Rashid Rana, A Room From Tate Modern, 2014. Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2014. Courtesy of the artist, the Dhaka Art Summit and the Samdani Art Foundation.
Rashid Rana is one of the most important Pakistani artists of his generation. Rana’s work deals with everyday images drawn from pop culture, art history and urban surroundings, as well as more abstract themes of faith and religion. He is known for his style of constructing large images out of “pixels” of other smaller images. In addition to his own work as a visual artist, he is the head of Fine Art Department and one of the founding faculty members of the School of Visual Arts and Design (SVAD) at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore. His work is in the permanent collections of the Asia Society, Devi Art Foundation, the Queensland Art Museum, the Fukuoka Museum of Asian Art, and many other distinguished public and private collections around the world. He recently completed a mid-career retrospective at the Mohatta Palace Museum in Karachi, a ground-breaking exhibition in the history of contemporary art in Pakistan.
The artist contextualises his interest in Western art history by negotiating it with his time and location. Fellow artist and critic Quddus Mirza wrote, “Rana’s work deals with globalisation, reflects on its impact, as well as serves as a critique of it. His use of digital media signifies the altered fabric of our societies, which function on the pattern and necessity of transnational operations. Here a work is conceived in Lahore, produced in Düsseldorf, displayed in Cairo and is collected in Chicago; spreading across four corners of the world.”1 One of Rana’s most talked about recent works that speaks to the global nature of his practice is A Plinth from a Gallery in Lahore (2010-2011), a photo sculpture that he exhibited at his first solo exhibition at Lisson Gallery in London in 2011.
The artist took photographs of a pedestal at a gallery in Lahore and transformed this documentation into an impactful sculpture. “I wanted to extend the historical journey of this object as a work of mine,” reflects Rana, “historically a plinth has been used as an object to place figurative sculptures, until it became so close to becoming an art object itself as part of the minimalist movement of the 1960s and white cube gallery aesthetics. These aesthetics and their manifestations have travelled to other parts of the world…I wanted to photographically document a plinth from a gallery in Lahore and produce it as a three-dimensional object (print on aluminium) and take it back to the white cube gallery place to symbolise my own journey as an artist.” A Plinth from a Gallery in Lahore can also be read as the rendering of a Western idea of an exhibition model placed in the context of South Asia, where it has not been fully downloaded and remains pixelated.
Another work which speaks to the artist’s mental space, that is found between the hallowed halls of international museums and the local buzz of the rapidly developing city of Lahore, is the 2010-2011 photo sculpture The Step. The geometric arrangement of a group of bricks outside of a small village grocery shop (selling only five to six essential items) reminded the artist of Carl Andre’s work, inspiring him to record and dislocate this experience in his work using the same photo sculpture technique as A Plinth from a Gallery in Lahore.
Rashid Rana’s solo project A Room from TATE Modern (2013-2014) extends Rana’s practice from three-dimensional photo sculptures into the scale of architecture, something that Rana had wanted to do for many years, and that he mentioned in an interview with Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Resulting from a discussion with curator Diana Campbell Betancourt over a long distance call from rural Sweden to Lahore, the artist decided to realise this longstanding dream for his solo project at the Dhaka Art Summit. The work is based on photo documentation of a room at Tate Modern, made to look empty with the works of art eliminated, but with spotlight effects and remnants of labels and wall-texts of works that make the viewer imagine what could have previously hung there. Rana elaborates that, “essentially, the work is a portrait (always an illusion) of a place which itself is used for the exhibition of art.”
“My work is often a three-way negotiation between myself, my immediate physical surroundings and what I receive – whether through the internet, books, history, or collective knowledge,” Rashid Rana recently shared in an interview with Art Review. The artist exists in a current reality of being an artist from Pakistan, but integrated into the Western exhibition model of the white cube. As a teacher and as an artist, Rana is one of the pioneers in building artistic infrastructure in Pakistan. The fact that he is injecting a Western exhibition model into the central atrium of the government property of the National Academy of Fine Arts of Bangladesh, while appropriating the model into his own work, speaks to the larger needs and potential for the region. The work also opens up interesting questions about experiencing art virtually.
In this project, viewers will be looking at a three-dimensional photograph of a room at Tate Modern. While looking straight at the blank wall (which contains an image of a wall), viewers won’t necessarily question it as an illusion. When looking at the other walls, however, the view of doors that open into adjacent gallery spaces will create an illusion that the walls extend into new dimensions. At its formal core, this work is about the conflict between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional. To enhance this “dimensional conflict” and heighten the sense of a space in between truth and fiction, the photos on the wall and ceiling (pasted onto the walls and ceiling) are pixelated; something that we normally associate with two-dimensionality.
The exterior of this work is a temporary structure that reveals the methods of the project’s construction: MDF joined with a wooden-frame to form a grid-like structure that references the work of Sol Lewitt. The grid has played an important part in Rana’s larger body of work, which evolved from grid paintings to painting pixel and matrix-based digital prints. Reflecting on his earlier works, Rana shared with Obrist, “It’s ironic though, that my fascination with formal concerns to do with two dimensionality are manifesting in three-dimensional works.” The artist collaborated with Dhaka architects to create a photo sculpture of a room at Tate nearly to-scale. The artist dislocated his project from the grid of the South Plaza’s geometric layout, tilting it in a manner that the audience must walk around the structure, to discover a hidden door at the back of the outer MDF structure. Rana draws viewers into his work, forcing them to look past the surface, and rewarding them if they take the time to fully take in and understand the rich illusions and allusions in his work.