The untiring team at SAVVY Contemporary created this opportunity + such an attentive audience for whom to make an invocation of this kind. Listening is such a shared experience.
Sharing an ancient Hindu rite is also a very personal thing for me, since meditating before I went to live and study 4 years in India in 1998. These Sanskrit shlokas elevate the listeners as well as the invoker, enlightening a specific solar plexus according to time of day, mantra and raga. Sound working as a vibration, in turn shifts vibrations, cleanses and strengthens. Normally I play the harmonium I carried from India against all odds in 2002, long may it live! Just a cabin-friendly keyboard here.
Getting through customs from a high risk area like UK at the moment is not smooth But the collective appreciation of a man and artist like Halim El Dabh couldn’t be a better forum for such a piece. First I read quotes pertinent to the thinking behind a book chapter I wrote for Savvy, soon to be published. This was on the techno-sublime in Halim El Dabh’s life and work, comparing it to the work and writings of French film maker and philosopher Jean Epstein who had a similar kind of journey in his thinking, practice and approach to technology. Then I touched on integrity and El Dabh’s life-work continuum, very topical in today’s art industry where who you know is more important than what you know, and people will make gestures but are still too scared to live/practice the things they speak of in the art they make or profess enthusiasm for.
Finally I sang The Gayatri Mantra is seen as “the foremost mantra, the way to the awakening of the mind and soul. It is said to be the way to reach the most Supreme form of existence within and without ourselves“. I’ve taken the mantra away from traditional Indian nasal sounds in the upper registers relegated to the female voice, into the lower end of the scale, which you might hear from female Muslim singers and Western contralto lower voices, as I feel this resonates better vibrations in the invocation of the feminine and fits the female body better.
Singing is the hardest form of music in which to hide, for the voice comes directly from your heart and lungs with no chain of intermediaries such as the hand, string, or the set up of the electronic keyboard. Essentially to sing freeform is to lay oneself bare, and only then one is in a true and just position to then expect the same from the listener. This is the kind of listening I am researching in my PhD. So the music is less about technique then integrity, for it acts as a key to a shared space in which vibrations can get to work. In fact imperfection in technique gives permission to others, as practiced in my shared series with Christopher John Weaver around the show #SystemsForAScore, 2015 at Tashkeel, Dubai, which focused on glitching/ mistakes as a permissive environment, improvised musical collaboration beyond language and immersion. I repeatedly use my own handwriting in textile works to the same end, and the perversion of the use of materials that defy examination for their perfection but rather their intent: photography, screen printing, and other exploratory forms such as multiple vocals in music tracks that are laid purposely out of sync (The Visitor Book, with Musicity and The Culture Mile, 2021).
About the Gayatri Mantra: “There are many references to the Gayatri Mantra contained in the sacred Hindu texts, The Upanisads dating from approx. 700BC, and it is contained in all the four most ancient Vedas. The Goddess Gayatri is the Mother of all the Vedas and the consort of Brahma. She is made up of the coming together of Parvati, Laxmi and Saraswati to become Adi Parashakti, the Mother of Gods and the Supreme God of all Gods. In this way, associated with the sun, Gayatri is worshipped as the Sun Goddess and governs our creativity and the pure knowledge that lies within us.”
The performance began with my own words “I am wondering what is beyond and above empathy?
You can watch it, please let the sound swell over you for full effect, along with all the fantastic offerings from around the world in this two day gathering of minds and hearts, in my bio link here in Instagram. My slot is about 4hrs 25minutes in, during which we see previously unseen photos I took on a residency in Karachi with the Lahore Biennial Foundation. After so many years living in Hindu India, I wasxt amongst such a close people, it felt somewhere between my native Iran and India, yet nowhere. The only place I found familiarity was in the eyes of those who shared the pavement with me. It was a lesson in looking as well as listening, Christopher John Weaver and I made many recordings and presented them as an exercise on the impossibility of “capturing” somewhere or a people, therefore not-Karachi, but Close To Karachi, in 2016 at Edge Of Arabia, London with support from the Arts Council England.
As my practice is research-based, performance-lecture continues what as an artist I consider a most important part of any artwork and that is ‘the thinking-behind’, along with ‘the-true-face-in-front’. It is a philosophy for life, as well as art.Links: