Has the World Already Been Made? (Haseeb Ahmed & Daniel G. Baird)

By January 4, 2013archived

Under the cover of darkness or masquerading as architectural conservators, artists Daniel G. Baird and Haseeb Ahmed collect fragments of architectural, ornamental and natural formations from around the world. They make molds on-site directly from their chosen objects. These disparate fragments are then reconciled to construct a single ‘universalized space’.  For Baird and Ahmed, these installations become ‘reverse site-specific’.

The molds bear a 1:1 relationship with their place of origin. This indexical relationship is comparable to yet different from photography.  The project is essentially global in scope, and aims to create a plastic experience that might address the immediacy of our deeply networked reality.  For Baird and Ahmed, the question becomes: Can we produce a replica that is even better than the original? 

This ever-growing inventory becomes a vocabulary for the artists to construct their own sentences out of the ‘grammar of ornament’. The bust of a Taxila Priest-King (2000 b.c.), Corinthian capitals, Islamic geometric ornaments cast from molten tanker ships, the Chicago gravestone of architect Louis Sullivan, and a horse head taken from Moscow all sit next to one another. The vocabulary includes elements from across the US and Europe, Moscow, and Pakistan, with more to come. The origin of each element is mapped online.

Our website (LINK: www.HasTheWorldAlreadyBeenMade.com ) is not only a place of presentation but a place where the exchange between the artists essential to this project is made public.

If we can literally make anything then what do we select of the fragmented past to continue into the future? 

Industry produces new forms of sensual experience but only distributes consistency. Massive global infrastructures are directed towards distributing huge amounts of redundant forms or concentrated to assemble homogenized sites.

In Baird and Ahmed’s work, elements from 3D prints to traditional plaster casts coalesce to form a single artwork, effectively blurring the distinction between the contemporary, the replica, and the experience of traditional sculpture. Consequently, the past is cast as one massive anachronism. The present is the site of reproduction, a threshold through which all things can then be judged to pass into the future.

How can we make good on the labor of distant others—dead or alive?

Every object ever made describes the conditions of its own production- it eventually describes the shape of the human hand. In this sense, there is a knowledge of a distant other inscribed in each object. This can be decoded and used with or without knowing the original intentions. How can we come to know another through their work, to use it so that the world does not need to be constantly reproduced in its own image?

Can we produce a replica that is even better than the original?

This project reproduces problematics from the nineteenth century imperial and industrial age. Nineteenth century European archeological and emergent industrial design techniques, such as those evident in the works of Owen Jones and William Morris, emerged out of the attempt to reconcile the influx of disparate traditional aesthetics from the far reaches of empire coupled with new techniques of mechanical reproduction designed to meet the demands of the first industrial working class and it’s disposable income.

Today, a new Third Industrial Age is widely heralded with the emergence of print on demand, rapid prototyping, and desktop 3D printing widely available for homes and small offices. The idea is that industry and the consumer experience will change when the means of design and production are in the hands of potentially any individual. Yet once again, we are faced with the same question and problematic as that which emerged in the nineteenth century First Industrial Age – if we can make anything than what should we produce? By recognizing that the world reproduces itself in its own image over time, can we break this repetition by producing a replica that overcomes its origins?

Why is the project global in scope?

The scale of this project has always been global, and therefore the project itself must have an internationalized form. We can only understand something in so far as we act upon it. And our final object is the deeply networked totality under capitalism that conditions our lives today. This is not to smooth-over the art market problem presented as ‘translation’ to artists and at so many biennales, but rather it is to take the universality that the art market insists on at its word to see just how many fractures and antinomies of totality it can contain and to mark the points of rupture created by these forms and their collective repulsion and magnetism. Our collective reality has come to be deeply networked and characterized by immediacy. Time has become Space. If this is how our global economy and the conditions of production has come to function and shape our lives then why can’t we create an art object that is just as networked and yet does not lack the immediacy necessary to an open aesthetic experience?

Aside from your global mold making trips- where will your installations take place?

