The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dot by dot, pixel by pixel

In one of Ashok Ahuja’s short animation films, an inscription appears to the effect that the words of the dharma would not exceed a page. This award-winning film-maker, whose Adhaarshila was first screened in 1982, is holding his first exhibition, and his signed limited edition inkjet prints could not have been more eloquent given their economy of line and colour.

The motif that keeps reappearing in his works is that of a water closet. But the chain of ideas it triggers off strays way beyond that, creating in the mind’s eye perplexing images that remind viewers of the slogan about fixing Superman’s identity. Occupying the space created by the rectangular frames either in splendid isolation, or in multitude, is something as banal as the bowl of a WC. But it could easily be mistaken for a container of molten silver or mercury in the shape of a tongue. The reflection of a sky-light gives a different twist to the image. Against bare white, half a dozen of these ellipses with bellybuttons could be an invasion of UFOs, the spawn of a frog, or an arrangement of smooth, or rounded pebbles.

If this creates the impression that Ahuja’s prints are merely visual puzzles that the viewer is supposed to unscramble, one should hasten to add that by doing so Ahuja seems to raise questions about appearance and reality. Once it is a rectangle in the most soothing of greys or browns. Sometimes the bowls are visible through holes apparently punched into a white surface. The conjunction of two such rectangles turns into a face with slits for eyes. Like the shifting planes of reality the same object appears differently in keeping with our perspective. This is a common thread that runs through all of Ahuja’s works.

Ahuja says this was an attempt to demonstrate that reality is multidimensional and once one learns to open one’s mind “the physical world becomes such a rich space to be in”, says the artist who was present at the opening on Saturday. The same urge to investigate our perception of reality led him to create pictograms. Choosing the simplest of words such as “moon”, “face” or “flower”, he produces illustrations of these with the very letters that form them. This becomes very clear in one of his animation films where we actually see a “tortoise” form on the screen. He tries to tease out the picture hidden within a word.

Ahuja, who has been a senior fellow in residence at the Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religion, says he was exploring how best to speak to people across boundaries to discover “universal expression”. Truth has to be simple, he asserts. Since this exists in all religions they can be woven together, as he does in his visually arresting animated film with its layering of different religious texts.

The earliest of these computer-generated prints was created in 1998. Ahuja explains how “laborious” the process was as he spent months to create a single image, “dot by dot, pixel by pixel”. Why computer-generated prints' Having used the PC over the years, this came naturally to him as a medium of expression. The exhibition is on at the Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre till November 22.

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