Simple Indicators Karachi - - Biennale - -2017 Simple Indicators


We all bear witness to our times and ourselves, both in the present and the past.


By Amin Gulgee


Karachi, where I was born and raised, bore witness to the bloodshed of the partition of the subcontinent into the modern nation states of India and Pakistan in 1947. Despite continuing episodes of turmoil, the city of migrants resiliently grows and thrives.

When confronted with the theme for Karachi Biennale 2017—Witness—the much quoted Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”, comes to mind. These are indisputably interesting times not only for my city but also for the world around us. We are often told as artists that our duty is to question the times we live in. If so, even this seemingly familiar “Chinese” proverb demands scrutiny. Fred R. Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, noted, “No authentic Chinese saying to this effect has ever been found.” The British politician Sir Austen Chamberlain first conjured up this expression in a speech in 1936 as reported by the Yorkshire Evening Post.

As Chief Curator it has been an experiential venture for me to approach artists from both Pakistan and abroad to bear witness to this perplexing era. This has been an opportunity to learn and absorb very diverse artists’ idiosyncratic vocabularies from several continents.

The works commissioned and selected for the Biennale are both political and personal. The issues addressed by artists based whether here or abroad have a resonance for my city. Some are a commentary on the times, whilst others explore the artists’ own internal dialogues. They are acts of defiance and celebration that will take viewers to places unexpected and unexplainable. The aim is to ponder not only our times, but also the narratives surrounding them.

I do not have answers, only questions.

“There must be something sacred about salt. It is in our tears and in our sea,”stated Khalil Gibran. Now, I feel, is the time for us to come together as artists, and more importantly as human beings, to bear witness to our shared salt.

Simple Indicators, Karachi 2018

Dynamic Indicator – animated turn signal of an automobile

Direction indicators are informally known as ‘blinkers’ or ‘indicators’— flashing lamps mounted near the corners of a vehicle, activated by the driver to advertise intent to turn or change lanes towards that side. The new, sequential programming of these individual lights animates the blinking to further illustrate the direction in which the vehicle is to turn. This is a so-called “dynamic” indicator.

Whilst startling and somehow technologically seducing, many find the ‘dynamic’ animation a step too far, a kind of stupidity or complication of an otherwise simple function. As the orange light is already on the respective side of the vehicle that the driver intends turning, the existing flashing indicator is more than sufficient. In this sense, the dynamic indicator can be seen as a sign of the times, an over-explaining or patronising effect of technology. In a broader context, the dynamic indicator is a luxurious and quite unnecessary elaboration – an ironing out of details in a contrasting world of turmoil.

This indicator: Audi dynamic backlight indicator, TT-TTS 8J

Simple Indicators, Karachi 2018, Installation detail

Indicator (genus)

Indicator is a genus of birds in the honeyguide family. The name refers to the behaviour of some species, notably the greater honeyguide, which guide humans to bee colonies so they can share in the spoils of wax and insects when the nest is broken into. Wild honeyguides also have demonstrated the capability to understand a human call to accompany them to locate honey. This remarkable habit is seen in only one or two species. While humans are after the honey, the birds feed on the wax, so there is no direct competition, hence a symbiotic relationship.

One could see the greater honeyguide’s relation to humanity as idyllic, a fitting pastoral narrative for the likes of a reassuring nature program.

This indicator: the greater honeyguide bird

Simple Indicators, Karachi 2018, Installation detail (video screen shot)

Technical Indicator – trading software

In trading tools, a technical indicator is a mathematical calculation based on historic price, volume, or open interest information that aims to forecast financial market direction. Technical indicators are a fundamental part of technical analysis and are typically plotted as a chart pattern to try to predict the market trend.

With the ability to list and trade on most aspects of life – from the success or failure of third-world crops to health insurance, such interfaces create a sinister portrait of humanity. This YouTube tutorial video on the Ichimoku technical analysis software is a kind of window on bedroom-education of the haves, refining skills for further self-empowerment, often on the back of the have-nots.

This technical indicator: Tutorial Video for “Ichimoku”

Simple Indicators, Karachi 2018, Installation view