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Good ended happily (still), 2018. Video Installation.

The artist has a growing interest in not making his own work himself. Rather, he likes to draw larger parameters within which his work may be performed by such collaborators as he may involve in the process of conceiving a work. Thus, for the present work, he had a film crew associated with Pakistan’s Lahore-based film industry, known as Lollywood, to collaborate with him. They were required to help him build a narrative for the work. In this, he assigned them the task of recreating and filming the after-images of the American Special Forces operation that resulted in the death of the infamous Al Qaeda supremo, Osama Bin Laden.

The artist left the execution of the film to the imagination of his crew, allowing them space to reproduce the events as they saw fit. Whereas, the artist only observed the process of recreation that he initiated, his collaborators worked to form a narrative around the said event. Throughout making of the work, including the filming part, the cameraman, his assistant and the director of action wore collar mics as they worked to create fiction.

The process of recreation soon started to form its own reality. This new reality rested between the factuality of the actual event and its fictive, and thus, imperfect reproduction; and, between the intention of the artist and its interpretation by the collaborators as they tried to resolve it into a work.

This is the second collaboration of the artist with Lollywood, a Lahore-based film industry that is centered only miles away from his home. During its heyday, the film industry was amongst the largest film industries in the world, producing scores of movies every year. However, beginning around 1977, the once vibrant film industry began a dramatic collapse into creative banality, intellectual decadence and popular irrelevance. Today, it maintains a limited, almost peripheral existence in the arena of Pakistan’s socio-cultural production.

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Practicing Procedures of Killing, 2016. Two Channel Video Installation.
Supported by Stichting Stokroos Amsterdam, Netherlands and Kunsthalle Darmstadt, Germany.

The author at the present time is contemplating the story of murder which goes back to a conflict between the two sons of Adam and Eve: Abel and Cain. Cain killed Abel and thus committed the first murder in the history of humankind. When Cain killed Abel, God was both the only witness and the prosecution; and was, at once, the judge and the jury. And at the time, the witness gave testimony; the prosecution prosecuted; the jury deliberated; the judge ruled; and Cain was condemned. The condemnation has reverberated through time – as has the act itself and its implications. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, once remarked: "No soul is wrongfully killed except that some of the burden falls upon the son of Adam, for he was the first to establish the practice of murder." Whereas Muhammad, in this quote, constructs attribution and, perhaps by some stretch of imagination, a chain of blame, there is need to return to the original act of murder itself, and reinterpret it to construct new meanings.

“Practicing Procedures of Killing” looks at the first murder in the history to establish the possible last murder on earth and all the others in-between.

For the two channel installation, the author invited young actors to reenact the story of the first murder. Participants were given instructions in a Waiting Room, where they were videotaped as they spoke, waited, ate, rehearsed and left. In the Recording Room, the participants (two at a time) narrated the story in an improvised manner and in so doing, become a part of the story itself in reenacting it.

Here, the camera only recorded the end of their performances wherein the participants, unmoving, try to hold their breath so that their death may be established. However, the author continued to observe natural behavior of the participants’ bodies with the help of the camera.

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Missing Letters. Installation View Variable Size. 2016.  Paper Ashes.
 
 





Ashes were collected from RLO (Returned Letter Office) at Pakistan Post Office, Lahore. During the British era it was known as “Dead Letters Office”. They keep undelivered letters for thirty days before eventually burning them. Mostly stay undelivered, for having an incomplete or ineligible address and also sometime the reason is just an inefficient system.

I reduce these ashes to the point, where they cannot be burned further.

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Two Eyes, Not to Blink (still). 2014. Two Channel Video Installation.
Project Supported by Videobrasil and Sacatar.


On July 25, 2014, I received an email telling me that Bakary Diallo was on the plane that crashed in Mali. It was just two days before my flight. I was traveling to begin my artist’s residency with Bakary at the Sacatar Institute on Itaparica Island in Bahia, Brazil. After that news, it was very tough for me to take the flight.

Traveling from Lahore to Itaparica had the strongest impact on me. I was not at all thinking about the work I would be doing during my residency. I think that, for a time, art wasn’t important to me. I had questions for myself, with no answers to any of them.

I work with the situations I am in – this has been one of my strategies for sustaining freshness in my work – and that situation was too strong for me to ignore. I realized that perhaps I had already begun making the work; from the time I left home.

I was the first fellow to arrive at the residency house. I had three days to stay in the house alone, absorbing everything I had experienced while the staff was getting ready for the other fellows to arrive. 

I’ve always had this curiosity about the day I die. What would the next day look like? I try to imagine how people I know would receive the news. How would they react? Would everything else be the same? Perhaps yes. The sorrow that exists in this idea interests me - and the grief in the day, the day I will never see. This situation was a chance for me to put myself into such a state of nonbeing, to make a sort of afterlife for myself.  

In the process, soon the staff in the house became my actors, standing still and trying not to blink.

This work is in memory of Bakary and me.

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In a Move, to the Better Side (Installation View). 2012. Video Installation.
Project Supported by ARCUS Project (Ibaraki Prefectural Government, Moriya City, Ibaraki.
 International Association, Asian Cultural Council). Japan.


‘In a Move, to the Better Side’, is inspired by a true incident. This took place in 2011, in Pakistan. A group of people wanted to immigrate to Europe in search of a better life. They were hidden in a container, and somewhere on the journey, a long way from home, their bodies were discovered. All had died of suffocation.

I interpreted this incident using three basic elements: weight, movement and repetition. Weight as ideology, movement as hope to reach a better side and repetition as belief or ritual. These three elements hold the work together.

What made them move? Did the object move them or did their ideology make it move? The repetition represents their stubborn belief in the possibility of change and the efficacy of movement. This becomes an end in itself.

My arrival and first experience of Europe triggered my interest in this incident. Perhaps my own brief ‘move to a better side’ made me more than an observer? This question helped me to position myself to formalize the work. From here I started to look at the incident not from out side but from inside. I replaced suffocation with openness and movement with stillness.

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I’m on the “Us” Side and You Are on the Other, 2010. Two Channel Video Installation.

The Wagah border crossing between India and Pakistan is the site of a daily military custom known as the “lowering of the flags” ceremony. It takes place every evening before sunset just before security forces on either side close the gates. Thousands of spectators gather every day to watch the ceremony.

I’m on the “us” side and you are on the other looks at what this ceremony says about the groups that watch it and what unites them. The installation is composed in such a way that the viewer is subsumed into the crowd.   


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Basir Mahmood