The Neighbour

Two caravans installed in a darkened warehouse space. A picnic bench in the foreground.
Ashok Sukumaran, The Neighbour, 2009
Light box images of mobile homes, installed in a bedroom within a caravan.
Ashok Sukumaran, The Neighbour, 2009

“The neighbour, neither friend nor enemy, is the one who may not be in your "network", but is nevertheless in your world.” (Sukumaran)

Bombay-based Ashok Sukumaran is one of the few artists in the world making work that directly addresses issues of infrastructure: the ideological and human landscapes that surround flows such as electricity, water, data and trade. Beyond the claims of infrastructures of access, his work engages with ideas of distance, hierarchy, directionality and doubt amidst the “networks”.

This ambitious project was Sukumaran’s first major one-person exhibition in the UK. In The Neighbour, two ostensibly “mobile” habitats share space. One is a “static” mobile home from the late 1970s, which developed as a way for lower-middle class families to partake in “caravan culture”, or escape longer term from the city and its property regimes. The second, coming from another direction in the same period, is a camper van, which follows gypsies and travellers in an attempt to produce the continuously nomadic home, built in the car factory.

These two objects, from the inside and out, ask us to inhabit questions about the contemporary housing industry, the overlaps in our landscapes of desire, of crisis, and the psychic dimensions of enclosure and spacing that have evolved not just among people, but also among competing machines, and their regulatory frameworks.

Sukumaran said: “these are maybe second cousins, somewhere between the family and the polis. They are neighbours as a result of a mutual migration, from more traditional forms of modernity. This is an allegory of neighbourhood, a result our inability to fully escape each other.”

Psychological analyses of the neighbour (from Freud to Zizek) suggest the “logical tragedy” of the Judeo-Christian injunction to love thy neighbour “as thyself”. The landscape darkens, and curiosity, obsession and suspicion appear as deep forces that overflow the ideology of tolerance, or “safe distance” from the other. Still the neighbour remains largely unknowable, opaque.

Sukumaran: “Lurkers, pests, potential collaborators, potential spies, potential contaminants seems to appear often in our recent work. Their threat or presence shapes relations, and gives rise to the leaks, negotiations and traversals that we are interested in, those that test the older network paradigms.”

Ashok Sukumaran (b.1974) came to international prominence with the extraordinary work Glow Positioning System, 2005. In 2008, he co-founded CAMP, a space for critical artistic research, imagination, and archiving projects.  He was awarded the first prize of the 2005 UNESCO Digital Arts Award, and received a Golden Nica at the Prix Ars Electronica, 2007.


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