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Entering the world of a familiar stranger

 MPost |  2016-12-13 19:41:44.0  |  New Delhi

Entering the world of a  familiar stranger

Drawing a parallel between the bustling metropolises of San Francisco and New Delhi, with a special focus on the issues of urban alienation and human angst, a new show at Khoj Studios titled Frozen World of the Familiar Stranger is being hosted by Khoj International Artist’s Association in collaboration with Kadist (an experimental arts space) in San Francisco. It is a group show of video installations, performances and artworks featuring ten Indian and international artists.

Says Sitara Chowfla, curator, Khoj Studios: “The name of the show is borrowed from American social psychologist Stanley Milgram’s 1970’s essay naming and elaborating on this theory. Milgram wrote about the idea of urban anonymity and the idea of feeling estranged from our fellow city dwellers.

His writing and experimentation on this subject was a major inspiration to our curatorial process, and we were struck by how salient the concept read now, decades later. We were inspired to revisit his observations in some symbolic way, through the lens of these brilliant artists. We are witnessing similar issues of urban alienation in big cities like Delhi and San Francisco. Look at how in these long queues in postdemonetization, we might know the next person in the queue as a familiar neighbor and yet we are filled with anger for being behind them. 

“Or take traffic jams. We might not know the person in the next car but are still filled with hatred for an unknown person. Frozen World of the Familiar Stranger reflects upon the uncanny sensation of the ultra-modern global megalopolis, and the increasing sense of alienation we encounter in our flattening world.

Through works exploring isolation, confinement, collapse, transience, anxieties, and fantasies of inhabiting collective urban space, Frozen World offers an almost satirical point of view on the human condition and what it means to be alive together in the present, and in the constructed future.

” The featured artists are Cao Fei (China), Farideh Lashai (Iran), Himali Singh Soin (India), Ho Tzu Nyen (Singapore), Kartik Sood (India), Maya Watanabe (Peru), Rachel Rose (USA), Sahej Rahal (India), Steffani Jemison (USA) and Tejal Shah (India). It is co-curated by Sitara Chowfla (Khoj) and Heidi Rabben (Kadist).

Chinese artist Cao Fei is showing a video work titled La Town (2014) that places us in the midst of an envisaged, incipient, either recently past or impending catastrophe. Using tiny models, the artist creates a world suspended somewhere between reality and dystopia, a ‘world community’ in miniature, where a happy coexistence is no more than a promise, a brief interlude in the unrelenting tide of a violent, destructive history. 

The wall-based sound and projected animation on painting work by Iranian artist Farideh Lashai (b. 1944, Iran - d. 2003) is titled Keep your Stomach Empty; That  you Mayest Behold Therein the Light of Interior (Sani-ol-Molk), 2010. Inspired by a 19th century painting by the legendary Iranian artist Sani-ol-Molk, the work symbolizes a narrative of fear and of resistance, which are recurring themes in Lashai’s work, and life. 


Indian artist Himali Singh Soin is showing a video work titled ‘Radar Level’, the background footage of which was shot in Mongolia on location where the first dinosaur egg was found. Soin will also be conducting a series of performances based on her video work on December 17 (5 PM) and January 11 (5 PM).

Singapore-based Ho Tzu Nyen is showing a video work titled ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’, 2011 that is titled after a fourteenth century mystical treatise on faith, where the cloud is paradoxically a metaphor for both an impediment to, and reconciliation with, the unknown or the divine experience. 

Indian artist Kartik Sood’s mixed-media work consisting of two videos, as his work explores the character’s experience of loneliness in an urban environment. Peruvian artist Maya Watanabe is showing a video work titled El Contorno (Contour, 2011). American artist Rachel Rose has a video work on display titled ‘Sitting, Feeding, Sleeping’, 2013. It takes us on a very particular journey through contemporary constructions created around different life forms, from medical breakthroughs in a cryogenics lab to basic scientific facts in a robotics perception lab, to animal care within zoos across the US. Sahej Rahal has on display photographs that document performances titled ‘Keeper’ (2015) and ‘Katabasis’ (2011). 

American artist  Steffani Jemison is showing a video work titled Escaped Lunatic, 2010-2011, in which a steady stream of figures run across the screen, sprinting, jumping, and rolling through the streets of Houston. The work is part of a trilogy that borrows its narrative structure from early-20th-century cinema. 

Indian artist  Tejal Shah has two video works – titled Between the Waves, Channel II – Landfill Dance, 2012) and Between the Waves, Channel IV – Moon Burning, 2012 – and a mixed media collage of digital prints on archival paper titled Between the Waves Collages – Inner, 2012. For this project, Shah creates sensual, poetic, heterotopic landscapes within which they place subjects that inhabit personal/political metaphors – embodiments of the queer, eco-sexual, inter-special, technological, spiritual and scientific.

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