George Town Festival - Digital Waste: The Sweet Smell of Burning Catalogue

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DIGITAL WASTE

The S w eet S m ell Of Bu r ning

Artist: Madhvee Deb

Photography, Video & Mixed Media Exhibition 4 AUG - 2 SEP 2018 10:00am - 6:00pm (Closed on Thursday) OME BY SPACEBAR COFFEE 1 Lorong Toh Aka, George Town, Penang


PROLOGUE JU UNDERWOOD The digital age has unveiled many avenues of activity that, before its dawning, were not available to the majority of people. For example, we can now all be highly skilled photographers by simply capturing a multitude of images, then selecting the ones that please us most from the batch. Technique has moved on from being the eye involved in setting up composition, and lighting, and all the other elements that have traditionally gone into the art of photography, and has shifted to being the eye that edits an array of more random, and less thoughtfully conceived, information. We rarely consider the leftover images, the ones that did not make the cut. The usual fate of those is that they are pasted into a computer file, and then abandoned. Billions of image files are held in suspended animation in this way, and, most likely, never looked at again, a massive waste mountain inhabiting the virtual world. It is estimated that 3.93 trillion images were stored digitally in 2017. It is a number that is almost impossible to contemplate, and is, of course, constantly being added to. The downside of this culture of overproduction is the devaluing of the material involved, or in this case, what we can term material:digital. We tend to value what is rare, unique or hard won, and conversely undervalue things that come too easily, or are effortless to produce. This is a concern, since it means that certain elements of our daily lives are not appreciated in the way they were pre-digitally. They are too easy to gain, and therefore have become disposable. Our experience, as we travel through life, has also depreciated as a result. Which leads to the consideration of how this effects our human interaction, and ultimately Society. Digital platforms have given us access to much more of everything than the analogue world could provide, generating both positive and negative outcomes, depending on the context, and the use we make of this potential.


Artist Madhvee Deb is fascinated by these phenomena, that have only arisen in our daily lives since the advent of domestic digital technology. She regards them as a metaphor for issues that extend beyond the digital realm. A mass production, selection, rejection, and archiving, not just of images, but also of other facets of our daily lives, such as interpersonal relationships. She is concerned about the excessive exchange of worthless information found on social media, and that our over abundant access to anyone and everything will wreak havoc on us emotionally and psychologically in the long term. For her latest exhibition Digital Waste: The Sweet Smell of Burning, which debuts at the George Town Festival in August 2018, Deb sought to subvert the notion of the discarded image by viewing it, not as an element thrown on a virtual rubbish heap, but as a resource for further exploration. The form of this body of Deb’s work was influenced by the early pioneers of photography art, namely Man Ray, Edmund Kesting, and Gjon Mili. These artists, working in the first part of the 20th century, were the first recognised to be exploiting the potential of photography as an art medium, and not just a means of capturing direct images of a scene. They played with every technique available at the time, creating double images, experimenting with exposure, and using light on photographic paper to produce innovative effects. They ventured into new territory, which led the way for future generations of photography artists. Deb was inspired by these role-models to create a series of photographic works that use discarded images from her own files. To this end she sought out photographs she had previously rejected for not being aesthetically pleasing enough, and reinvented them as artworks in their own right. In effect, she took a second, searching look at the forgotten photographs, and exposed another kind of aesthetic beauty, one that was dormant and unrecognised until her process of re-examination was applied. In a manner akin to the sensibility of Man Ray et al, she overlaid multiple images, and played with changes of scale and multiplication, until a new aesthetic of the image was created. The result is a series of works that are


