Author Archives: Safiya Husain

Conference Project: Overwhelmed by Fact

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final piece (minus screens)

 
inside view

inside view

When I began with this installation project, I was very daunted by both the size, and the pressure to deliver such a poignant message. My installation hopes to “overwhelm by fact”. Once you enter you are faced with a monitor that has numbers that are moving at a rate of three digits per minute, which reflects the number of people that are becoming refugees. This is based approximately on recent refugee toll consensus. Behind the numbers are pictures of the many important historical and cultural sites that were bombed by the IS in Iraq and Syria. To the left is Iraq, to the right Syria. The backgrounds of both walls are statistics: good, bad, mundane, everything I could find, statistics to us have become numbers, the idea is to make you notice that you don’t care anymore. In front of these statistics will be screens playing videos- videos of violence, dance, poetry, war, culture: life. Life still goes on despite war, statistics can help us forget that and other the victims of war and injustice, let me now overload you with all the images you half pay attention to all day, maybe then, you will be affected.
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surface

construction plans

construction plans

sketch of screen (sign system)

sketch of screen (sign system)

As a design piece, my installation proved many challenges. I was originally planning on using the metal structure that the visionaries used in their sculpture, when visiting their site and walking through their space I was really inspired by the idea of being enveloped by art, on all sides, the potential for delivering maximum affect. But with circumstances of Formal and rain, I had to consider other options for my base structure. My solution turned into an attempt at carpentry that went better than expected. I was at first worried about my ability to be able to use tools for the carpentry process, however I became very rudimentary in my design and reverted to nails and hammers for the construction of the entire structure. The biggest struggle came when I realized that Home Depot only cut straight lines and couldn’t make cutouts in my wood pieces—this was a problem because I needed spaces for the wires to connect the LCD screens to the power source and computer. This caused a drastic shift in my thinking: I discarded the LCD monitor idea and decided to go with tablets. After being able to recruit enough friends to lend me tablets, I was able to then puncture holes with a screwdriver just big enough for the small chargers to go through. I was then left, with one more challenge. I had thought the easiest part was going to be making this ticking refugee toll, I was sorely mistaken. I soon learned that coding knowledge was needed for this, knowledge that I did not know. Through some pleading and favors someone from the coding class made me a program that would make the numbers increase, it apparently wasn’t that complicated. What became complicated however was that this program could only work on a computer… and my installation couldn’t support an LCD monitor anymore. I solved my last and final issue by finding by the grace of app makers an app that converts allows you to remotely control your computer through your tablet, thus allowing the coding program to open and be displayed! The process was tumultuous and stressful. From near-miss hammer and nail accidents to the logistical nightmare of moving it into Heimbold, I have gained both respect and admiration for the sculpture process, but have never more understood the danger of underestimating time. I had never thought of mapping in such a physical and three dimensional way before both this class and the undertaking of this project. Even the basic physical lines of life represent a potential for signs and mapping, both visible and invisible. Through this project, I really hope to make you feel invisible—the life of the ordinary man Syria/Iraq—through bombarding you with the visible that we’re shown every day. The life that still goes on is a notion that the news likes to squash. Its like we want to believe when a country is at war, there is nothing else their citizens can be doing but “being at war”, but hey, look at that—divorce rates increased, I guess lawyers got more popular—but no one cares, right? Because war is numbers, deaths, dollars, drones, who cares Iraq’s unemployment rate finally improved?

