions of transcendence. It has been placed in a dark corridor, inviting the viewer to pass through the light.

Then there’s the interactive work ‘Sanctum I’, which is a mirror selfie, the sensation that’s gripped the world. “Thanks to digitisation, we are so much better informed than we have ever been,” says Ray. But then again information is not knowledge; experience is. But today, our experiences are mediated through a digital filter. “Think of a selfie. The only way we know how to look at ourselves is through the digital lens of a camera. It’s a gross distortion of reality.” But this is just the beginning. “As a painter, in the purest sense, I foresee the dangers of forsaking touch and sensory perception.” The chasm, says Ray, will widen more as we senselessly merge into the digital mainstream. It’s up to each one of us then to make our own choices.

The author is a freelance writer

We are All Islands is ongoing at Nine Fish Art Gallery till November 6.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 2:05:24 AM |

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