Where Does Fear End & Fascination Begin? A POV Of Amygdala Anomalies
If you’re looking for the answer, you might’ve found it in artist Sajid Wajid Shaikh’s latest exhibition, ‘Amygdala Anomalies’, that took place at the Lab Studio in Lower Parel. Conceived, conceptualized and worked on for 3 years, the final product was a multi-sensorial cornucopia of sights, sounds and smells. Each artwork had an accompanying soundtrack (the exhibit was BYOH by the way), and created in collaboration with 14 artists who worked with Sajid on the project, including the bigfatminimalist, Cowboy and Sailorman, Riatsu, Colorblind, Cosmic Attic, Echofloat, Kalab, Jamblu, Lawntuba, Maua, Parag Jha, Spryk, Zanzuki and Sujit Chavan.
According to Sajid, the initial idea was a few simple designs in a sketchbook. He followed an approach called unconscious surrealism – creating each creature without conscious thought, and with no awareness of what the final creation would end up looking like.
At First Glance
Upon entering the hall, one was greeted with a landscape that resembled a blasted dystopia. The only breaks in the darkness were the light of the TV screens which showcased each work. Half flesh, half machine, the visuals reminded one what might’ve been produced had Lovecraft and H.G Wells melded minds. Each ‘creature’ was an amalgamation of eyes, tentacles, long spidery legs, ribbons, hair and other elements that seemed to defy understanding.
It’s All In The Eyes
The first impression was unsettling, but combine the music with art, and the effect forced the viewer to settle down and gain more perspective – at least for the duration of the track. The act of following each curve, each line for at least a minute and a half – the length of the shortest track – gave you pause, as you considered newer avenues that were exposed upon further consideration of the works.
Given, for instance, the artwork that inspired Colorblind’s ‘Petrichor’ (pictured above) one would’ve found that the creature was the only one, which with black, void-like eyes, gave one the sense that it was staring right at you. While some might’ve found its gaze horrifying, the musician’s description of the eyes as ‘kind’ forced you to consider a wholly new POV.
Overall, the music was an eclectic mix of ambient sounds, thrumming beats and dark toned melodies. With inspirations ranging from sleep paralysis to suffocation, it would be a given to expect sounds that evoke chills in the listener.
Some of the musicians didn’t disappoint either, keeping everyone watching over their shoulder(s) with a distinct sense of unease. Kalab’s ‘What the Beast Said’ was fairly disconcerting, creating the belief that the creature quite literally was speaking to you. Some of the tracks, however, were oddly uplifting. Riatsu’s ‘KUMO’ and Spryk’s untitled track, for instance, fell lighter on the ears than most of the others. The use of earphones ensured that the experience of every person in the audience was intensely personal and unique, while the surround sound + projected artwork that kicked in every half hour, let you drink in the experience with everyone else.
Lawntuba Takes A Bow (To An Electric Guitar)
Adding to the sensorial experience, the live performances by Lawntuba, Riatsu and Cowboy & Sailorman were accompanied with aromas, through mediums as varied as perfume (an effect achieved by, quite literally, emptying bottles in front of the stage) and blazing coals that filled the venue with smoky fragrance.
However, even the best laid plans do not always turn out as expected.
In conversation with Sajid recently, he explained to us how the attempts to add more layers to the sensorial mix did not work due to logistical shortcomings. Adding sand to create the experience of an entirely new, dystopian territory proved impossible to achieve, while the attempts to lower the temperature were nixed by an extremely relatable Bombay problem – not enough ACs.
In this case however, going against the grain worked in Sajid’s favor, as it was hard to walk away unchanged from Amygdala Anomalies. Stylistically, it might’ve had no immediate comparison, but the effect recalled manga artist Junji Ito’s artwork, who usually relies not on outright gore or horror, but pulls ordinary objects into shapes and forms that simply do not fit together in the mind. The visuals similarly evoked a subtle sense of wrongness, a step inside a world where the rules are different, where we are not entirely welcome.
The other point of interest was the creatures’ lifelike quality – while few had identifiable mouths, eyes or any other appendage that you might find on a regular animal, in that atmosphere, it was easy to believe that they might step off the screen any second (an effect amplified by the surroundings). The music, varied as it was, subtly changed the tone every few minutes, to good effect.
There’s many words one could use to describe ‘Amygdala Anomalies’, and it would be hard to touch upon all of them. If there had to be a single word, it’d be memorable.