visually entrancing and stimulating, but which contain an underlying message that addresses the issue of throwaway digital culture. There is also humour in the production. Deb is not necessarily condemning human nature and its misuse/abuse of digital means, but rather she accepts that we are what we are, and subtly illustrates what we are missing out on by being so. She asks the questions and picks up the details that others dismiss, and returns them like a mischievous throwing down of the gauntlet. She challenges us to re-examine the things we overlook or discard, and to ďŹ nd the new forms of aesthetic beauty inherent in them. As well as photography based works in her latest exhibition Digital Waste: The Sweet Smell of Burning, she also shows an intriguing series of sculptures, that sit alongside, and commune with, the 2D works. These are made from the rejected photo prints from the process of compiling the 2D works, which are worked into 3D forms, and then set using a resin substrate. There is a sense of irony in this action that is consistent with her overall ethos of recycling the rejects that many would ďŹ nd unrecyclable. There is also a witty acknowledgement of the cyclical, and somewhat telescopic, nature of the reuse of discarded material. In performing this further intervention into the process new detritus is assuredly created, ironically the problem turns back on itself in endless reiteration. In creating the physical forms of the sculptures Deb drew on memories from her childhood. The artist acknowledges that it was, to some extent, a self-indulgence to take this approach, a trip down memory lane. However, it seems a highly appropriate response to the chosen media. Photos are always, to some degree, trapped memories, and the most direct way of connecting with this aspect of photography is to use your own. The personal association the artist has with the forms is not explained, but it acts as a further overlay of meaning/history onto each object that gives it presence and resonance. Deb also shows a video work in the exhibition. In this the viewer is taken on a hypnotic journey that simulates the eect of prolonged exposure to social media. The work is lighthearted, but this masks more


serious concerns about the excessive amount of time contemporary people spend gazing at a screen, how addictive this occupation is, and how the virtual world never really gives us what we need, but only the ghost of it, the fake, instant, digital facsimile. Digital Waste: The Sweet Smell of Burning is an exhibition that is both whimsical and serious. Our use of digital resources, and the unknown damage these may cause us in the long term is clearly a concern, however the work is not nostalgic or retro-thinking. The artist is not passing judgement on the current state of play, rather she is illustrating a side effect of contemporary activity that may have been swept under the carpet. Â Her objective is to raise awareness, provoking people to be more mindful of their digital interactions. In her reinvention of rejected elements she is proposing one type of alternative strategy, and in doing so acknowledges the changing landscape of human behaviour. The work also bridges the gap between the tangible and the intangible in a charming, non self-conscious way. It serves as a comparison between what is real:physical, and what is unreal:virtual, a boundary that in contemporary existence is increasingly becoming blurred. The inherent question is, which provides us with a better quality of life? Perhaps the only answer to this is that there is no answer. They both provide us with something we need, but the important thing is to keep them in the optimum balance, to find homeostasis. The subject matter of the work, the digital world, is an intangible entity, however Deb’s works are real, physical objects. We can look at them, touch them, we can walk around them, we can display them in our hallways, we do not have to press a keyboard in order to bring them to life.

Scottish artist Ju Underwood originally gained qualifications in architecture from Glasgow School of Art, and subsequently a Degree and Masters in Fashion in London. Working as an architect, but fuelled by the compulsion to have a more creative life, she has been cultivating an art practice over the past 15 years that has run in parallel with, and functioned in counterpoint to, her design discipline. Underwood’s artwork is inspired by contemporary psychoanalysis, most importantly the writings of Slavoj Žižek, and the writings and art of Bracha Ettinger, and is focused on revealing the obscured layers of human psychology that transcend boundaries of place, time and gender. Her mission is to examine the existential condition, and explore it in physical form. In 2010, Underwood founded a residency programme, ArtFunkl Artists’ Residency and Initiative, originally based in Manchester, UK, and Valencia, Spain.


MAKING USE OF DISCARDED MEMORIES JAMES SPRINGER In 2015, eleven years after the launch of Facebook, a number of news stories highlighted a bizarre trend in selfie deaths – people who had died trying to take a photograph of themselves in ‘memorable’ situations. One tourist fell to her death after a rock gave way on a cliff edge of Northcliff Hill in South Africa. Three Indian students were hit by a fast moving train near Kosikala, India. Another young woman burst into flames after touching a 27,000-volt live wire in Iași, Romania. A man was gorged to death by a bull at the Villaseca de la Sagra Bull Run in Spain. A teenager in Houston, the US, accidentally shot himself in the head. Readers, listeners and viewers around the world quickly realised that, while reported as genuine accidents, the motives leading to these deaths revealed a dangerous obsession with people’s image on online social media. In the pursuit of capturing a moment to be envied by others, these unnecessary casualties had disregarded their own safety and paid the ultimate price. They were disastrous examples of a new culture fixated on instant gratification through simulated indicators of popularity, support and celebrity: likes, hearts and followers offered in appreciation of inspirational, unique and, sometimes, shocking photographic social media posts. These tragedies pointed towards the onset of a new type of mental disease, a form of addiction at its most ridiculous, capable of altering brain chemistry to the point of warping how humanity interacted with the world. These unnecessary deaths reflected worrying signs that social media was facilitating a mental disconnect between reality and make-believe, unintentionally forcing people around the world to ignore physical, worldly actualities in replacement of an imbalanced importance put on intangible, online profiles. Perhaps more importantly, with the benefit of perpetual hindsight, this growing disconnect with the physical world ultimately puts into question our ability to connect with each other. After developing complex language systems throughout the epoch of human history, capable of conveying both the simplest or most intricate ideas and emotions, does the new age of online interaction allow for the same level of communication? How often are meanings misunderstood because they are not expressed face-to-face? Are there not times where abuse would have never reared its ugly head if it were


