At a Time: Tender and Tense Exhibition Response by Riaz Mehmood
In conjunction with the exhibition At a Time: Tender and Tense, throughout the four week duration of the exhibition Artists will respond to each other’s work through writing – which will be made available in the gallery in print and online for the duration of the exhibition. Below is the third instalment of this writing series – Riaz Mehmood’s statement about his own work as well as response to the exhibition.
“The universe is one being. Everything and everyone is interconnected through an invisible web of stories. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all in a silent conversation.”
– Shams Tabrizi in The Forty Rules of Love (2010).
During the initial days of the Covid pandemic, I remember the prevailing sense of hope and the feeling of having a real chance to make a clear break away from the modes of living that are toxic and dangerous to not only humans, but other species that share this world with us. People were sharing images and videos of ‘nature healing itself’, numerous data-sets pointing to a reduction in environmental pollution and animals and birds increasing in numbers as well as the solidarity expressed that permeated across borders, in the case of global outrage against the unjust killing of George Floyd. This hope, though very inspiring, faded away quickly, leaving us with an awful hangover and reminder that we continue to live in a world with a lopsided division of resources while uber-rich escape their existential crisis by going to outer space.
During the first year of the pandemic, I struggled with the idea of making and thinking about art. It seemed to be a pointless exercise in the face of a genuine chance of the world coming to its logical end. And, of course, the doubts about art as a tool for any immediate practical social changes would bubble up and make me doubtful about the art-making and art-world.
The chance to participate in a residency at SNAP came at the right time. I won’t be that far off the mark to claim that the time at SNAP helped me rediscover the joy of losing one’s sense of time during the creative process. Just before the pandemic, I was in Pakistan fully surrounded by family and friends. Back in Edmonton, it was isolation and social distancing. I tried to keep my sense of community by attending countless virtual art talks and seminars, but that lost its sheen after a while, accompanied by the usual digital fatigue. Seeing other artists working in SNAP’s space during my residency and the various conversations we had together helped me get the feeling of belonging to a community back. I didn’t know the other artists in this exhibition before my residency except Sergio. I started learning about them and their work during my time at SNAP.
Seeing all our work together in the gallery reminds me of the 1001 children in Salman Rushdie’s book Midnight Children. The hour and geography of birth connected all of the children in the book as they were born precisely at midnight of the 15th of August, 1947 – India’s Independence Day. Like the children in Rushdie’s book, the works in the exhibition were also made during the unpredictable time of the pandemic.
I don’t know about others, but all these works possess special power for me as a reminder of our interconnectedness and the conversations that we constantly have with each other – sometimes audible but often performed in silence. Whether it is Agata’s fragmented installation pointing to the fragmented nature of humanities response to the climate disaster or Brianna’s carefully staged corner installation reminding one of the importance of slowing down and letting oneself be lost in the craft and artistry of stories, art and books. Sergio’s sensitive, mysterious and almost abstract work reveals the delicateness, beauty and rhythms of small and mundane objects and the emotional attachment that we develop with these small objects and Luke’s prints that reveal how a Google search algorithm can be turned into something poetic when looked through an artists sensibility; all these works are witness to our time —this time of all the hopelessness and all the possibilities.
I am sure if my prints had emotions, they wouldn’t feel lonely during the quiet hours of the gallery as they are hanging (no pun intended) out with the friends that they have known since their birth —as far as I am concerned, my prints are in excellent company.
– Riaz Mehmood