Panopticon Letters Missive I

Event  |  Reviews  |  Comments
© Courtesy of the artist & Talwar Gallery - NY
Panopticon Letters Missive I

108 East 16th Street
New York, NY 10003
March 15th, 2013 - July 1st, 2013

flat iron/gramercy
212 673 3096
Tue-Sat 11-6
film, photography


Talwar Gallery is delighted to present Panopticon Letters: Missive I, a new film work by Alia Syed. In conjunction with the film, the exhibition will also feature new photographic works. The exhibition will open to the public on March 15 and run through May 18, 2013.

Re-envisioning traditional British landscape painting through the lens of contemporary filmmaking, Alia Syed’s new film work Panopticon Letters: Missive I, is an experimental science fiction film exploring ideas of memory, techniques of the body and colonialism: shifting historical narratives from past to present and emerging within a correspondence of letters.

Set against the technical descriptions of architectural plans for an ideal prison, ‘The Panopticon’, by British philosopher and social reformer, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the film is composed of sounds and images of sky and water following the course of the Thames in London. Employing a series of techniques to play with notions of falsified and confused representations, Panopticon Letters utilizes Bentham’s ideas about the gaze as a controlling and benign tool of instruction–the central architectural metaphor within the panopticon system–linking this with how modes of perception have been pared down in the 20th Century to the obsession of sight.

Sky and water are severed from their spatial anchor in the horizon-line that integrates the abstracted qualities of each into a knowable and humanized realism. Composite views of de-contextualized sky and water, together with ‘tonal’ shifts between digital and 16mm, create a disjointed landscape which becomes progressively dissonant–contesting the philosophy of sight as the primary means of comprehending the world. The serial architectonics of panopticism are evoked by filmic sleights of hand working with, parallel to, and at counter purpose to the soundtrack, setting up a framework of counterpoint strategies – between portions of the image, between image and sound, and within the construction of the soundtrack itself.

The film’s cyclical, serial imagery follows the passing of time by the rising and setting of the sun, as varied narratives of time and place unfold. As described by the artist, “The uniqueness of Panopticon Letters lies in my paring down elements of sky and water into minimal gradations of light and colour. The way I create different narratives by using Freudian notions of ‘haunting’ provoking the ‘embodied encounter’ that produces the object of art is a major shift in my practice.”

Alia Syed’s work examines memory, representation and colonialism through narratives constructed from both personal and historical realities: “Through my dérive along the Thames I encountered further histories. These geographies provoked memories of trauma, creating new narratives that have shaped a long form film. The voice of Bentham’s benign paternalism is fissured through my own fictionalized narratives.” Set against textural, rhythmic imagery, the various elements at times work in parallel and opposition to each other in a restructuring of conventional narrative forms.

Alia Syed was born in Swansea, Wales and lives and works in London, UK. She has been working in experimental filmmaking for over two decades. Syed’s films have been shown at numerous institutions around the world including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York (2010);  Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain (2009); XV Sydney Biennale (2006); Hayward Gallery, London (2005); Tate Britain, London (2003); Glasgow Museum of Modern Art (GOMA), Scotland (2002); The New Art Gallery in Walsall, UK (2002); and Tate Modern, London  (2000).  Currently her film work Eating Grass is on view in a year long installation at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).