10 Dec – 16 Jan 2016
Iftikhar Dadi and Elizabeth Dadi’s collaborative art practice can be located at the intersections of conceptual art and pop art with (a broadly inclusive vision of) popular culture. The artists have created a diverse body of work that embodies itself in a wide spectrum of deployed materials. But certain questions and preoccupations act as continuities. For example: If we take the saturation of media in the contemporary world as a given, what are the effects—competing and paradoxical effects even—of this unprecedented ‘assault’ on our intellectual and perceptual faculties? Another initiating point is the distortions created by official narratives—the stories about ourselves and our histories that we are encouraged or compelled to believe by pervasive dominant forces. What alternatives exist to these narratives, how can they be contested? And how can the very stuff of art, its materiality, be used with conceptual rigour to create new forms of beauty? These themes and their manifestations are on display in Epic Ecologies, which showcases representative work from three series, each of which is an attempt to place a specific set of cultural representations in contexts dense with associative and disruptive meanings.
In the Urdu Film Series, which ‘bases’ itself in Lollywood, luxuriant colours threaten to dissolve into faded hues, and the rectangular-shaped orthodoxy of the cinema hall is submerged within the scanning movements of an ovalized TV screen. Images of ambiguous power, and distinct media, are configured to evoke an experience of South Asia that is flickering and hallucinatory. Film, this time in its narrative aspect, is central to They Made History as well. The series interrogates the Great Man (or, occasionally, Woman) theory of history—a theory which holds that the actions of a few individuals determine the progress of civilization itself. Diverse non-Western figures, as imagined by Hollywood, are lit up as icons against conventional landscapes or invented backgrounds—as if to detach the historical actor from the grand (not to say grandiose) narrative in which he or she has been placed by the prescriptive formulae of society and the box-office. Nation-states use formulae too, a variety of symbols, in order to express their uniqueness—specific flowers for (curious) example. The Efflorescence series focuses on the notionally national flowers of politically contested regions. Inspired by popular commercial signage and created as large neon and incandescent works in metal, the works confound expectations of what floral representation ‘should’ look like—they jump scale by their size, and their industrial artifice and graphical form are the opposite of the delicate and the natural. As such, they acknowledge a certain arbitrariness in the way that institutions try to establish identity.
Epic—grand and heroic, impressive in scope, an embodiment of how people imaginatively conceive their own history. Ecologies—the multiple relationships between living things and their environment. Or so the dictionaries tell us. And then this exhibition, Epic Ecologies, in which Iftikhar Dadi and Elizabeth Dadi show us how grandeur is made and unmade, how our habitats, mental and physical, are anything but static, and how the two, in dynamic dialogue, can present us with fresh ways to examine and enliven both.