Artists have been responding to the glut of images on social media for years now. Between 2011 and 2014, for instance, Dutch artist Eric Kessel showed an installation titled 24 hrs in photos, in Holland, Germany, France, the US, Spain, Finland and Switzerland. The installation comprised prints of pictures uploaded to Flickr, Google and social media in a single day – the photos were heaped for the exhibition, like so much garbage.
Bengaluru-based artist Avinash Veeraraghavan’s latest show, 1024 Names, acknowledges the longstanding connection between his work and the internet – 1024 signifies kilo in binary, or the computer language of ones and zeroes. It is a standard unit of measurement. So one megabyte is 1,024 kilobytes, one gigabyte is 1,024 megabytes, 1 terabyte is 1,024 gigabytes, and so on. In some ways, 1024 as a unit is also a way to get a handle on a (virtual) reality that can otherwise seem overwhelming.
Consider some numbers: According to fibre-optic cables giant Cisco, internet traffic will cross 1 zettabyte by the end of this year. A zettabyte is one followed by 21 zeroes worth of bytes. Here’s another thought-provoking number: According to Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, people around the world were posting 2 billion photos each day to Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram as of April 2016.
But while artists like Kessel see an overwhelming, perhaps destructive, tide of images, Veeraraghavan sees possibilities to organise and understand realities.
“To me, the internet is like a mirror image of the collective unconscious,” Veeraraghan wrote, in an email interview. “It has the capacity to connect vast physical distances and events into a single concise narrative.”
At least two of the eight works in 1024 Names are made up entirely of images sourced online. Homeland, for example, is composed of at least 300 images that Veeraraghavan sourced over the years and archived.
Lately, Veeraraghavan has become known for his hyper-crafted, embroidered works. Two of these are being shown as part of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016, which started on December 12. He has worked extensively with photos and videos – as well as drawings on the internet – for earlier shows. At a recent group show at the GallerySKE+PhotoINK exhibition space in Delhi called These are a few of our favourite works, Veeraraghavan created two large embroidered works called After The End and a video installation of a forest trail overlaid with the sound of an exorcism which he found online, remixed with a Western Classical soundtrack.
“I choose media that has the capacity to render my images – something akin to how pixels can render a photograph, but in a much broader sense,” said Veeraraghavan. “People might not agree, but I feel my entire practice is very very loosely based on photography. Embroidery or wood inlay or a digital print – it’s basically a transfer of a digital image to a physical form – much like how a photographic print is a translation of light to paper.”
The internet is more than a source of images for Veeraraghavan, in 1024 Names. In works like Daybreak, he seems to have taken inspiration from how the web contains reams of seemingly unconnected data: a kind of controlled randomness pervades the work, with posters for movies like Werewolf abutting charts on the human anatomy, pictures of flowers and postage stamps sharing wall space with what look like profile pictures of people from around the world. At the centre of this crowd made up of publicly shared images, is a laser-cut veneer of a dressing room. Compared with the busy vocabulary of the photos outside, the dressing room carves out a quiet space for the personal, even the private. In a sense, it continues Veeraraghavan’s earlier explorations into the mind.
“I am still very much concerned about the interior world of the mind as I feel it is the root cause for everything we witness in the outside world,” Veeraghavan said.
The media used in 1024 Names are not new to Veeraraghavan, neither is the overriding concern with the inner workings of the mind. If there is a shift in this show, it is in the artist’s intent to make his subject more accessible to the viewer. “I’m trying to make the work less about a very particular and personal mental journey that nobody can honestly access, to something that is a bit more universal and palpable,” he said.
Of the works in 1024 Names, Spectrum is perhaps the most prominent example of this shift. The digital print-on-satin installation represents what are popularly known as mood colours. The colours are tightly bound in frames, as if the artist were trying to explore the pop and the kitschy as some kind of key to a deeper understanding of how the mind creates meaning. Of course, what better source is there for the pop and the kitschy across genres and geographies, than the Internet?
1024 Names is on display at GallerySKE Bengaluru till January 7.