Burning Glass, Reading Stone 4: Is, but will be

An abstract digital image of two ambiguous different-sized objects against a patterned background in green and purple tones. The smaller object is L-shaped with curved edges, located in the upper left corner of the image, and has three antenna-like extensions. The bigger object is located in the upper-right part of the image, is trapezoid-shaped with curved edges, and purple with dotted vertical lines. The background consists of a set of diamond and oval shapes in different sizes arranged in repeating pattern. Shaheer Zazai, BWG FD BD (BlackwoodGallery FirstDesign BaseDesign), 2020.

Burning Glass, Reading Stone 4: Is, but will be
Shaheer Zazai

January 11–February 7, 2021

Shaheer Zazai’s artistic practice employs a process-based methodology: he works from a set of parameters (including rules for colour-relation and colour-interaction, font size, and characters) as he generates abstract and geometric imagery using Microsoft Word.

While Zazai’s work often engages with and mimics methodologies for creating Afghan carpets in digital form, he approached Is, but will be as an opportunity to respond to the parameters of Burning Glass, Reading Stone. Zazai used the numbers 4, 6, and 9 in this series (referencing four 6x9ft lightboxes at the University of Toronto Mississauga), in addition to an existing palette of numerical sequences referencing textiles used in carpet manufacture. Producing a series of four related images, Zazai plays with the repetition of color and symbol, and experiments with glitch imagery, attending to the lightbox’s status somewhere between a print and a computer screen.

While this series differs from Zazai’s previous digital work in its absence of immediately recognizable carpet aesthetics, it puts an emphasis on other questions, calling forth histories of abstraction, coding, and visual representations of contemporary diasporic experience. What expectations to make cultural experience visible, perceptible, legible, and tangible to a broad audience do artists in diasporic communities navigate? What happens when traditional cultural imagery is abstracted to the point of data glitch? How can abstraction (as in Zazai’s images) question our understanding of diasporic imagery? Is, but will be—designed to convey a kind of information overload—offers us a look into a complex world of information, translation, and contemporary diasporic experience, lurching between colourful prayer carpets and code, rituals and numerals, personal identity and abstraction.

Visit the Blackwood Gallery website for documentation, materials and resources. Interpretative video tours with Educator-in-Residence Laura Tibi for each image set, responses by Readers-in-Residence, and more will be released throughout the series.


Reader-in-Residence Program

Across the eight-part lightbox series Burning Glass, Reading Stone, the Blackwood Gallery activates a Reader-in-Residence program that brings readers into dialogue with each image set. This month, the Blackwood is pleased to welcome artist Xuan Ye into dialogue with Is, but will be.

Adapting the familiar artist’s residency format to one that focuses on practices of reading—reading an exhibition, reading a text, reading as interpretation—each Reader-in-Residence will respond to a series of works presented in the Blackwood’s lightboxes. For each four-week image set, a Reader produces a question-driven conversation with an artist (released in the form of a podcast), and then responds to the series in the form of a reading, set of images, performance-for-the-camera, score, or other experimental interpretative form (distributed via the Blackwood’s website). Bridging local and international respondents, including artists, poets, humanities scholars, and scientists, the Reader-in-Residence program creates a network of sustained engagement with Burning Glass, Reading Stone, and encourages the development of new dialogic and interpretive possibilities in a time of quarantine.

Visit the Blackwood Gallery website for podcast episodes and responses from Readers-in-Residence throughout Burning Glass, Reading Stone.


About Burning Glass, Reading Stone

Part of an eight-part lightbox series
Collectively curated by current and recent Blackwood Gallery staff
September 8, 2020–June 27, 2021

A circular image appears in the middle of a black background. In it, an out-of-focus desert scene appears upside-down. The handmade quality of the lens producing this image is readily visible, with many streaks and imperfections on its surface.

Oscar Santillán, process image of lens from Solaris, 2017.

Activating four outdoor lightboxes in public space on the University of Toronto Mississauga campus throughout the 2020-2021 academic year, Burning Glass, Reading Stone explores the conditions, technologies, and spaces of spectatorship that mediate our engagements with the world—physical and virtual. The lightbox program features eight sets of images: each provides a distinct testimony borne of a particular mode of observation or narration.

Distributed across a University campus still navigating social distancing protections necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the lightbox series responds to COVID-19 as a rupture that brings both public space and digital media under examination. What habits of looking has social distancing concretized? What wakefulness to the already existing inequities and gaps produced in our mediated environment is required? What responsibilities do images ask of us? What responsibilities do they occlude? How can various regimes of looking (scientific, testimonial, documentary, intimate, science-fictional) refocus collective attention?


The Blackwood Gallery gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the University of Toronto Mississauga. We would also like to acknowledge the support of the University of Toronto affinity partners: Manulife, MBNA, and TD Insurance.

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Blackwood Gallery
University of Toronto Mississauga
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Mississauga, ON L5L 1C6

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Please note: The Blackwood’s gallery spaces are currently closed to the public. Burning Glass, Reading Stone is FREE and open to the public, and accessible 24 hours a day in four outdoor lightboxes across the University of Toronto Mississauga Campus. Some movement throughout the campus is required—ramps and curb cuts are in place across the University premises.

Please respect social distancing protocols while on campus.

Image descriptions: 1) An abstract digital image of two ambiguous different-sized objects against a patterned background in green and purple tones. The smaller object is L-shaped with curved edges, located in the upper left corner of the image, and has three antenna-like extensions. The bigger object is located in the upper-right part of the image, is trapezoid-shaped with curved edges, and purple with dotted vertical lines. The background consists of a set of diamond and oval shapes in different sizes arranged in repeating pattern. 2) A circular image appears in the middle of a black background. In it, an out-of-focus desert scene appears upside-down. The handmade quality of the lens producing this image is readily visible, with many streaks and imperfections on its surface.