Tuesday, April 23, 2013

‘Panopticon Letters: Missive I’ at Talwar Gallery

Set against the technical descriptions of architectural plans for ostensibly an ideal prison, British philosopher-social reformer Jeremy Bentham’s film ‘The Panopticon’ (1748-1832) composed of images and sounds of sky as well as water followed the course of the Thames. Using a series of methods so as to play with notions of disorienting and falsified representations, Alia Syed employs Bentham’s core ideas about the gaze as a controlling albeit benign tool.

In an effort to re-envision the more traditional British landscape style of painting through the peculiar prism of contemporary filmmaking, artist Alia Syed’s ‘Panopticon Letters: Missive I’ at Talwar Gallery’s New York venue shifts narratives from past to present that emerge from a correspondence of letters.

Born in Swansea, Wales and working from London, UK, she has been involved in experimental filmmaking for ore than two decades. Her films have been featured at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010);  Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid (2009); XV Sydney Biennale (2006); Hayward Gallery, London (2005); and Tate Britain, London (2003); among other institutes. A curatorial note makes following important points about the exhibitions:
  • Set against textural, rhythmic imagery, the various elements of the film at times work in parallel and opposition to each other in a restructuring of conventional narrative forms, while following the passage of time by the rising and setting of the sun.
  • The uniqueness of Panopticon Letters lies in Syed’s paring down elements of sky and water into minimal gradations of light and color. The serial architectonics of panopticism is evoked by filmic sleights of hand – working with, parallel to, and at counter purpose to the soundtrack, setting up a framework of counterpoint strategies – between components of the image, between image and sound, and within the construction of the soundtrack itself.
  • Alia Syed’s work examines memory, representation and colonialism through narratives constructed from both personal and historical realities. As the artist remarks, “Through my dérive along the Thames I encountered further histories. These geographies provoked memories of trauma, creating new narratives that have shaped the film. The voice of Bentham’s benign paternalism is fissured through my own fictionalized narratives.”
In conjunction with her film, the exhibit features new photographic works. It continues until May 18, 2013.

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