Conference Post #1: Overwhelmed by Fact

My conference project is centered around the theme of being overwhelmed by facts, more specifically statistics concerning the state of Syria and Iraq during their “war” with the IS. On TV and through other media sources we are reminded of the horrors that occur in places that are safely contained in the frames of our devices. We never expect to experience the horror, much less think about it in any more terms that the “factual evidence” given to us. More attention is paid to the numbers, the data that events produce, rather than understanding or even delving into their constructive nature—it doesn’t so much matter why the IS is on the offensive, but the deaths, or more correctly the number of deaths, is what we use to measure our horror. I want to highlight the many aspects of life in the war effected areas that go unrecorded- just because a country is at war does not mean that war is what constitutes it, I plan to bring to the viewers attention the “invisible” but very real, statistics of the lives lived as a juxtaposition to the overly paid attention to negative “death” aspects of war. It is hard to begin giving agency and legitimacy to peoples or cause if they are only seen as victims (like most of the effected peoples in Syria & Iraq), the other that must be saved. In order to engage this conflict I want to create a structure that will be an interactive (sort of) sculpture/installation intended to overwhelm the senses on the issues of war (paying particular attention to the IS situation in Syria and Iraq) using the most beloved tool of news reporters: statistics. The structure itself will be a large rectangular structure that a person can enter and be able to turn and view all sides. As the person enters the first thing they will encounter is a screen with slowly increasing numbers, this will reflect the real time death toll [one person every 10 minutes, 3 people become refugees every minute]. This will be the first jarring image, I want the viewer to be consumed at first by this changing number, it should disturb, but then encourage the eye elsewhere. Behind the screen will be a chicken-wire fence (attached to the metal structure) with barbed wire on top. Through the holes of the fence will be very gorgeous pictures of the places destroyed and pillaged during the fighting (many Babylonian and Assyrian sites have been damaged, temple of Ur, Mosul) to really create that sense of unease—you are seeing at once both the rising death count and the beauty that there was, diminishing more and more as each number changes. Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 1.28.29 AM The walls on either side will each also have monitors and will be playing scenes of violence from the wars on loop, volume on. This will be accompanied by stereos that will be within the structure that will provide a constant mélange of sounds and voices (guns, bombs, traditional singing, birds, prayers, political activists speaking, riots, chants, children…), in conjunction with the monitors the auditory as well as visual effect of this collaboration will hopefully overwhelm the viewer. On the walls behind the monitors there will be recorded statistics regarding the two countries and the area on varying topics that do not necessarily pertain to the horrors of war, but still reflect its impact (such as, how many marriages were performed? Or how many houses had lights in the evening, how many olives were cured? How many students graduated?) to contrast the blatant war and violence being shown on the monitors, the ticking death toll flickering in the periphery. Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 1.28.50 AM  Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.29.39 PM With the way we are bombarded with images, statistics and “data” in our everyday lives, we do not pause to think perhaps their true importance or weight- the only difference between 200 people being dead and 1,000 is the amount of breath you take to say it, it doesn’t really affect you any less or more. I want to take the singular statistic and make the viewer engage with it in the multiple- will you feel it more if it’s bigger? We take in world horror so easily because to many, it’s just a number, but what happens if we multiply? One becomes movies and shots and screams, laughter and agony. By bombarding the viewer with all the information s/he is paralyzed, forced to stop and really look, look at war (the screens), and look at everything you’ve missed (the backdrop).
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right and left side panels with background statistics, right side Syria, left side Iraq

close up of two panels

close up of two panels

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blue-print (ish) sketch/construction plans

 

Self-Portrait: The Self as an Idea

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 3.30.41 PM This finalized version of my self portrait is the culmination and self-exploration of my thoughts and emotions. Initially, I felt the need to bracket my experiences and my personality by temporally and spatially binding it. I at first thought, how can I represent myself, when my self changes every hour, ever minute. To address this problematization of identity I thought that the most concise way to “capture” my-self would be to record myself (literally) throughout the space of an hour, as if to say; this is not who I am period, it is who I am this hour. Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 3.01.15 PM Although this idea of overlay- lines upon plotted points, upon colors, shapes and drawings and words, upon outlines, upon a graph- seemed very appealing to my thought process, I soon discovered not only its complexity, but the “holes” within my depection of myself and eventually the aesthetic overcrowding. Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 2.59.16 PM From my first draft I did not alter the layout but simply added too it, filling up the shapes on the left hand-side with text and drawing. It was at this point that I first considered having to alter my over-all plan for the direction of the map. Although I had a recording of what I had been thinking/saying during my one hour excursion through Bronxville, listening back to it, it seemed more disjointed and less indicative of myself than I had hoped. This caused me to make my first change where I decided that the filled in shapes (the drawn and text ones) did not necessarily need to correlare to concrete througts, that rather they could just be indicative of musings, potentials for where my brain wanders. After making this decision, the final choice to eliminate the idea of the one-hour restraint became much easier. Without the restraint, there was no reason for thoughts to correlate with the distance and time graphing. Thus, the drawing and text section became rather a decpition of a week within my mind, working on it daily each picture would inspire either a new thought or a further lead, for me, my personality exists as equally within my desire for meticulous fine point detail as it does within the images and thoughts I wish to bring forth. Soon it became clear to me that in the simplest of ways, the way in which I was deciding to construct my map and consider it was, ideologically, the best depiction of my self that can be given. Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 3.00.02 PM After making this decision the rest of the map seemed to flow relatively easily except for the last part. The part where I thought I was done, perhaps not. I was stuck in a position of fatigue, agitation and loss of inspiration. I had a mass of organic lines forming shapes, just as the rest of my map, lying empty, undulating at the bottom. My first reaction was an instinctual one, I should keep it, it’s the unknown, the potential… where my thoughts can go, but then, something aesthetic overtook me and I felt the need to balance the map so to speak. Engaging in a roundabout game of turntables, I flipped and flipped, 90, 180, 275. Was one side heavier than the other, were the colors causing unacceptable asymmetry? I finally gave into my aesthetic fear, I craved balance, and for that I put in a title. After discussing with Angela however, and getting a artist’s view on my obsession with aesthetic symmetry, I decided to finally choose meaning over aesthetic. Removing the title made me feel like I was stripping myself of a cloak, dangerously naked underneath. The title was a way to explain myself, a kind of shield to protect me from the misinterpreting viewer, without it, the only thing to look at, would be me. Slowly however, I began to appreciate the negative space. It is the possibility. What could be, but what is not necessarily pre-determined, the vague but delicately outlined unknown. This map has been in its own way a cartographic exploration of the self, the map and notions of boundaries between the self and everything else. Where does the line lie between one thing and another so much so that we feel the need to mark it, delineate it, name it- one/two, land/water, London/Coventry, me/you, legitimate/invisible.

