FUTURE PERFECT: Catastrophe and the Contemporary

Public Talks

Remembering, Repeating, Working Through
with Rohit Goel

Tuesday, September 28, 2021 | 7:30-9:30 pm IST

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Contemporary scholars, artists, curators, governments, and citizens everyday have responded to the near repetition compulsion of catastrophe in diverse ways around a single belief: human suffering recurs because we forget to remember the traumatic experience of pain. ‘Never Forget’ has become the global humanitarian mantra of our post-Cold War world. Yet catastrophe, human suffering seems to persist, indeed perdure the more we remember its supposed pastness; remembering has become an almost auto-erotic activity without goal. In this talk, we will reorient the faculty of memory – work through human suffering – by asking why catastrophe repeats, how memory has become untethered from its goal, by considering trauma outside experience in contemporary philosophy and the visual arts. 

Rohit Goel is Director/Professor of the Bombay Institute for Critical Analysis and Research (BICAR). He is the co-editor of Lacan contra Foucault: Subjectivity, Sex, Politics (Bloomsbury) and has taught courses in philosophy, critical theory, historiography, and politics at the University of Chicago, Sciences Po Paris, the American University of Beirut, and Jnanapravaha Mumbai.

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The curator and artist Ala Younis exhibits work that stitches together ‘evental’ experiences of recurring crises across the world, as well as between time– the past, present, and future. An Index of Tensional and Unintentional Love of Land (2014) exhibits the particular instance of Palestinian struggle– from the nakba to the naksa until the contemporary crisis– in relation to other revolutionary events, accomplisments, and disappointments. Juxtaposing images, built-forms, photographs, cinema, and archival documents of visual culture that undermine stereotypical particularizations of crisis and its replies in a global world order, Ala literally exhibits a revolutionary international of presence and absence in the same space-time: what is missing from here that is present elsewhere, what was done then that is being done now, and vice-versa? She uses the exhibition space-form to put geographies and temporalities in rigorous conversation with one another.

Ala Younis is a research-based artist and curator based in Amman. She initiates journeys in archives, animating collective experiences that have collapsed into the personal. Her practice is based on found material, and on creating materials when they cannot be found or when they do not exist.

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The artist and writer Walid Sadek has been demanding we ‘labour the missing’ in his prose and artistic practice, confronting the regnant ideology of our contemporary -- melancholia, nostalgia -- through a careful critique of waiting for those who disappeared during Lebanon’s protracted civil war to return before politics can get started again. Sadek perceives the present as always-already holed, rendering the contemporary longing for a future (saved or damned, full or empty) meaningless. He proposes a way to create in and around a gaping, holed, lacking reality.

Walid Sadek is an artist and writer. He is Professor of Studio Art and Acting Chair of the Department of Fine Arts and Art History at the American University of Beirut. His current work, The Ruin to Come, proposes a theory and poetics for a post-war society disinclined to resume normative living.

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What does catastrophe sound like? Can we hear the past in the present? What might it mean to score the contemporary as future perfect? The artist and forensic investigator Lawrence Abu Hamdan has been researching and exhibiting the distinct capacity of sound to articulate presence and absence at once. For instance, in his work on the Saydnaya prison in Syria, he demonstrates how the invisible, diffuse nature of sound reverberations without a source redoubles linear mechanisms of panoptic control that rely on direct lines of sight: torturer and tortured, warden/observer and prisoner/observed. Sounds of the torturers, the tortured, footsteps (wardens or prisoners?), and a creaking infrastructure saturate prisoners’ bodies and minds with horror (Saydnaya (the missing 19db) 2017). For the colloquium, we’ve asked Lawrence to present his more recent work on reincarnation (current), considering the relation between past, present, and future temporalities through sound loops open and closed.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan is a 'private ear' and artist interested in the relation between sound and politics. His audio investigations have been used as evidence at the UK Asylum and Immigration Tribunal and political advocacy with Forensic Architecture. He was awarded the 2019 Turner Prize.

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Raqs Media Collective turn against soothsaying by conceptualizing the infinite, the impossible as necessarily present, not as that which awaits us in some determinate, post-apocalyptic future  (The Necessity of Infinity, 2017). Raqs work on the contemporary as always-already pathological, the apocalypse as having happened, and toxicity as the structure of the present that begs dismantling (Toxicity, current). The collective was formed in 1992 in Delhi -- a time of the ‘great Indian’ opening of capital to the rest of the world -- and the word ‘raqs’ registers the double meaning of revolution: a whirling return to the same as well as the production of difference through that repetitive return. A ‘kinetic contemplation’, Raqs has produced restless entanglement with the world and time with a celebrated practice across several media: installation, sculpture, video, performance, text, lexica, and curation.

Raqs Media Collective was founded by Monica Narula, Shuddha Sengupta, and Jeebesh Bagchi in 1992. Conjuring figures of cognitive and sensory acuteness, their work reconfigures perceptual fields and demands that everyone looks at what they take for granted, anew. They're presently working on toxicity and friendship.

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The questions of 'truth' and 'veracity' structure Pallavi Paul's practice. Her work stages the interventionist potential of the ‘record’ as an aesthetic question. The documentary does not appear as a simple image category, but as an ecology of materials, networks, global alliances, and systems of public thought. To assess the power of these forms, she will present a discussion around her film works that deal with the tension between countenancing the world—working with the complex transference between sensation, history, memory, and reality—and representing the world, which often presumes a positivist capture of everyday life. The discussion will also be informed by the fact that everyday life now is pervaded by diverse kinds of non-fiction materials. Whether as memes, WhatsApp ‘forwards’, social media posts, 24x7 news coverage, Twitter threads, this material percolates our most intimate spaces while simultaneously open to public scrutiny. Paul will attempt to take stock of this double pull between the increasing pervasiveness of documentary materials and a growing public suspicion around their veracity. Through this method, she hopes to use the debris of monolithic ideological claims, scientific determinism, and historical absolutism as generative materials.

Pallavi Paul is an artist and film scholar. Her practice interrogates how ‘truth’ is produced and argued in public life, paying mind to the tension between documents and their aesthetic utterance that gets repressed in contemporary productions of ‘the documentary’. She is one-half of SPLICE, a curatorial and artistic practice co-founded with Rohini Devasher.

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The artist and amateur astronomer Rohini Devasher has chased solar eclipses -- literal dialectics of negative and positive. She has worked with a community of amateur astronomers in India, building a chronicle of these people whose lives have been transformed by the night sky. Most recently she spent 26 days on board the High Trust, an oil tanker which spanned the Pacific Ocean. This journey reinforced the role of ‘observation’, and the ‘field’ or ‘site’ in her practice. Her films, prints, sounds, drawings, and mappings of the antagonism of time and space walk the fine line between wonder and the uncanny, foregrounding the 'strangeness' of encountering, observing and recording both environment and experience.

Rohini Devasher trained as a painter and printmaker and works with video and site-specific drawings. Her current research focuses on the twin aspects of the Earth’s skies: its celestial constants on one hand and the mutable objects of the atmosphere on the other. In August 2021, Devasher and Pallavi Paul co-founded SPLICE, an artistic and curatorial collaborative practice.