A few seconds into viewing the frames of Utsa Hazarika’ work you are introduced to her sound pieces; sonically accentuated fragments of stray sounds collected by her camera from the surroundings or by participating elements of her shoot, reworked to form a score for her work. This forms one of the most interesting experiences in her video technique that uses a jigsaw of fragmented sequences, more often than not forming the constant yet adaptive murmur. Hazarika then is unapologetic and uninhibited in terms of choice, collation and comprehension; may be it comes from not having studied in a Fine Arts program or maybe it just comes from the clarity she exhibits in her sharp visual edits and sonic techniques; either way it contributes generously to the perceptive reading of her work.
When I first saw the “Chorus”, it was her work with the sound that stayed, so much so that it leaves you in a sense of discomfort as she plays the ‘windows’ on the screen like they were mirages, figments of your imagination. Your eyes wander as the sound escalates both in terms of decibels as well as elementarily. With each visual recurrence, there is an ascending sound that adds sectionally till it reaches a chaotic symphony. There is a conspired perplexity with the absence of sound forcing your eyes to wander, looking for its visual counterpart whilst the presence of both challenges its comprehension simultaneously. The chorus then is both sonic and visual, and the harmony is something so interestingly underplayed but indicated in the reverberation as it advances to a crescendo. There are alliterations to her work, and it is only when you’ve shuttled through both – “Chorus” and “The Glass: morning: afternoon: night” that they enunciate rather coherently. With the “The Glass: morning: afternoon: night”, Hazarika brings back the familiar murmur, with an occasional word finding audibility and thereby making sense. However a larger constant here is her frames, that mostly look towards an interior from the exterior and vice versa. The subjects then are very familiar or reminiscent of the familiar, as her camera moves with a searchlight, as though something was amiss. Here again she investigates the impermanent or that which has passed, with metaphors aplenty. The constant reminders of the exit explored in single channel audio, leave an intensity that is unsettling.
The “The Glass: morning: afternoon: night” greatly borrows the theatrical premise in its sequence (not in terms of dramatic intent) where the perspective is masked by a glass, unclear and partial at times, or else extremely clear. Nonetheless the glass forms the frame to an exterior that alternates between the familiar and the alien, the occupied and the vacant, the existent and the reverie. The abstraction of her sonic piece herein, is ambiguous and I choose to use that term for its literality; as it shifts its character from futuristic to haunting, jarring at times, eerily silent for the rest. Here is where Hazarika brings back the unreformed as she refrains in “I am now co-operating” but blanks out to a dark screen rather antithetically with an uncertain speckle of light (or is it?). Here in this maze of reflections within reflections, Utsa finds her media. She tends to invalidate the apparent and use the arbitrary; using sound as her co-protagonist to amplify or nullify the ambience; the tone of the search and its cynicism, almost like she was investigating a crime scene, intact.
Therefrom we collectively ventured to think about her work in progress, “It is A War”, where you enter a domestic space with an unassuming Bollywood number. Here again one goes through a series of reintroductions to the now vacant, in an otherwise festive ambience; a home video? Maybe if we were to look at it objectively, but Hazarika disagrees in every sense of the word as she progressively assembles her footage. Say Hello to the subtitle as she gives reason to the murmur, whilst keeping the cynical score and the interior/exterior view close. Relatively populated “It is A war” is accompanied by a heightened clatter, disturbingly loud at times, and soothingly contained at the other. Rather ritualistic, and in an ascending order, the video strays between festive scenes with the interlude of the now familiar musical excerpt. It is interesting how Hazarika makes the same space seem so comforting, so familiar at one instant and the goes back to alter it as an uncomfortable, alien location as the haunting hum continues.
Formatively and ideologically, Hazarika chooses to keep predictability away. She understands her footage as stoical and potent, creating a narrative that is complex. She eliminates the conventional tropes by making little of the recorded words, dissecting her footage and constantly reappropriating her own ideas along the way. Recurrence is then a tool with which with creates convolution. There is little indication for as to what her camera is looking for and interestingly she uses it as a weave to her work. She deconstructs impermanence as she tests the term against the lost, that which has passed, the vaccum or the absent. Her sound pieces are devised as distractions then to challenge the collation of the fragmented, a space of conflict where she sees most introspection and recollections dwelling in both personally and collectively.
Text by Mario D’Souza, Critic-in-Residence, Peers 2015, Khoj International Artists Association