Save As… is a media based exhibition that includes works in photography, video, and sound. The impulse behind Kansara’s work is elusive. The imagery he has created is documentary based, a diaristic mix of memories that is both deliberate and arbitrary. More important than the images themselves is what becomes of them, the process of how they are altered, reconfigured, and overwritten. Put through formal and conceptual changes, the images are distressed, broken apart, reassembled, and rephotographed. Through an arsenal of analog transforming devices, maneuvers, and gestures the imagery as well as the soundtrack is continually fractured and repaired. Shapes that once indicated emptiness become architectural. Narratives are buried within noisescapes. Figures become tangles of line but still manage to emerge.
In the video Save As…(Sculps #2) footage drawn from Kansara’s family life and social life vie for visibility. Each scene is repeatedly fragmented and rebuilt during a kind of tabletop performance, a back and forth of dominating elements. Throughout the process some sense of wholeness is restored to the imagery but it’s no longer the original, it’s not in it’s initial form. It’s been re-made through projection, performance and collage, through materials that include editions of the New York Times, mail/letters, flour, bleach, water, paper, glass, photographs, wood, film, and videos.
Sound plays an important role throughout the exhibition. Layers upon layers of sound jockey for position, narrative threads and stories emerge but the content is jumbled and hard to decipher. Sounds emanate from all around the exhibition space, while discrete listening stations are interspersed, allowing the narratives to coalesce, to be heard. Sound and image are loosely connected. Some connections can be fleshed out by the viewer, many remain hidden and obscured.
Untitled(Self-Portraits/Selfies) is from a series of daily digital photographs, taken from 2010-2014, focusing on moments of melancholy or banality in Kansara’s day-to-day routine. These snapshots are then digitally inverted and printed as negatives on inkjet transparency film, which are then brought into the analog black and white darkroom for printing and processing on silver gelatin paper. The process of making the final print is alternative, involving partial development, direct sunlight, and powdered fixer. After this process the images are allowed to change in natural light for a period of days or weeks before being permanently fixed and washed. The digital to analog to alternative process alters the content of the once digital selfie, infusing it with accretions of information as time elapses.
Untitled(Bleached, Erased, Forgot) consists of eight bleached C-prints arranged on shelves. The images – analog color darkroom prints made by the artist – have been bleached to the point of erasure with only slight traces of the original photographs remaining. This act of destroying a previously made art object is double edged: it is violent, reckless, and sad, yet also an act of re-creation. Ultimately, Kansara positions this as a prism of actively forgetting, highlighting the transient nature of memory, of lived experience.
Daily life is increasingly mediated by recording devices that augment, replace, and alter how we experience events. The tendency to view and record live events through our cameras or phones is so ubiquitous that there is an inevitable negotiation between the experienced and the recorded reality in memory formation. Michael Specter, in his May 2014 New Yorker article, “Partial Recall”, tells us that “until memories are fixed, they are fragile and easily destroyed. It takes a few hours for new experiences to complete the biochemical and electrical process that transforms them from short-term to long-term memories. Over time, they become stronger and less vulnerable to interference. That process is referred to as consolidation by the psychologist Elizabeth Loftus from the University of California at Irvine.”
Elizabeth Phelps and Joseph LeDoux from New York University – according to Specter “among the nation’s leading investigators of the neural systems involved in memory” – posit that for memories to be recollected, the pathways in the brain in which the memory originated must be retraced, and that this act of recall actually changes the memory, a process scientists refer to as reconsolidation. Loftus expresses this with the analogy that “memory works a little bit like a Wikipedia page, you can go in there and change it, but so can other people”.
Specter says of the experiment by Karim Nader, conducted at LeDoux’s lab at New York University, that “Nader had demonstrated that the very act of remembering something makes it vulnerable to change. Like a text recalled from a computer’s hard drive, each memory was subject to editing. Whether the changes are slight or extensive, the new document is never quite the same as the original.”
Digital media and apps like Instagram have brought us into an era of memory profusion, where the sheer quantity of images leads to a devaluing of the past’s hold on the present. Terabytes of digital memories make us care less, as the archive comes to supersede the actual event until ultimately the recordings alter our memories of the events themselves, which are reduced to viewing experiences, where the narrative is open-ended and ripe for a remake.
The exhibition as a whole exposes the malleability and fugitive quality of memory, which modern media saturation accentuates. Our memories are now viewed through a lens that can be re-focused, as well as stored in a document that can be overwritten through the mechanism of Save As…. Kansara’s video and photographic processes mirror the activity of our neural pathways and synapses through which recollections are constantly saving, updating, and transforming along the way. Tinkering with our memories happens while brushing our teeth. The telephone game with ourselves, past, present, and future.