In the video Save As…(Sculps #4) footage drawn from Kansara’s family life and social life vie for visibility. Each scene is repeatedly fragmented and rebuilt during a kind of tabletop performance, a back and forth of dominating elements. Throughout the process some sense of wholeness is restored to the imagery but it’s no longer the original, it’s not in it’s initial form. It’s been re-made through projection, performance and collage, through materials that include editions of the New York Times, mail/letters, flour, bleach, water, paper, glass, photographs, wood, film, and videos.
The impulse behind Kansara’s work is elusive. The imagery he has created is documentary based, a diaristic mix of memories that is both deliberate and arbitrary. More important than the images themselves is what becomes of them, the process of how they are altered, reconfigured, and overwritten. Put through formal and conceptual changes, the images are distressed, broken apart, reassembled, and rephotographed. Through an arsenal of analog transforming devices, maneuvers, and gestures the imagery as well as the soundtrack is continually fractured and repaired. Shapes that once indicated emptiness become architectural. Narratives are buried within noisescapes. Figures become tangles of line but still manage to emerge.
Untitled(Bleached, Erased, Forgot) consists of 12 bleached C-prints arranged in a partial grid. The images – analog color darkroom prints made by the artist – have been bleached to the point of erasure with only slight traces of the original photographs remaining. This act of destroying a previously made art object is double edged: it is violent, reckless, and sad, yet also an act of re-creation. Ultimately, Kansara positions this as a prism of actively forgetting, highlighting the transient nature of memory, of lived experience.
Daily life is increasingly mediated by recording devices that augment, replace, and alter how we experience events. The tendency to view and record live events through our cameras or phones is so ubiquitous that there is an inevitable negotiation between the experienced and the recorded reality in memory formation. Michael Specter, in his May 2014 New Yorker article, “Partial Recall”, tells us that “until memories are fixed, they are fragile and easily destroyed. It takes a few hours for new experiences to complete the biochemical and electrical process that transforms them from short-term to long-term memories. Over time, they become stronger and less vulnerable to interference. That process is referred to as consolidation by the psychologist Elizabeth Loftus from the University of California at Irvine.”
Elizabeth Phelps and Joseph LeDoux from New York University – according to Specter “among the nation’s leading investigators of the neural systems involved in memory” – posit that for memories to be recollected, the pathways in the brain in which the memory originated must be retraced, and that this act of recall actually changes the memory, a process scientists refer to as reconsolidation. Loftus expresses this with the analogy that “memory works a little bit like a Wikipedia page, you can go in there and change it, but so can other people”.
Specter says of the experiment by Karim Nader, conducted at LeDoux’s lab at New York University, that “Nader had demonstrated that the very act of remembering something makes it vulnerable to change. Like a text recalled from a computer’s hard drive, each memory was subject to editing. Whether the changes are slight or extensive, the new document is never quite the same as the original.”
Digital media and apps like Instagram have brought us into an era of memory profusion, where the sheer quantity of images leads to a devaluing of the past’s hold on the present. Terabytes of digital memories make us care less, as the archive comes to supersede the actual event until ultimately the recordings alter our memories of the events themselves, which are reduced to viewing experiences, where the narrative is open-ended and ripe for a remake.
The works as a whole exposes the malleability and fugitive quality of memory, which modern media saturation accentuates. Our memories are now viewed through a lens that can be re-focused, as well as stored in a document that can be overwritten through the mechanism of Save As…. Kansara’s video and photographic processes mirror the activity of our neural pathways and synapses through which recollections are constantly saving, updating, and transforming along the way. Tinkering with our memories happens while brushing our teeth. The telephone game with ourselves, past, present, and future.
Gautam Kansara (b. 1979, London) is an artist and educator based in Brooklyn, New York. Gautam’s video and photographic work is part of prestigious private collections including The Burger Collection, Hong Kong, The Shreya and Swapan Seth Collection, New Delhi, and the Permanent Collection of the Center for Book Arts, New York City. Since 2002 his work has been featured internationally in numerous exhibitions and screenings, including Alongside the Poison Dartz, Secret Project Robot: Institute for the Living Arts, Brooklyn, NY (2014); Faculty, National Academy Museum, New York City (2013); This is familiar, but I can’t remember now…, Dumbo Arts Festival, Brooklyn, NY (2012); Multiple, Unique, Limited: Selections from the Permanent Collection at The Center for Book Arts in New York City (2011); A Place of Their Own at BMB Gallery in Bombay (2010); No Soul For Sale at X-Initiative in New York City (2009), us between us at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT (2008); Rencontres Internationales at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid (2008); We Will Always Be There For You at Kunsthaus Dresden (2008); TV Dinners at LMAK Projects, New York City (2007); AIM 26 at The Bronx Museum of the Arts in New York City (2006). Gautam has been an artist-in-residence at Smack Mellon, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Swing Space, and the Center for Book Arts, all in New York City. Gautam is faculty at Manhattan College’s Visual and Performing Arts Department, and a adjunct professor at New York University’s Department of Art and Art Professions.