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February 9, 2011 / the s.a. project

I’m so jealous I could bite your Knuckle

The Future Was Our First Love [And It Will Be Our Last], Collected Memorabilia, 2010 – Mehreen Murtaza


Yes that’s the kind of work I’m featuring today. It made me turn green with envy and then it made me want to bite Mehreen’s knuckles. Or ankles. Whatever hurts more.

Here’s a dialogue which pretends to be nothing like an interview, and it neither informs, educates nor inspires. It’s basically us talking our nerdy stuff mixed with art stuff and we welcome you to come eavesdrop. Along with it I’m posting some images of her work that was shown for the Gasworks Open Studio December 2010, London, UK after her residency in the summer. (courtesy the artist and Grey Noise)

It would be interesting to know what you think of the work. I’m not kidding. (please check out yummy web links at the end of the post)

so I present to you a long nerdy interview that has….


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who may wish to answer on any day of the week as she pleases. because I’m easy to please-y!


Quick Bio. As short as possible. In 1 word or 2 please state name, age, upbringing, school, college, degree, bad relationships and pets. Stick to letters. Or numbers. Or don’t say anything. Or do.

MEHREEN MURTAZA · BORN IN RIYADH, KSA, 1986 · Lives and works in Lahore · 2008 Honors in BFA, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore · Too many to bother recounting · Pet-less (although I wish otherwise)

Why do you do what you do? This time, talk proper jargon.

I am a 5 to 9 psychonaut. Um. No, not really.

However, I do secretly own a commemorative plate display that hails me as the hereditary grand falconer of a harmonious karmic resolution to career choices from the age of 5. I’ve been doing what I do for a long time, except for the bit about how science fiction expanded my choice of reasoning and started seeping into my art-making process.

I try to constantly negotiate with my surroundings. Everything is subject to fluctuating sets of conditions and I try to wrestle and deal with these conditions. It just so happens my fixations are circumscribed by a certain set of skills and tools I enjoy using.

I am still proposing a model—a way of seeing and engaging and a way of evaluating our surroundings as a human construction. My work is not meant to give a complete truth. It is in fact, questioning Truth. Definitely asking rather than answering. Ultimately I don’t believe that a complete truth exists. For me it’s interesting when ideas are being provoked and questions being proposed. I love objects. I love images and digging through the many associated notions that have been preserved in our minds eye and allowed to seep into our cultural DNA.

Did I successfully manage to dodge the original question, heh?

Which artists do you enjoy looking at, and wish you could stalk – locally and internationally?

Olafur Eliasson. Troika. Kollectiv. Terry Gilliam. Cory Arcangel. Børre Sæthre. Ilya Kabakov. Gareth Pugh. Bill Hicks. Nine Inch Nails. Alejandro Jodorowsky. Mark Wallinger. David Alesworth. Imran Ahmad Khan (sculptor). Wes Anderson. These. Are. A. Few. Of. My. Favourite. Current. Favourite. Obsessions.

Which science fiction authors or manuals do you read?

J.G. Ballard. Mark Von Schlegell. John Whyndam. Philip K. Dick. William Gibson. Daniel Clowes. Kurt Vonnegut. Ibn-al-Arabi. Norman M. Klein.

Is it possible that Douglas Adams could know something we didn’t?

Bloody psychonaut. Bet he and Aleister Crowley were ex-best friends in school. Click here to

Talk about your love affair with the typewriter. and other gadgets.

Vintage machinery turns me on. And I say this in appraisal to the God-fearing man. Printing calculators, Commodore 64s, rotary telephones, magnetic tapes, high fidelity tape recorders, Mellotrons, synthesizers, toy cameras, midi keyboards top my list. Recent inclusions are Radionic Technology (Mechanical apparatus developed for the purpose of receiving and transmitting subtle forms of energy used mainly for purposes of healing. Healing without pills, meds, surgeries, growing crops without fertilizers…and performing a host of impossible feats that defy rational science.) Does the Dream Machine (Burroughs ‘system adviser’) ring a bell?

