Curatorial Note

deconfine
[dee-kuhn-fahyn]
verb, de·con·fine.
to break free from imposition; to unshackle;
to challenge established norms

Confinement is part of the very essence of human existence: we are broadly limited by the minds and bodies we are born in. Parallel to this biological confinement, society has conjured its own modes of confinement, deployed to control those who dare to transgress its norms, to digress from its invisible (but imposing) script. With the evolution of human civilization, its members have grown more and more adept at devising protean tools of confinement: schools, prisons, factories, visas and permits being some of the most common instances. Technology is rapidly gaining prominence as a tool that can be manipulated to enforce similar agendas. 

In the recent past, the COVID-19 pandemic has made physical confinement necessary for the sake of public health and safety. It has underlined the paradox of our relationship with technology: we are simultaneously confined and liberated by the devices and screens that are now integral parts of our lives. These tools allowed us to work, socialise and create when free movement and physical interaction with others were not possible. At the same time, they trapped us in their own way within their virtual walls. 

< de > confine is an attempt to break free: to renegotiate and reconfigure the nature of our collective association with technology, to redraw the contours of this intimate connection. The artists and other creators featured in this festival have used these technologies to tell stories about the world around them, to critically examine and/or reinvent our usual ways of using these tools, and to ask questions about the future of this relationship.

Vincent Moon’ and Priscilla Telmon’s ‘Tajalli’ is a documentary on the main Sufi singers of the largest Sufi shrine in South Asia – Ajmer Dargah Sharif. Parvathi Nayar’s digital art and performance-based video ‘Water Exchanges’ dissects water as an aesthetic phenomenon, a natural element, and a political subject.  Pierre-Jean Giloux’s ‘Metabolism’ is a video recreating Tokyo on the basis of Metabolism, a Japanese architectural movement drawing inspiration from biological configurations, using footage and digitally rendered images. Danushka Marasinghe’s ‘Now I never go home on the old road’ is a collage of video footage charting the changing landscapes of his homeland after a devastating civil war. Pierrick Mouton’s ‘Sector 13’ is a film about sector 17, a commercial area in the centre of Chandigarh, designed by the legendary architect Corbusier.  These artists have used technology to narrate stories, both real and fictional.

Bidhata KC’s  ‘Aadhar’ is an experimental video on human fragility in the face of the ubiquity of digital media. Palash Bhattacharjee’s ‘Special Feature’ is a three-channel video depicting the body’s encounter with mass media. Amay Kataria’s ‘Mom I’m Safe’ is an interactive website that re-conceives virtual exchanges of affection. These artists implement technology to turn the gaze at the tool itself.

Beatrice De Fays and Mathieu Constans’ ‘Inspace’ combines Augmented Reality with painting, broadening the boundaries of an age-old art form with the latest tools. Faisal Anwar’s ‘Char Bagh’, referring to a particular type of medieval garden, allows viewers to participate in creating the artwork by uploading pictures with specific hashtags on Instagram – data he then converts to mutate his piece. Justin Emard’s trilogy studies patterns of engagement between artificial intelligence and human beings. These artists unfold exciting possibilities not just for the future of art, but for the relationship between technology and society.

‘Mom I’m Safe’, ‘Aadhar’ and ‘Metabolism’ were made to view online. The other works were specially adapted for online viewing for confine. 

Along with the exhibition and conversations with artists about their practice,  three panel discussions on digital culture will also take place as part of the festival. Founder members of  Incommon and Hidden Pockets will discuss the need for democratisation of knowledge on the internet. French curator Pauline Fournier, who worked for Toulouse HackerSpace Factory for five years,  will share her experience in the alternative arts space in France. Indian curator Anushka Rajendran (Assistant Curator for Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, and curator of Colomboscope 2021), will talk about the implications of going digital for  art in South Asia.

< de >confine is a call to action, an urgent reminder to reflect on and renegotiate the topography of our digital engagement. It does not advocate complete detachment or rejection. It invites audiences to make their own interpretations as we move towards a world more technologically mediated than it has ever been before.  It urges them to imagine and wonder about all the roads not taken – yet.

Khayal and Proiti Seal Acharya, 
Media Art South Asia