DREAMING FUTURE THOUGHTS: an introduction to Centre for Altered Togetherness by Reza Hasni


Text by Laura Zhang [宀 Gallery Curator]

Words and concepts from Tulika Ahuja 

Images by @nomadstillz

Everything that lives is designed to end. 

They are perpetually trapped, in a never-ending spiral of life and death.

However, life is all about the struggle within this cycle.

That is what we believe.

        These are the words spoken upon entering the virtual exhibition, Centre for Altered Togetherness, as you travel through a personalized worm-hole, with an androgynous avatar. Combined with on-screen directions for navigating this alternate reality, we are transported to a portal of six digital dimensions. This virtual world simulates our experience of physical space, there is an up and down, we move forwards and back, side to side, yet the environment is no longer bound by laws of nature, instead they are written in code. Much like a dream, a deep truth lies within fantasy. Here we can explore, interact with others and be present in a realm born from imagination.

          Reza Hasni’s Centre for Altered Togetherness (C-A-T) was created in Summer 2020 with the support of National Arts Council Singapore. The experience was developed in collaboration with interactive designer Tiong Hong Siah (Founder, Screensavers), sound designer Tengo La Firma and curator Tulika Ahuja (Founder, Mama Magnet). The entire online exhibition was developed remotely, Hasni would first create illustrations and animations which were rendered into an interactive three-dimensional experience by Screensavers. The digitalization of interactions has been an obvious global reaction to the modern pandemic. Along with zoom meetings, live-streams and virtual raves, the art world generated an array of online activities. However, many online exhibitions had no comparison to the real thing, like an art gallery in The Sims, the artwork remained static and interaction limited. C-A-T, on the other hand, had no intention to replace the physical experience, instead it pushed the medium to its limits and immersed participants in exploding graphic illustrations that create their own microcosms.

        Growing up in Singapore with a Chinese/Indian father and Malay mother, Reza absorbed influences from a multiverse of spiritual ancestry. “Since childhood half my time was spent with different grandparents from different backgrounds, one teaching me to be a good Buddhist, another a good Muslim. I never really chose a side but decided to combine the good parts into one” he said. A graphic language of sacred geometry and spiritual symbolism merges with flashing post-internet hyper-saturation. Iconography is morphed and amalgamated throughout the six worlds; yoga asanas, the lotus flower, the nazar eye, the hamsa hand to name a few. All interwoven with optical patterns and tessellating. compositions. The Ouroboros has an overarching presence, depicted as a snake eating its own tail, this ancient Egyptian and Greek symbol represents the eternal cycle of life and death.

        Alongside a generation raised from culture hybridity and the emergence of new media, Hasni deconstructs and reconstructs meaning in his own language. “My works are a contemporary reflection of our world and its unseen energies,” Hasni says. Working together with collaborators on C-A-T, Hasni has been able to fully realize a convergence between the non linear network of the world wide web and the spiritual interconnectivity of life on earth. Each of C-A-T’s virtual worlds, also expressed physically in the form of fine art prints, negotiate this duality. Motherearth navigates the relationship between human and non-human, Fantasy juxtaposes looking ahead at the future with a pull of the past, while Soul Searching is a puzzle world for the viewer to solve, themed on the symbiotic mind and body. The concept of duality is most explicitly examined in Yin Yang, for which Hasni collaborated with Bali-based artist, Degeha. The visual landscape creates a ping-pong of energies that are both masculine and feminine, bold and vulnerable and inner and outer. The artwork was built over an extended period of 4 weeks, with each artist adding a new layer in response to the other.

        C-A-T launched on the 7th of August 2020 with viewers signing in from around the world. On the very next day, the servers received a DdoS attack (a distributed denial-of-service). The system was flooded with malware bots, dismantling the C-A-T world and reconfiguring the six dimensions into glitchy chaos. The event reminded the creators of strange shadows that lurked in cyber-space that gravitate and infect energetic epicenters, much like viruses in the physical world. The system was quickly restored and Hasni went on to make an artwork titled (DdoS) Healing on digital mending.

Staring deeply into the C-A-T world, infinite reflections stare back. Reflections of the artist, reflections of the moment, reflections of consciousness and reflections of dreams. Dreaming is a product of evolution, sometimes we have nightmares, simulating horrifying situations that allow ourselves to practice a response. Nightmares are projected culturally in the form of dystopian fantasies, often with digitalization at the core. But the function of dreaming is more ambiguous, dreams create a hypothetical space free from the constraints of reality, where thoughts from the future materialize to the senses.

Now the Centre for Altered Togetherness arrives at a physical space, continuing a loop, taking another step in its cycle. For Hasni, the original virtual exhibition was a response to a collective event, spanning the entire world. “We often find ourselves in the same situation, but perceiving and experiencing different things,” he said, commenting on the show’s title. Although we find ourselves affected by a mutual cause, our personal contexts mean we are experiencing it differently. C-A-T dreamed of a space for people to connect with an altered state of togetherness. As the infection rate of Covid-19 has improved in HongKong, people can meet face to face again and programming resumes. Through good fortune and creative alignment, Reza Hasni and Tulika Ahuja have trusted 宀 Gallery with bringing the virtual to life.