I think other than romanticizing the past; a pre-9/11 era, my love for retro vintage machinery is rooted in the concept of recording time and a physical record of memory. Data was stored on magnetic tapes and history was archived in a tangible format as compared to our current system of connected media that distributes words, images and sound as electronic pulses. It is temporally transposed data trapped in an infinite loop within a complicated system of fibre optics.

On the other hand, I could wax lyrical about the poetics of immeasurable data and praise the beauty of some highly sophisticated computer viruses.

But it’s the smell of nostalgia, a sense of longing for the sci-fi past that keeps pulling me to these machines. I guess especially because I never grew up with these machines, I hold an almost spiritual, reverential stance when it comes to admiring them as objects.

Do you like all gadgets? Aren’t you mortified that they could come alive one day?

I quite enjoy the concept of Kurzweil’s Singularity. I don’t find it particularly threatening since I don’t anticipate machines to ‘take over mankind’. In a manner of speaking, cyborg culture has already seeped into our lives where augmented reality is no longer the stuff of science fiction and technology has comfortably integrated (creeped?) into our lives. Donna Haraways’ ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ (1985) has successfully emerged as a reality. Moore’s Law is no longer valid. The promise of capitalist technology sealing and securing a utopia no longer holds true.

I think a “pet singularity” seems more likely.

Do you believe that a broken misshaped fried egg is essential to ruining one’s entire day?

YES. Just like running out of cereal on the one morning you really want to kick-start the day with saturated sugars.

Do you believe in the future?

Believe that a future exists? Or that a time-based concept such as future can even exist in today’s time and age? I don’t know. I think we’re ‘over-futured’. I read that term somewhere. I don’t remember where. But it’s very apt considering the future was once depicted and represented in fantastically romantic ways; white space suits, buildings infinite in height, interplanetary travel, alien interaction, robot servitude, abundance of wealth and global peace. Now the future is represented as something more compressed and accessible. The future is on the internet, in our screens, at every waking hour. There isn’t an abundance of wealth but an abundance of information. There isn’t a vision of crazy updated technology but reducing further from nano-technology gradually. The future is happening right now.

Why do you think you choose to be represented by Grey Noise?

For the exact same reason Grey Noise exists on the map. Creating an opportunity to expand my practice to a global audience, gain more exposure and reclaim the tired title of ‘Pakistani art’.

What experiences have helped shape your work and bring it where it is now?

No epiphany’s as far as I can recall but very mundane regular kind of stuff that happens in an average person’s life: chatting, television, fast food, using Wikipedia to write research papers, questioning religion and YouTube. Unfortunately, no alien abductions.

What were you doing before your digital art?

That’s a really good question, actually. I’m totally stumped. I was always doing digital art, I think. In one form or the other.

Did you ever write teenage angst ridden dark poetry once, which you would rather die than share today? (I did and I’m hoping I’m not the only loser)

Yes. I secretly re-read it to myself every couple of months. That’s sad, no?

Do you think your found objects actually find you? How does that happen?

In some magical way I’d like to imagine so but no I usually have to work really hard to find these gems. But that process of working really hard is very fluid and unstructured. It’s the entire journey/experience that adds value to these elusive objects and makes them appear more exotic in our mind’s eye maybe.

But if you keep your artist hat on at all times, you’re more likely to be surprised by what you find. I guess.

How has your work been digested in Pakistan? In India? In Englistan?

Unfortunately, I don’t think my work has received enough exposure in Pakistan. Which is why I’d like to show here more often. Generally, great excitement has been stirred when it came to the digital collage series.
I’d like to believe the overwhelming acceptance of two-dimensional works is something that has become ubiquitous in Pakistan as compared to works that combine the third and fourth dimensions. Somehow, viewers tend to shy away from responding to these works because they either can’t hang them in their drawing rooms or they aren’t necessarily equipped with a premeditated response. It’s still considered outside the norms to create sculptural work that does not involve a reference to the human figure. Although in my case, the installation works are derived from topics deemed sensitive such as religion – Islam specifically. One would expect belligerent cries for issuing fatwahs, or mere shock; but as an artist, one has to make smart decisions regarding specific works. Albeit shown in Pakistan, some of these installations (e.g. Deus ex Machina I) were at times confused as dogmatic in intention and in most cases I was never really confronted with the usual suspects. I suppose the works have remained well hidden from the public eye for the most part.

