Good storytelling strengthens social movements
“The neighbour, neither friend nor enemy, is the one who may not be in your “network”, but is nevertheless in your world.” (Sukumaran)
Bombay-based Ashok Sukumaran is one of the few artists in the world making work that directly addresses issues of infrastructure: the ideological and human landscapes that surround flows such as electricity, water, data and trade. Beyond the claims of infrastructures of access, his work engages with ideas of distance, hierarchy, directionality and doubt amidst the “networks”. This March he presents The Neighbour in P3, in what used to be a giant concrete-testing hall, deep under the University of Westminster in central London.
This ambitious project is Sukumaran’s first major one-person exhibition in the UK. In The Neighbour, two ostensibly “mobile” habitats share space. One is a “static” mobile home from the late 1970’s, which developed as a way for lower-middle class families to partake in “caravan culture”, or escape longer term from the city and its property regimes. The second, coming from another direction in the same period, is a camper van, which follows gypsies and travellers in an attempt to produce the continuously nomadic home, built in the car factory.
These two objects, from the inside and out, ask us to inhabit questions about the contemporary “housing industry”, the overlaps in our landscapes of desire, of crisis, and the psychic dimensions of enclosure and spacing that have evolved not just among people, but also among competing machines, and their regulatory frameworks.
Sukumaran says: “these are maybe second cousins, somewhere between the family and the polis. They are neighbours as a result of a mutual migration, from more traditional forms of modernity. This is an allegory of neighbourhood, a result our inability to fully escape each other.”
Psychological analyses of the neighbour (from Freud to Zizek) suggest the “logical tragedy” of the Judeo-Christian injunction to love thy neighbour “as thyself”. The landscape darkens, and curiosity, obsession and suspicion appear as deep forces that overflow the ideology of tolerance, or “safe distance” from the other. Still the neighbour remains largely unknowable, opaque.
Sukumaran: “Lurkers, pests, potential collaborators, potential spies, potential contaminants seems to appear often in our recent work. Their threat or presence shapes relations, and gives rise to the leaks, negotiations and traversals that we are interested in, those that test the older network paradigms.”
Ashok Sukumaran (b.1974) came to international prominence with the extraordinary work Glow Positioning System, 2005: a public lighting installation that involved street decorators, shop owners and residents to produce a giant panorama of lights, across a city square in Bombay, that one could move with a small hand-crank. His recent work is commissioned and exhibited internationally. In 2008, he co-founded CAMP, a space for critical artistic research, imagination, and archiving projects.
Sukumaran was awarded the first prize of the 2005 UNESCO Digital Arts Award, and received a Golden Nica at the Prix Ars Electronica, 2007. He recently showed (with Shaina Anand) the video ensemble “Lossfulness” in the Indian Highway exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, London and is currently developing (with CAMP) a two-part work on the sea trade to Somalia, for the Sharjah Biennale, 2008.
On view: 13 March - 9 April 2009
P3, London, UK
University of Westminster
35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS
Selected tag: Industry
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Régine Debatty writes about the intersection between art, design and technology on her blog we-make-money-not-art.com.
She also contributes to various design and art magazines, curates art shows and lectures internationally.