in an environment of human contact? Are we losing our ability to communicate constructively with one another – not to mention connect emotionally? Most worryingly, a large part of online interaction changes our nature as social animals into isolated ones. For human beings, a naturally community-driven species, relying largely on physical contact for spiritual sustenance, such isolation can be tantamount to death itself. In 2018, photography and the photograph are largely taken for granted – an overlooked privilege viewed as normal, expected, even demanded and required. As a result of exceptional technology, cameras have reached a level of sophistication whereby a relative novice can capture an image with professional results. Top-end digital-single-lens-reflex (DSLR) cameras, midrange mirrorless cameras, even low-end point-and-shoot cameras are packed with more megapixels, bigger sensors and an army of functions capable of rendering a scene in high-definition, with a sensuous background bouquet (blur), multiple action sequences and image overlays within the device. Versatile Go-Pros can capture still images or video recordings from multiple environments. Smartphones, usually loaded with two separate cameras, allow for photographs to be taken from the convenience of a pocket, easily edited by hundreds of freely available digital filters. All with the single click of a button. So easy is it to take a photograph, in fact, that many end up unseen, disregarded, and consigned to storage either on a hard drive or in the cloud – more often than not, forgotten. It is not uncommon for tourists to return from a vacation with thousands of photographs rather than fifty. In being so obsessed with capturing a moment, concern arises over whether such instances permit true interaction with foreign cultures beyond surface level aesthetics. How can we, as a species, continue to learn from each other throughout revolving generations when the first – and arguably, last – act of communication is in the form of a quickly taken photograph? In Digital Waste: The Sweet Smell of Burning, Madhvee Deb primarily focuses on this contemporary phenomenon. The genesis of Deb’s concept came to her fifteen years ago, forcing her to explore the subject more closely in the last three years. Her body of work aims to raise awareness of and incite debate over how an artificial fixation with photography is distorting our nature as social animals. By re-using her own collection of “rejected” photographs taken over the past eight years, images that were relegated to storagepurgatory because of slight technical or compositional issues, Deb questions her own habit of taking excessive photographs. She, like many others, has added to the estimate in 2017 that 3.93 trillion photographs were stored on


various storage devices worldwide. Digitally layering the photographs as she has done forces the viewer to consider the unfocused intent behind so many photographs taken nowadays – not to mention the ultimate beauty in these neglected memories when seen in a different light. As a practicing artist, part of her inspiration comes from late, great pioneers of the photographic industry. When a large part of experimental photography still relied on technical ability rather than a happy trigger finger, photographic artists such as Man Ray, Gjon Mili and Edmund Kesting pushed the boundaries of not only what was possible, but what was also considered beautiful and engaging. As a young man at the turn of the 20th century exploring photography, painting and filmmaking, Man Ray utilised double exposures in tribute to the contemporary movements of Dadaism and Surrealism, often creating portraits that bordered on evoking the supernatural. Developing the double or multi exposure concept, Gjon Mili added the use of stroboscopic and stop-action innovations to create multiimaged photographs of dancers, musicians and figure skaters. Lastly, Edmund Kesting established solarisation and photograms as fascinating techniques used to capture a moment. For Deb, these early masters of modern photography provided her with invaluable methods to explore her subject. However, rather than the objective of Ray, Mili and Kesting capturing a moment, Deb invites the viewer to consider the time that has slipped away. This is an important difference: while the masters that Deb refers to put full effort and emphasis on capturing a moment in the best, most aesthetically pleasing way possible, in her use of rejected photographs, Deb suggests re-evaluating images taken without thought and the valuable memories they inherently contain. In short, Deb questions how personal photographs are self-curated, highlighting the existence of beauty where previously it was assumed there was none. In further exploring photographic intent, and to break from the twodimensional aspect of the photograph, other rejected photo prints are used to create the “Small Sculptures.” At once playful, invoking childhood memories of families indulging in a lazy afternoon of craft, these objects also suggest another form of digital waste by changing the basic application of a photograph; “wasting” a photograph by changing its nature into something ambiguous. The objects in themselves are open to individual comprehension. However, juxtaposing them with the photograph initiates an interesting dialogue.