During the upcoming year, works will be produced at Roots and Culture in Chicago (US), Recollets in Paris (FR), the Kunsthalle Leipzig (DE), and Hedah in Maastricht (NL), as well as works in New York (US), Lahore (PK), and Leeds (UK). The project is centered on the poles of Maastricht (NL) and Chicago (US) where the artists live and work.

Why is your project based on the twin poles of Chicago (US) and Maastricht (NL)?

Just as any point might form the center of our spherical world, so too can Chicago and Maastricht. These two cities become centres of artistic production primarily because each member of the collaborating duo live and work in these cities. Chicago and Maastricht as points of exchange have been particularly formative for this project in terms of offering up their particular idiosyncrasies as material. Maastricht, as a provincial capital is famous as the site for signing of the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that inaugurated the unifying currency of the European Union. Molds have been taken of the commemorating plaques. Chicago is located at the center of the American Mid-west and is the largest city for thousands of miles. It also contains the largest financial exchange for commodities in the US (i.e. porkbellys and crude oil).  This of course changes slowly, for US hegemony relies on its stability (i.e all is quite in the eye of the storm). Significantly, Chicago was re-produced in its own image after it was burned to the ground at the turn of the century whereas Maastricht consumes its own history to survive its post-industrial condition as a touristic center. These cities are not New York, Paris, or Berlin. Their qualities of neutrality and centrality are of interest to our project. Just as ornament in a room cognition continues to be altered without any direct gaze or awareness of their continual function on the senses.

What does the work consist of?

This work is founded upon experience in the world – both individually and collectively. Through a shared understanding, the artists have developed a special eye that recognizes fractures, fragments, anachronisms, and projections. From layers of paint on Ant Farm’s Cadillac Ranch, to the airplane graveyards of the American Southwest, to repurposed German bunkers or Rococo appearances of Europe, to the transference of the plastic arts to the Internet via 3D scanning – disparate contexts inform the duo’s sensibilities. The artists go into the world with our Poyo (a silicone mold making material for architectural conservation), and using a guerrilla approach, work to produce a mold of selected elements. Consequently, we produce ‘reverse-site-specific installations’ that are essentially an amalgamation of these collected fragments. The artists perform textual and photographic research on the role of replication in art, both at present and historically, together with other fields.

What is the criterion for the selection of molded objects?

This sensibility forms the criterion for selecting the fragments that are collected and reproduced within the final installations. The selection is also shaped by the limitations of the artist’s bodies. After all, the artists can only mold quickly those things that they can actually reach. They also perform these tasks without permission. Consequently, these installations form part of an attempt to create a reconciliation of an incoherent present without smoothing over the fractures that might attract initial selection.

What does the term ‘Reverse Site-Specific’ mean?

Significantly, this is the first time that the artists have encountered this term. Their respective post-conceptual art educations invariably brought them to the work of Robert Smithson, Gordon Matta-Clark, and to re-investigate the debates between Tony Smith and Micheal Fried on the character of form in relationship to context or performativity. The artists also found earlier evidence of these debates in Adorno’s discussions of the false-dichotomy ‘committed v. autonomous art’. While the artists both had sublime experiences when encountering NASA launch site at Cape Canaveral or the Altar of Zeus in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, they still struggled with the particularity of production in their respective studios and galleries. This experience has informed their approach to reconciling the disparate yet powerful experiences anonymously produced by the world ‘as we know it’ and in their own production as artists. The artists conceive their ‘reverse site-specific’ installations as a mode of making and unmaking at once. Consequently, it presents a way of addressing the plastic world of elements that are thoroughly socialized as we encounter the same elements (i.e. the anatomical model of a eighteenth century police officer) in Chicago or Maastricht or Lahore. The installations are thus also universalized spaces.

Isn’t universalized space antiquated?

Yes, it is an old idea – but should it be? Has it been dismissed within post-colonial critiques alone while the imperial global economy that brought it about has only intensified? How old is old anyway? This project forms part of an attempt to expand the register of time through sensual experience – perhaps as a means with which to counter 200 years of accelerated accumulation. How might we relate to the character of our ‘species-being’? Is it actually necessary to prove our present through destructive overcoming if we might potentially co-habit with the ‘dead nature’ that we love?

Has the world already been made?

Well has it?