Emerging Indian artist Sahil Naik explores the links between acts of destruction, the media and the urban environment in “Ground Zero”.
Art Radar takes a look at the practice of emerging artist Sahil Naik on the occasion of his solo exhibition “Ground Zero: Site as Witness/Architecture as Evidence”, on display at Experimenter in Kolkata until 10 January 2018.
The 25–year old recent graduate Sahil Naik grew up in the state of Goa, known for its tourist economy and beautiful coastal landscapes. Goa is also known for the mediatised terrorist attacks and threats, which have informed Naik’s research around the bomb, the representation of destruction in the global media, and notions of entertainment and spectacle. Naik has been particularly interested in the practices that emerge as a result of the targeting of Goa’s Ponda temple town, which include regular evacuation rehearsals and bomb defusing drills.
Images of destruction
His 2017 work Lazaretto, produced as part of his participation in New Delhi’s Khoj International Artist’s Emerging Artist support initiative, is an architectural model of a neighbourhood constructed using foam, sunboard, word and corrugated sheet. The sculpture recreates a neighbourhood block as a tower of babel in which rumour passes between units and levels as quickly as fire. The work maps the cynical relationship between destruction of local communities or architecture and the circulation of images of destruction; the catastrophic event and its representation, asking what is the role of the “story” of urban destruction? What is left after the story ceases to circulate? Talking about the work, as reported by The Sunday Guardian, the artist stated:
I am imagining this neighbourhood as a quarantine zone or lazerreto, which I am creating a scaled miniature sculptural model referencing a catastrophe that only lives as a story now and the site lives an afterlife of decay.
The work is one of the central pieces the current exhibition entitled “Ground Zero: Architecture as Evidence” at Kolkata’s Experimenter. In this exhibition, Sahil Naik continues his research into the poetics of terror, the metaphor of the bomb and its relationship to local and international media, urban and legal environments. Naik’s work contributes to an emerging international field of critique that links the circulation of images of destruction in the global media (from natural disasters to war and terrorist attacks across the world) to an increasingly biased and unjust international legal system, through which acts of violence can be justified or even considered valuable as producers of capital.
The idea that the murdering of people and the destruction of a city’s architecture can be justified using a carefully assembled algorithm of media coverage and an increasingly flexible international legal system is a thesis put forward by Israeli architect Eyal Weizman’s book The Least of All Possible Evils (2011). Here the founder of the Goldsmiths University-based Forensic Architecture department explores the role of the human rights justice system and the media in informing the tactics of Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The idea that the circulation of images of destruction actually produces capital is an equally terrifying idea proposed by Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe in his recent treatise Critique of Black Reason (2016), which traces, among other things, the relationship between the circulation of images of war and the billion dollar contracts awarded to commercial companies tasked with “reconstructing” conflict zones. Mbembe argues in his book that this relationship is at the heart of neoliberal financial capitalism.
In a work entitled Artist as Bomber/Artist as Suspect (2016), which was originally presented at the 2016 The Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Kerala, the artist creates another scale model of an ambiguous room that could be anything from a bureaucratic office to an artist’s studio.The model shows debris and dust everywhere and is filled with smashed and overturned tables, chairs, shelves and cupboards. While it is possible that the room has been torn apart by a bomb, it is also possible that the room is in a mess for another unknown reason.
Beside the model is a video monitor displaying a fake CCTV video, mocked up by the artist himself, which shows a group of men wandering around the room. The difficulty of deducing what is actually occurring between the model and the CCTV calls into question the increasing use of video as evidence-in-itself in international courts of law, which do not take into account the need to critically approach our frames of interpretation as well as our modes of production of images and video. As the press release states:
The disquieting replica of a bombed art studio prompts difficult questions around the (mis)-use of evidence such as CCTV grabs and the manufacturing of consent to criminalize suspected terrorists.
In “Ground Zero: Site as Witness/Architecture as Evidence” Sahil Naik invents and shares new methodologies for approaching the complex and sadistic relationships between image, capital, death, architecture and destruction.
“Ground Zero: Site as Witness/Architecture as Evidence” by Sahil Naik is on view from 25 November 2017 to 10 January 2018 at Eperimenter, 2/1 Hindusthan Road, Gariahat, Kolkata, West Bengal 700029, India.
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