As a whole, Deb’s haunting reproductions call into question modernday communication. On the basis that an alarming amount of photographic intent fails to convey sincere, emotive inter-cultural and/or inter-personal discourse, what does this say about our contemporary methods of communication in general? Relying on social media and messaging applications as predominant modes of effortless interaction has watered down meaning and lessened physical contact – masked under the guise of instant gratification. As a result, older generations are increasingly appalled by the inability of younger generations to hold eye contact in face-to-face conversations. Online vitriol over issues of the day, either as social media comments or in group chats, has called into question the sincerity of concern, as online social activists so often appear “armchair” and “surface level” in the pursuit of gratifying themselves by expressing their opinion. Moreover, what is the value of most information communicated via instant, online connection? Very quickly, many would argue, as information is shared and discussed with as much thought behind it as feeding an addiction, it degrades into speculation, rumour and misinformation... in some respects, the catalyst to the scourge of “fake news”. By including a short video installation, Deb has cleverly layered the exhibition much like the photography on display. “The F-art of Social Media,” simulates a state of trance, replicating the condition of being lost in social media. As multiple social media platforms generate a zombie-like escapism from the world, so too the video installation transports the viewer from reality and into the superficial, overloaded realm of social media information. Can this excess of information, including but not limited to photographs, instil basic and essential human emotions? – what are referred to in the ancient Sanskrit text, Natya Shastra, by Bharata Muni: love, anger, laughter, sorrow, courage, fear, disgust, wonder, peace? When using artificial, online information as a form of communication, can these emotions react with one another to create an additional, indescribable feeling?... A flavour on the palette of social or artistic appreciation that has no right being there, yet exists as an undeniable result of being overawed by creation. Finally, Deb’s work leaves viewers considering their own level of control. If we are to kick the drug of instant gratification, self-control is of paramount importance. Like any debilitating habit, addiction to a life online – photographic or otherwise – stunts adult development and has been proven both mentally and physically detrimental, negatively affecting health, wealth and prosperity... need I mention longevity? Deb’s work is a warning to


err on the side of caution when falling into the trap of living vicariously through online social media and instant messaging applications – the photograph highlighted as a medium so often used. In her use of inspiring and worldly subject matter, Deb’s message is clear: get out, explore, communicate sincerely and make memories that you will hold dear, especially when taking a photograph.

James H. Springer received a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom. Having initially embarked on a career in wine as a trained Sommelier, James decided to dedicate his life to writing, falling somewhat into subjects revolving around culture and socio-political realities in the world. His first book, Malaysia’s Canvas, a non-fiction n ov e l , re t e l l s t h e s t o r y o f P e n a n g ’s m e t e o r i c contemporary art scene. He is currently researching an art collection of Vietnamese war art, with the aim of retelling Vietnam’s turbulent history through the artists and their works that documented it.


