Karthik Pandian

Filmed in Morocco, the film Atlas by Karthik Pandian continues his investigation into history, site and monument. The film explores fundamental notions of movement, freedom and the cinematic imaginary through the figure of the camel. Rather than focusing on the Moroccan patrimonial landscape, which is itself full of simulations and fantasies conjured for the touristic imagination, Pandian shot the video in Ouarzazate, Hollywood’s go-to location to stage the desert — from Lawrence of Arabia to The Mummy. Littered with deteriorating sets constructed for films set in Jerusalem, ancient Egypt, Rome, Mecca… etc, the site portrayed in the video is itself disoriented, as Pandian collapses the distinction between set and location. Is it the Middle East? Is it the Western imagination of the Middle East? Is it a Moroccan fiction of the Middle East constructed for a Western gaze? In the video, camel ‘actors’ in custom-tailored costumes embroidered with American pennies and nickels, restlessly traverse the frame. Pandian’s stroboscopic editing of these sequences recall the flicker of Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th century animal locomotion studies, which focused photographic attention on the camel when it was first being introduced to the American West. The video also features an original score written for Pandian by renowned experimental composer Christian Wolff. The score, performed with coins, along with the embroidery on the costumes, summon the uneven exchanges – cultural, political, economic – that haunt the pursuit of liberty. 

Los Angeles-born artist Karthik Pandian’s work explores our relationship to historical consciousness and the various ways in which we perceive and perform the past. Working across moving image, sculpture, performance, and film — having adopted the 16mm format inspired by ethnographic film — Pandian describes his work as being ‘concerned in particular with the way in which history lurks in matter.’ As such, he takes cues from the architecture and archaeology of sights, allowing the material history of objects and places to speak. Several of his videos and films in multimedia installations are accompanied by architectural structures or sculptural elements, that he often projects onto. In a notable work, Unearth (2011),  for example, Pandian’s research of the Native American Cahokia culture and its ceremonial monuments resulted in films projected onto pillars made from ground soil taken from the research sites. Even though his work is research driven and has cultural references scattered throughout — in the forms of labyrinths, temples, and ancient structures among many others — Pandian’s interest is in the fictive possibilities that these representations from and of the past can carry. Through the play of time and materiality, and through a thought process that embraces ambivalence and opacity, the monuments and relics that Pandian captures become entangled in stroboscopic reverberations between past and present.