Kristian Vistrup Madsen: I understand you were in Luleå for quite a long time…
Vishal K Dar: Yeah, I was there for 11 weeks.
KVM: Why did you choose to stay for such a long time? What did you do?
VKD: Right from the very first conversation between me and the curatorial team (Asrin/Emily/Thomas), we were interested in making a work for the city that emerged out of the city itself. And for that to happen, it was necessary that I live in Luleå and get a good sense of the rhythms of the city and its layout. Most of my time was spent walking around, being with the sites (the Barge/the Crane/the Silos), experiencing each separately and in relation to each other.
When I got in, which was mid-September, the sun would set around 7pm. By the time I was installing the work in early November, the sunset moved to 2:30pm. Each passing week, I felt the light recede. The absence of light was important in ways that I do not know how to express in language.
The walks were quite frequent. At least one a day. Finding timecodes was one function of the walks. Timecodes are the systems by which the intervals between the movement of the torches is determined. The three sites were on the edge of the peninsula, but then they all had multiple viewing points to locate their position. So it was important for me to understand a web of lines that connect and disconnect and how each line can be a timecode through pace.
My work imagines that there is a timecode hidden the city itself, and that measuring instruments, a kind of clock, could be made out of existing infrastructure (the barge, the crane, the silo) and in that way be integrated back into the city. Some time was also spent reading and adjusting to the pulse through climate. Similar to a seismograph, I made notes of the receding light of the sun, the fluctuating moisture state in the air, and the color of the sea.
KVM: What is your impression of life in Norrbotten? How does the darkness and the remoteness of it affect the people there? How did it affect you?
I remember that in one of my conversations with a local, I was told how a person from outside the region should learn how to love the cold. Only then will they be able to really see the beauty in the landscape and its climate. The region of Norrbotten is haunting to say the least. I am sure that the darkness, when it was experienced in the age before electric light, created new imaginations in people of this region.
For some this darkness coupled with the extreme cold can be depressing. I find it calming and meditative. I also don’t really see darkness as an evil force – that’s a binary reading. Darkness is a primordial, mysterious space. I’m not afraid of it. I do come from a place where one might say there is too much of sun’s light and heat. That can have its own maddening effect. In almost all creation myths, darkness plays a vital role. Everything seems to start somewhere in the space of the dark ‘unknown’ / which often translates to the ‘unseen’. It’s the correlation with sight that interests me the most, often challenging me in ways that are mostly felt on a visceral level. So much of darkness is to do with sight or the lack of it. We then get into the other relational definitions of darkness – which is ignorance. Now interestingly this connect us back to the ‘a person from outside the region should learn how to love the cold’ moment. Somewhere ignorance is being hinted at. An ignorance of the human mind’s capacity to connect with climate and landscape. The othering is usually about being in a state of ignorance and hence a state of darkness.
KVM: Did you see the northern lights?
Oh yes, I did. One particular night, the sky gave an extended fabulous display of the aurora. I was excited like a child. I had an app on my phone that tracked the aurora activity in a fair amount of detail and accuracy for my location. When devices produce this kind of information, especially with accuracy that is felt and seen in real time, they become a very interesting part of life. Almost like a wish fulfilling genie-in-the-lamp object.
KVM: Your work is also about light and darkness. How do you think about it in the context of Luleå’s port, and the geography of Norrbotten?
The beam(s) of light is a recurring ephemeral object in my work since 2013. The beam always finds new meaning in every site work, and that is connected to the scale that it assumes and its breath (the timecode). In Luleå, the beams were much like large measuring instruments and scanners.
Dirghtamas is a phenomenological work in the sense that it reflects on the very concept of light – and not just the light of the beams, but natural light, too. This was the first time that the beams were in an expansive outdoor location. The geo-location, the region of Norrbotten, and being at the peninsula where the atmospheric conditions change constantly, produced a unique environment for the beams to emerge and disappear with the moisture content in the air, the low temperatures and the wind speeds. All these factors affect the quality of the beam of light. Also, the darkness was deep as the sea had not frozen. When it does freeze over, and the snow covers the landscape, we will sense a whole new experience. There will be a lot more reflected light around us. It’s also the first project where the beams have been left on 24/7.
An interesting thing happened on the 3rd day post the opening of the work. The airport chief called the curatorial team to tell them that the middle beam on the crane was causing issues in the airspace for the pilots landing at the airport. I had to reprogram a new path for this one beam.
Another incident was when the team had issues reaching the barge on the 21st since the waters were turning into ice and the rowing boat was unable to manoeuvre around the chunks of ice coming down stream.
Mea (a intern at Gallery Syster) told me about her father’s reaction to the barge site: ”I saw the lights late one evening and thought that the lights were search lights looking for someone that had gone through the ice – an ice skater, perhaps”.
Vishal K Dar is an artist based in Gurgaon, India. His work Dirghtamas is a site-specific work commissioned for the Luleå Biennial 2018.