Artist Michelle Poonawalla's latest project, Introspection, delves into the internalisation of the process of news consumption and its effect on news consumers. With so much information — valid and invalid — being propagated by a gamut of mediums, news consumers become desensitised to the gravity of the news itself. With that comes a sense of discomfort, dejection and an eventual apathy towards society, which Poonawalla attempts to tap with her latest exhibition.
The opening note of Poonwalla's installation states that it "hopes to create a moment of pause, reminding us, the viewers, of our role towards humanity".
Growing up between the UK and India, Poonawalla completed her graduation in Interior Design along with a Bachelor of Arts from the American College in London. Ever since her first formal show in 2016 at Mumbai's Gateway School, Poonawalla has been actively exhibiting her artworks both in India and abroad.
Poonawalla's Introspection met with acclaim when it was exhibited at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2019 and was on display at the Alserkal Avenue in Dubai from 18 to 23 March 2019. Firstpost interviewed the artist before her Dubai show via email. Edited excerpts from the interview:
When and how did you think of the idea? Was there any specific trigger?
My family and I like to travel and, in recent years, the atmosphere of paranoia the world over is palpable. There’s also such a confusing, terrifying overload of information that serious human loss becomes a statistic. As a mother, I often think about the kind of world we’re leaving behind for the next generation. I would like to see a world where there is hope, but for that, it is important to take a closer look at our present, with empathy and awareness. As an artist, my tool of communication is my art and I hope that I can create a conversation around the subject.
Do you think in this age of multi-narrative media, there is an even greater need to introspect?
Absolutely. Media is a tricky entity and we must be aware of what we are consuming. We need to be responsible for the news we hear and how we respond to it. I think listening to different perspectives and celebrating our diversity as human beings are also important. Media, particularly social media, has created a wonderful network but it also has its ugliness. Empathy and positivity is something that I very consciously try to put out in my interaction with this space because as an individual and a creative person, that’s the impact I can create.
How do you think images and sounds, the ones that we consume through news and other mediums, affect our perception and understanding?
If you look at a lot of mainstream media today, the news is a jumble of flashing, sensationalised headlines and screaming opinion panels. It’s a soap opera that takes away all feeling from the viewer. We’re shocked by a terrible event, only to forget about it and move onto the next. Through Introspection, I’m trying to use sound and visuals to create an experience that creates space for thought and feeling.
Do you think the easy access to news and information today, especially due to the technological boom and social media explosion, sometimes makes us take news 'for granted'?
I think it does run the risk of going in that direction. There’s a lot of information to process and sometimes the issues that bind us all as human beings get lost. However, I should also say that social media does have the power to bring people together as we saw recently with the Youth Climate Strike in countries across the world. It was amazing to see how young people used the power of social media and communication to create a global movement to protect the environment.
What do the sounds and visuals in your exhibit represent?
I describe my installation as an experience, a journey. The audience’s first interaction with the work is through sound — news clips describing human loss and struggle, layered upon each other. The sensation is familiar but also unsettling, because you focus on these news flashes without a distracting visual reference to match it, allowing you to focus on each sound byte. It creates a heaviness, which is carried into the next layer of the experience — a 360-degree screen with a projection of a blood-like rain. As you walk around the space, the motion sensor triggers and the screen slowly fills up with serene white butterflies. The effect of the sound and visuals moves from unsettling to a calm hopefulness.
What do you mean when you say that the "installation hopes to... remind us, the viewers, of our role towards humanity"?
I hope to give the audience something to think about, but also create an atmosphere that allows this thinking and more importantly, feeling. As an artist, the goal is to create something that people can carry with them and which will be the trigger for other thoughts and ideas. With Introspection, I wanted to create a work that is an aesthetic and emotional experience, allowing us to dig deeper and reflect.
What is the kind of response that you have got so far?
The installation has received a very warm response, both while it was displayed as a collateral project at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (till mid-February) and now at Alserkal Avenue, Dubai where it opened on 18 March. I think what’s drawn people to this work is the universality of it and the interactivity. I do think it’s important for art to be accessible and immersive for it to create a conversation. Young art students have been curious about the digital technology I’ve used, which is heartening to see and I’m always happy to chat and share with like-minded, creative people.
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Updated Date: Mar 23, 2019 15:01:18 IST