Mirza and Butler's multi-layered practice consists of filmmaking, drawing, installation, photography, performance, publishing and curating. Their work challenges terms such as participation, collaboration, the social turn and the traditional roles of the artist as producer and the audience as recipient.
Since 2009, Mirza and Butler have been developing a body of work entitled The Museum of Non Participation. The artists have repeatedly found themselves embedded in pivotal moments of change, protest, non-alignment and debate. Experiencing such spaces of contestation both directly and through the network of art institutions, Mirza and Butler negotiate these influences in video, photography, text and action.
In 2004, Mirza and Butler formed no.w.here, an artist-run organization that combines film production with critical dialogue about contemporary image making. It supports the production of artist works, runs workshops and critical discussions and actively curated performances, screenings, residencies, publications, events and exhibitions.
The Exception and the Rule, 2009
Shot primarily in Karachi, The Exception and the Rule employs a variety of strategies in negotiating consciously political themes. Avoiding traditional documentary modes, the film frames everyday activities within a period of civil unrest, incorporating performances to camera, public interventions and observation. This complex work supplements Mirza/Butler's Artangel project The Museum of Non Participation.
- Mark Webber, London Film Festival
Every morning in Karachi we read the local newspapers.
This became a pattern. The front pages of the International and Local news told us how our day might go. In these troubled times news headlines had direct impact on our sense of freedom around the city. The distance we were prepared to go from home.
Most articles were lucid, intelligent, balanced and current, but as the days and opinion cycled past so our interest in these articles waned. After all, even a cursory look at a map would raise an eyebrow as to the complexity of Pakistan’s neighbours. This is a country where so many [geo-]political points converge that their tides are directly played out in people’s everyday. The pace of daily change piled thoughts on top of one another. When we put this to a learned friend active in Pakistan he laughed and told us that: To understand Pakistan you must first understand that you cannot rationalise the non-rational.
The Autonomous Object?, 2007
In The Autonomous Object? Mirza and Butler consider conceptual art as a fieldwork strategy that attempts to articulate ‘thinking’ as an ‘object’.
Mirza and Butler have collapsed over 35 performances with passerby’s set in India, Pakistan, New York and London into a boxed object. This object contains an invitation to interpret the work in response to: the changing site of each exhibition | the perceived thinking behind the work | and the screens, surfaces and props in each performance. Each film performance returns to the Modernist concerns within ‘Mirror Film’ by Robert Morris (1969) viewed through postmodern concerns that problematise the location of the performance and the issue of authorship. Perceiving both anthropology and art from this direction Mirza and Butler are suggesting new ways of positioning structural film within revisionist anthropology. This playfully questions whether the camera and or/ its subject matter is acting as the agent, mediator and/or the performer as articulated within the language of contemporary art.
The Space Between, 2005
The film image is constantly fluctuating between object-representation and surface abstraction. Repetition does not bring clarity nor is it meant to. No attempt is made to deny either the subjectivity of film or its representational mode; rather the viewer works through and against the film with the filmmakers; so to speak.
The Space Between is an open structure based on a relatively small set of input materials. The live sound (generated from a single electric guitar) uses a series of simultaneous delays to create spatially separated long repeating loops and very short delays. The harmonic input is restricted – all complexity arises from the overlapping delays, a parallel structure which mirrors or coexists with the multiple time bases of the repeating film loops and the multi-screen edit/flicker.
The Glass Stare, 2003
The Glass Stare is a 3-screen 16mm film installation that explores the philosophical space of reflection, refraction and representation. This work was inspired by the move towards photo-realism within painting (Vermeer and Caravaggio) and paintings relationship to cinema (Andy Warhol’s screen tests).
Before the Camera Obscura was invented many painters discovered that mirrors could be used to reflect an image onto a canvas that they could then trace. In many of these paintings, one can study the effects of the dramatic lighting (the cinematic effect) that was needed in order to cast a [upside down] reflected image of the person sitting for their portrait (Supper at Emmaus 1601, Girl with a Pearl Earring 1665).
For The Glass Stare we have replaced the person sitting with two film loops that are projected onto 2 adjacent screens. Two mirrors catch these projections and reflect them both onto a small canvas in the middle of the space. This new single composite screen is constantly forming and re-forming an image in front of our eyes bringing to mind the darkroom experience when an image first appears on the photographic paper. In our installation the fixivity of the photographic image remains in a constant state of flux
Where a straight line meets a curve, 2003
Where a straight line meets a curve is a durational sculpture, of real and imagined activity shot entirely in one room. It is a film concerned with the objective reduction of space, a film 'about' the recording and representation of space and the politics of the viewing space of film itself.
Projected onto two adjacent screens, the visual material is constructed so that light and colour form relationships between and across screens continuously, redefining the viewer's perception of the space presented through the images. Time is measured out in ways analogous to the coming and going of the everyday, exposing the passing of time to a (continuous) present.
The work questions the usual strategies of the viewer, mediating between the mental image, the dimension of physical space, and the illusionistic space of cinema.
Non Places, 1999
We are ever increasingly in transit through 'non places'. Corners that lurk at the edge of activity. Passageways where activity occurs but the relationship between use and place remains unnamed. Places where names are incidental, meaningless because the need for communication – or the passage of time spent – is already deemed to be transient, insignificant, minimal, empty. Street corners, bus stops, shopping malls, motorways, airport lounges – new forms of solitude.