SIBANAND BHOL / MARKUS BAENZIGER/ GIGI SCARIA
“We only see what we look at. To look at is an act of choice. As a result of this act, what we see is brought within our reach…It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relationship between what we see and what we know is never settled.”
The act of observation is latent in every work of visual art. The artist is an attentive observer and a highly sensitive instrument; she sees the world, filters it, and creates a response. Close observation precedes and follows each visual expression; for the artist, the realm of the visual is often in a state of expansion, wherein the act of making brings attention ever closer to the fine details of the perceived world. The first viewer of every work is the artist herself.
One way of understanding art-making is as a process of framing and delineating the visible. Artworks can function to direct and focus our attention. As John Berger says, “we only see what we look at;” it is the job of the artist guide a viewer’s eye toward the thing that needs to be seen, to frame and present it in a way that condenses attention and renders meaning available. In other words, art has the capacity to sensitize a viewer to that which is visible but has not yet been seen.
In the ever-evolving contemporary city, we are constantly reviewing and reframing the elements that visually define our space. Each addition to the skyline introduces new asymmetries, relations of scale, and visual hierarchies. Old structures disappear and new ones replace them; the oldest elements of a city often become so iconic that they are no longer ‘seen’. Moreover, every generation of new inhabitants in a city brings a unique visual bias, guided by evolving priorities and belief systems. The way we ‘see’ in the city is in constant flux.
Many works on the BAT engage specifically with the visual experience of the city. Offering a literal re-framing of the Old Town is SibanandBhol’s Liminal View, a large lingam-shaped sandstone column positioned on the bank of BinduSagar Lake. The column’s roughly human scale suggests an anthropomorphic quality. Adding to this presence is the form’s ‘eye’, a circular aperture piercing the column at roughly eye level. Viewers can gaze through the aperture to discoveraperfectly framed silhouette of the distantLingaraj Temple. Embodying a literal eye to the past, Liminal View offers a vantage point for visitors to contemplate an inherited past from the station point of the present.
A suspended work by Markus Banziger engages our visual senses through an abstraction of the natural world. In Traces, a calligraphic linear outline of abstracted foliage has been welded from iron and overlaid with translucent green fabric. The work is suspended over an outdoor landing on the second floor of a 150-year old monastery, where it interacts with the surrounding foliage and casts migrating shadows on the concrete below. The piece evokes presence and attentive observation, and feels entirely at home in the contemplative environment of the monastery.
Baenziger describes in his concept note his concern for the subtle sensory features of the natural world: “A play of shadows, cast on the ground by the sunlight, is traced and materialized into a sculpture. It is a universal image that translates across geographic and cultural boundaries… Hidden from our attention these moments are everywhere in nature… these traces of shadows intend to draw the eyes further and to experience the delicate beauty found in nature.”Balanced between sun and shadow, Baenziger’swork quietly interveneslike a screen or lens; it magnifies, distills, and suspends in time the ephemeral phenomena of light and shade.
While Baenziger’s work conjures a sense of stillness, a collaborative photo-based installation by Gigi Scaria draws our eye toward movement, transience, and fragmentation within the city. Constructed Realities blends photographic impressions of the Old Town with the architectural framework of residential space. In the front room of a once private dwelling, two opposing walls boast panoramic displays of photos taken along the Trail by Scaria’s young artist-collaboraters; each wall portrays the opposite sides of the streets that comprise the trail. The panoramic format evokes a sense of time, speed, and expansion. A sense of moving swiftly through urban space is enhanced by the need to shift one’s gaze constantly from left to right to try to match up the two sets of images. Fragmentation emerges, as the viewer must stitch together dispersed, partial glimpses to reconstruct a complete picture of the city. As Scaria explains, this work is “an attempt to understand how the younger generation views the space of the Old Town and their aspirations and vision for the city.”
In an adjacent hallway, a series of arched windows have been overlaid with photographic images trimmed to fit their silhouettes. Reflecting the project’s title Constructed Realities, the photos are digital composites, in which views from other sites in the Old Town have been merged with the windows’ metal latticework, creating a seamless illusion of an alternative vista. The fabricated, views collapse the space of the city, bringing remote locations near. The use of illusion creates uncertainty in the viewer; we are unsure of what we perceive.
The Old Town is a space where the ancient iconic continually confronts the new, and where the presence of the natural world is insistent but haphazard. The moments of observation created by these works offer pause, attention, and clarity, through which the city can be truly seen.