Self-Portrait: A Map of the Self (A One Hour Portrait)

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 11.16.45 PM   The first question that puzzled me while considering what to create for this self-portrait map was that of timeliness and timelessness- at what point does a map, or data, or the truth fail to represent the moment? In order to address this question I decided to approach my map by first creating boundaries for my construction, in this case, the temporal kind. My map is a map of an hour, and hour inside my thoughts, it is a portrait of myself in its most truthful state because of being time-bound, it is not to say that I am not the person in my portrait now, but that more accurately it represents an hour of self-truth that has passed. My map will make visible that which is internal in regards to my thoughts and emotions, juxtaposed with literal external reminders of the world’s influences. It is a map of affect.
preliminary sketch

preliminary sketch

The hour that my map represents is based upon a random hour, taking voice-memos along the way to remind me of things I have thought of. I also set 6 alarms on my phone at random intervals at which I stopped to take a picture of the location I was in. I will use Google Maps later to determine the distance of my route travelled. For creating my map, I conceived of it in 4 layers. The first being a mixed overlay of doodles that I often draw when my mind wanders (taken from random notebooks). The second layer is filling for the doodles, each shape taking on its own identity through color, words or pictures/drawings. The colors are loosely representative of my emotional mood turbulence, while the words pictures and drawings attempt to relay had thoughts and memories (not necessarily all of them make sense to an outsider). Over this layer (3rd) I will overlay a time/distance graph that will have on it plotted the points where I stopped to take pictures. Each point will have the location picture next to it. The last layer will be a “line of truth” drawn as a median through the plotted points. Layers 3+4 have yet to be implemented in this draft.  While much of the map was constructed with this structure in mind, I also took many artistic liberties where I favored aesthetic over meaning/sign.
detail of connection system

detail of connection system

My self-portrait was largely influenced by the short story by Borges, “On Exactitude in Science”. The idea of a seamless link between map and reality intrigued me in Borges excerpt. Borges’ map proposes an equality and scale to maps that is unusual- a large scale ratio, a land where “the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of the City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province.” It is then, when this perfection is reached, that the map is discarded and abandoned in the ‘Deserts of the West’, used only by Animals and Beggars. Here the question of relevance is answered: when a map is no longer relevant, no longer wanted, then it is discarded and takes on a new life, existing outside the knowledge and purview of its creator. I wished to address the question of whether my map would remain relevant through time in its depiction of myself. It is through the tracing of this tangent that I arrived at the conclusion of making a temporally constricted map.
detail of sign system 1

detail of sign system 1

detail of sign system 2

detail of sign system 2

What makes a map a map? What makes my map a map is in its construction, its thought. To create this map, I needed to build my own blueprint-map, I needed to construct a complex narrative of myself that could be projected. Within the creative process there lay a tentative journey that created the map for me in a way. Additionally, the inherent meaning of the map, that it represents time and geography, lends to it being what it is. Without the content or the process of examining the self, the blueprint for a map would not be possible.
detail of surface

detail of surface

  My creative process and artistic style was inspired by the artistic style of two of the artists featured in Harmon’s The Map as Art. The First map that inspired me is by Nurit Gur-Lavy Karni, “Aerial Photograph of Graza 5″. This map captured me in both essence and artistry: a large draw of this map was again the issue of timeliness which it addressed (this map is part of a larger series of aerial photographs of the Gaza strip over a period of time), additionally the free form use of block color inspired my idea to add color to the map (initially I was planning on a monochromatic or greyscale scheme). My second inspiration came from Richard Stine’s “Map 6″ which was on a more artistic level; the complexity and texture found in Stine’s map is deep and intricate, I felt this was necessary in order to translate well onto the 40×40 scale we are working on.