What would it take for someone to experience time beyond what a clock can show? Tedium, according to artist Vishal K Dar, is what it takes. “Each one of us responds to many clocks,” said Dar. “There is the circadian clock – our body clock. Then we have the universe doing its quantum wiggle, a giant oscillatory clock in itself. A tree is a clock, the tides produced through gravity are clocks. We are surrounded by multiple clocks, each of which produce independent time-codes. Unfortunately, the only time-code we often conform to is the ticking clock which emerged out of industrial capitalism.”
In his recent site-specific installation, Storm Deities, Dar did some complex math and minimal interventions to “bore” his audiences into this state of consciousness about time beyond quartz, transience and trace-making.
Displayed at the 11th Shanghai Biennale, Dar’s installation was built for a 165m chimney at the Power Station of Art in China. Storm Deities comprised a shallow pool made of felt, bricks, water and a truss affixed with seven beam lights, each of which had its own metronomic meter and its own logic for how long the beam took to swing from one end of the chimney to the other. Viewers could walk down a 30m ramp inside the chimney to observe the lights and their reflection in the water below from various vantage points.
The installation was designed to strip visitors of their sense of where they belong in relation to a space. “Speaking purely at the level of perception, a chimney is a cylinder, which means that it’s an object without corners. Therefore it doesn’t respond to your sense of the Cartesian (geometry),” explained Dar, who studied architecture at the Sushant School of Art and Architecture in Gurugram before completing his Masters in Fine Arts from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2002.
By using water and lights, Storm Deities also stripped away visitors’ sense of what is up and what is down – the pool at the bottom reflected the light back upwards, and the top of the chimney, obscured by lights, also tapered into “nothingness”. In the midst of this, the light beams seemed to follow an unfathomable pattern – to understand what was going on, visitors would be compelled to stay and get attuned to the rhythm of the installation: “Be there long enough that your system gets so bored of looking that it then starts sensing,” said Dar.
This understanding of rhythm and time beyond the “ticking clock” are crucial to Dar’s purpose, in all of his site-specific works since 2009. Dar’s hope is that everyone who saw the chimney during the Shanghai Biennale will never be able to see it without recalling the spectre of the lights reflected in the water, and their rhythmic motion.
The biennale ended on March 12, and no physical trace of Storm Deities remains: the pool has been drained, bricks dismantled and felt rolled up. The truss that was bolted on to the railing of the ramp has been taken down, along with the lights. For those who could not see it – Dar’s site-specific works, which are usually exhibited for a brief period, are documented by the artist for his website. Like time, the rhythm of Storm Deities continues to exist.