Whereas India was overwhelmingly accepting of the works, considering them bold, irreverent, and quite smitten by the use of mediums that are by large perceived as conspicuously western back at home. But I would also owe that response to a larger ratio of art-savvies.

London was exciting and more challenging in terms of recording a reaction since I haven’t shown as frequently there but what I enjoyed the most was the diversity of the art audience. I had doctors, nurses and ‘regular’, non-art affiliated people enjoy the sci-fi nuances, relate to the geek culture and genuinely intrigued by the splice between organized religion and sci-fi future talk. My recent visit has pushed me towards terrain I was reluctant to tread earlier, merely because I feel rejuvenated I suppose. But also because I feel more confident about flirting with East meets West hegemonies in the art world.

Do people want you to identify yourself as a feminist artist? Or Pakistani? Any other?

I didn’t sense any such pressure of being labelled here at home in Pakistan but there is a definitive branding beyond borders. There is a sense of exoticism in the term ‘Pakistani Artist’ and with it comes a certain personality and a certain sensibility that has come to appease the West. Thankfully, I haven’t had to resort to any such means to be acknowledged.

How important is ‘archival’ing? (I know that’s not a word, but no rules apply to my I-blog-therefore-I’m-cool persona)

Without archiving, you can kiss your art career goodbye. Unless of course the work is meant to be ephemeral, in which case there is a lot of stress on documenting the work itself, and that in turn would then require archival quality. I think the importance of archival quality is closely linked with the existence of the art work itself. The longevity of the art object is essential to its acquisition, preservation and description and ultimately the artist’s reputation. And if you’re not bothered about reputation, it’ll still yield lesser sales. If it doesn’t stand the test of time, it holds little aesthetic or financial value – a fact that is magnified in the Western schools of thought for obvious reasons.

Unfortunately, the concept of preservation does not exist in any form in Pakistan; when it comes to cultural heritage, research labs, archaeological sites and maintaining museums, let alone works of art.

It’s a real pain in the ass and not very cost effective, but it’s become a pre-requisite in the global art market for one’s career to sustain for a long period. I think there isn’t enough acknowledgment or education regarding the processes and importance of fabricating works of art, and as a result, practically no availability of archival material in the local market.

Commercial markets – money first or later?

I’m not aware of any non-commercial market as yet.

Are you rich yet?

I’d like to think I could give Damien Hirst a run for his money.

Robots, or not?

Um, in all probability, yes. I’m already too machine dependent. No going back from here. Does this answer sound too biased towards robot servitude? I hope my phone doesn’t kick my ass for saying this. (After it comes alive of course)


Interesting links I recommend checking out:

Mehreen Murtaza’s Website

A general Psychonauts website

Obsolete Technology Website

Douglas Adams – author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Nine Inch Nails

have fun!


Leave a Comment
  1. Umer / Feb 9 2011 3:01 am


  2. nida bangash / Feb 9 2011 3:21 pm


  3. Afia / Feb 9 2011 3:51 pm

    That was fun!

    • the s.a. project / Feb 9 2011 7:40 pm

      Merci! It was a lot of reading but trust you to get down to it! 😉

  4. Mehreen / Feb 9 2011 11:14 pm

    Danke!!! The funky colored animated text is FAVOURITED! 😉
    Links section – Obsolete Technology Website – cool factor x10!

    • the s.a. project / Feb 10 2011 1:54 am

      exactly the 2 parts in the entire thing i knew you’d take to.
      i mean, who wouldn’t like their name in cool green flickery text and a weird website on obsolete technology…duh!

    • the s.a. project / Feb 10 2011 1:57 am

      btw, i have actually been brought up on atari’s and commodore 64’s and an ancient computer language/program called DATA. i loved those godawful bulky things. the new slick’n’sexy gadgets scare me even though i make sure i master them and not vice versa.


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