“Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed ” Lavoisier
“Enter at your own risk ” Asim Waqif
« The space is incredible »
In the heart of the Palais de Tokyo, the most deeply concealed exhibition space is the “Music Temple”. A reminiscence of archaeological ruins and a survival of modernist architecture, it is an unusual space that has not been used for decades. The Indian artist Asim Waqif has awakened it from its slumber with an extraordinary and oversized work that explodes beyond its architectural housing and gives visitors to the art centre a unique experience. It is a space that can be viewed in its entirety from a balustrade, before literally diving into the artwork.
Asim Waqif trained as an architect and his work is a constant blend of art, architecture, design and multimedia; it is always closely linked to urban design and strategies involving the use of public space. Working in situ - whether it is in an abandoned building, a sacred river or an art space - he is a constantly carrying out experiments. His installations always arise from the context in which they are created. Sensitive to ecological and anthropological issues, in recent years he has carried out a highly pertinent investigation of the cycles of construction and destruction in contemporary societies. A long, physically demanding process invariably gives rise to installations of savage beauty combining natural and technological components, whose existence is always ephemeral.
Upcycling and mise en abyme
“When I visited the Palais de Tokyo for the first time, new exhibitions were being installed. This process had led to the accumulation of a large amount of debris from the previous exhibitions. I was immediately drawn to this material, this residue produced by the act of showing art.”
For this exhibition, Asim Waqif decided to work on a complete cycle: he collects waste from exhibitions (wooden panels, furniture, electronic components etc) and makes them into a new artwork, which is itself destroyed after being displayed. The result is a mise en abyme of the exhibition process.
One might use the term “recycling”, but the artist prefers the word “upcycling”: the process that consists of transforming useless or rejected elements into products of a higher quality that respect the environment. The idea is to make an object more beautiful in its second incarnation that it was initially. A gigantic panel of plywood with good karma can thus find itself used as the key component of an in situ installation. Asim Waqif implements an almost self-sufficient system and shows us that reaching the essence of a work requires very few things. He is like a contemporary alchemist who transforms rubbish into art.
The sound of art
“I wanted to explore the way form and the installation process could interfere with a soundscape.”
The question of sound as a response to the movements of visitors is essential in Asim Waqif’s work. In the case of Bordel monstre, microphones and sound sensors are placed inside and all around the installation, creating a series of echo chambers. The visitor plays an active role: every time he walks past he creates sounds and vibrations. Most importantly the sound is an adaptation of a traditional Indian instrument, the Rudra Veena, applied to different elements such as metal pipes, stone steps and plastic objects. As the sound is distributed through the space after a delay of a few seconds, the visitor receives the echo once he has entered the sculpture; he finds himself surrounded both by the work and by the recorded sound of his own presence. This dual chrysalis of sculpture and sound creates a strange sensation that is both enjoyable and disturbing. This installation is like a secret that each visitor discovers and makes his own. The work reacts to external stimuli, and each visit takes on a quasi-spiritual dimension. The relationship with the work is unique every time.
From bamboo to miscanthus
“The West considers bamboo to be exotic, but here in India nobody is interested in it. Ironically, we have a rich popular tradition involving the use of bamboo whereas Europe has almost no experience of it.”
Bamboo features repeatedly in Asim Waqif’s art; it is a basic raw material in his works, a natural traditional material that he says is falling out of use. He attempts to combine technology and tradition in an approach that is poetic and not without risk. Asim Waqif’s art can be seen as relating to the cycle of life.
Miscanthus, a plant used in construction work in South-East Asia, was first imported into France in the 1980s; it is grown for its combustion properties and to be used as a biofuel. Asim Waqif uses it in an unusual way in his latest installation, adapting his work on bamboo to the French context. The result is a formal interplay between the orthogonal nature of junk and the curves of organic materials, with miscanthus being used as the “joining material” in a wild architectural form.
Making more with less
“I consider the human aspects of craftsmanship, its meditative quality, the link between work and the worker, the slow process of change and the physical act of manual work.”
Asim Waqif is concerned with cycles of consumption in society. His projects also play a social role. This is why he has become interested, for example, in ancient water distribution systems in Rajasthan. Demolition, deconstruction, and what lies in between the two are at the heart of his installations, which are themselves in a constant process of growth and change. Asim Waqif never knows in advance what an installation will look like, there are no sketches or preparatory plans: the work evolves according to the objects he finds, the people he works with, and the context… Asim Waqif has entitled his installation at the Palais de Tokyo Bordel monstre [“monstrous mess”], using a colloquial term to express the deep-seated connection between disorder and monstrosity.
The hidden beauty of the past
“There are many things in modern life and technology that are advantageous and which should be adopted but not as an alternative to traditional practices; we have to mix the two.”
“I think the act of destruction and decrepitude is essential for evolution, whereas archiving and preservation often lead to stagnation.”
Artists today assume a real social and political role in the way they think about the world. Asim Waqif, with a body of work that is both socially committed and spiritual, seeks to challenge contemporary society, which faces towards the future while forgetting its past. Is the future not an augmented version of the past? The artist gives form to the wear and tear of the world, developing a language anchored in contemporary urban society. Asim Waqif tries to combine tradition andtechnologyin a way that is both poetic and daring, light-heartedly creating a sense of quirkiness: “I try to use the absurd as a way of getting people to reflect upon their fears and prejudices.”
NotesQuotes are from interviews Asim Waqif has given in recent years.
Published in a catalogue by SAM Art Projects, 2012.