Time Never Stood Still Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2018


Desert Sublime Photograph on Canvas | Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2017


Smile Your Way To Happiness Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2013 | 2017


Streets Where I Found You Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2013 | 2017


City of Many Tales Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2009 | 2017


The Spaces Between Them
 Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2013 | 2017


Religious Elegance
 Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2018


There Are Many Ways
 Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2018 | 2019


Another Face in the Crowd Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2018


A Witness of Secret Societies Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2017


With Sudden Ecstasy Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2009 | 2018


The Tree Exists Within the Seed Photograph on Canvas | Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2009 | 2017


I Let You Transgress Photograph on Canvas | Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2017


Bringing the Light Inside Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2016 | 2017


Days of Clear Skys
 Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2017


Struggles To Stay Alive Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2008 | 2019


As I Stood Alone Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2017 | 2018


Witness of the Dawn Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2013 | 2018


Mystic Perception Photograph on Archival Paper Dimensions Variable 
 2013 | 2017


Small Sculpture (DW11)
 Discarded Photographs, Epoxy Resin, Plastic Figuring, Paint L 3.9 x W 3.7 x H 3.6 Inches
 2009 | 2018

Small Sculpture (DW12)
 Discarded Photographs, Epoxy Resin, Plastic Figuring, Paint 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.7 Inches 
 2018


Small Sculpture (DW10)


Small Sculpture (DW14)

Discarded Photographs,

Discarded Photographs, Epoxy

Epoxy Resin, Wire 6.5 x 5.3 x 7 Inches 2018

Resin L 3 x W 3 x H 6.8 Inches 2009 | 2017


Small Sculpture (DW06)
 Discarded Photographs, Epoxy Resin, Paint 5 x 1.7 x 1.5 Inches 
 2009 | 2017

Small Sculpture (DW13) Discarded Photographs, Epoxy Resin, Wire 3.9 x 3.5 x 5.7 Inches
 2009 | 2017


The F-art of Social Media Single-Channel Video, 16:9 Colour, Sound 7:15 Minutes 2017


CU R R I C U L U M V I TA E EDUCATION 2014 MA Fine Arts Lasalle College of The Arts, Singapore (Degree awarded by Goldsmiths, University of London) 1997 Bachelor of Arts(Hons) St.Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad – India 2008 – 2013 Photography Workshops Attended multiple training programmes and workshops in various fields of photography SELECTED EXHIBITIONS 
 2018
 Received George Town Festival Grant for development and exhibition of new works.

Solo Exhibition – Digital Waste: The Sweet Smell of Burning, OME at Artspace, Penang 
 2016
 Launched a new designer product line with own artwork as part of the designs, in the USA, UK, and EU markets in the niche of travel accessories. Plus Est En Vous – Chair #001: Fundraising public exhibition, At ION Orchard, Singapore 2015
 Co-founded and launched an eCommerce business with her own designer sports & outdoor accessories. Metamorphosis: Singapour En France, FRAC Des Pays De La Loire. Curated by Laurence Gateau. (Toulouse/France) 2014
 Consciousness: Art stage, Singapore Ready As I’ll Ever Be: Landings, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore. Curated by Adeline Kueh and Ian Woo. Wait for me, on the other side: Eminent Takeover at Eminent Plaza. Curated by Khai Hori, David Chew and Naomi Wang. (Singapore)


Ready As I’ll Ever be: Silent Giraffe, Institute of Contemporary Art, Praxis Space, Singapore. Curated by Adeline Kueh and Ian Woo Artist Talk at MIA&D International Photography and Design Art Fair, Singapore Nominated for ‘Prudential Young Artists Award’. Huis Clos – Lucky the dog: Lassalle College of the Arts Winstead. Curated by Françoise Huguier 2013
 Round table: Portraits between reality and fiction. Panel members: François Huguier, Gilles Massot, Charles Lim, Edwin Koo, Madhvee Deb Shortlisted in 2 categories for ‘Eyes on Asia Awards’ Superfiction: Open studio, Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore. Work was published in Turkish eBook and eMagazine ‘Fotoritim’ 2011
 Published on the cover page of the Photozoom online magazine as the photographer of the month. Featured in the same magazine as ‘photographer – Asia’
 http://tinyurl.com/l47sx4k 2010
 Won photography competition ‘Travel category’ Eyes on Asia. EVENTS | LECTURES 2014
 Artist Talk at MIA&D International Photography and Design Art Fair, Singapore 2013
 Roundtable: Portraits between reality and fiction. Panel members: François Huguier, Gilles Massot, Charles Lim, Edwin Koo, Madhvee Deb


Website: www.madhveedeb.com Email: madhvee@lenstrail.com Facebook: www.facebook.com/lenstrail Instagram: @lenstrail


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