Shaurya Kumar’s Collapsing Memory Palace

Apsara top

Shaurya Kumar‘s work is beautiful, complex, and important. He works out of a research-based process that weaves his ranging interests in memory, the current and future state of the digital archive, history, and critical theory, into an edgy tapestry. Kumar’s work betrays a rigorous investigation into the way technology and institutions inform the construction of history and how that process infects everything from personal memories to the way we produce and think about culture.

Alchi green tara

Thankfully Kumar’s studio practice and image production are as playful and generous as his investigation is academically astute. Working from an appropriative procedural conceit, he selects found digital imagery. For example, in his wildly successful previous collection, The Lost Museum, he focused specifically on historical artworks that had been lost, stolen or destroyed (some of images of this work are at the end this post).

After collecting his source images, Kumar works out of a process of chance corruption, damaging the image code in a black box operation that gives him little control over the results (no photoshop here). His collection of facsimile artifacts, when seen together, bring to mind complicated questions about the  fragility of digital media,  Benjamin’s “aura”, haptic visuality, and questions of authenticity and authorship. Once the work is altered he adds a further level of complexity by outputting them as beautifully printed archival digital prints that float on the wall. These pieces bring to mind the slick signature of contemporary photography until the degraded abstract imagery moves the work in the opposite direction. His latest body of work, Masterworks: Googlepaedic Narrations and the Dysfunction of Damage continues this trajectory (making up the images in this post).


An image of the installation to give you a sense of scale.

On a more formal level, it would be remiss not to say the obvious here: these images are very, very aesthetically seductive. They are, if not exactly beautiful, very compelling. The fractured, scattered decayed images hint at their origins and traffic in a corruption that may in the future seem nostalgic, but at this moment looks rather like the result of some bad data damage.

All of these intersections of concept and process put his work in conversation with the chance proceduralist, John Cage, and artists mining the archive, like Fred Wilson and Bill Morrison (whose film Decasia seems particularly relevant to this work). But to be clear, Kumar’s work shouldn’t be seen as aping his predecessors; he’s definitely moving into new territory.

More text & Images after the jump!

Of the shift in content in his new body of work, Masterworks: Googlepaedic Narrations and the Dysfunction of Damage, Kumar says,

Specifically, these works will be based on virtual interpretation of my memories of ancient murals that I experienced during my travels to remote villages and temples in India. These works, in turn, question our experiences and memories from the past, both personal and cultural in the absence of the physical object- in a world that is becoming increasingly global, but is often mediated through the computer screen.

By mining his own memories and growing sense of dislocation, Kumar makes clear how he has increased his own stake in this work–a move that feels very right.


In explaining his interest in the digital archive, Kumar says in his statement,

Gordon Moore’s law propounded in 1975 implies that the technology outdates itself, making way for new, efficient and innovative technologies every 24 months. Commenting on the instability of digital archives, Jeff Rotherberg, senior researcher at RAND Corporation in Santa Monica stated, “Digital data lasts forever or five years, whichever comes first.” What Moore and Rotherberg suggest is that the instability of digital archives is caused not only because of change in the technology, but also because the technology itself is not designed to last more than a few years. While we have all experienced the effect of this unstable media in some way or the other on a personal level (emails or attachments not opening correctly, data once stored in floppy disks, zip drives and CDs becomes inaccessible etc.), the concerns of storing and preserving the data becomes a critical issue when dealing with large proportions of data generated and preserved on a national and international scale. Such overwhelming generation and distribution of information — its perception, understanding and experience through the computer, when coupled with the fragility of the medium itself instigated my research.

Excuse me while I go back up my back-up drive..


Of his chance corruptive procedure, Kumar says,

In order to create these works, I have conducted extensive research with numerous scientists and engineers, and developed a computer program that involves working on codes at the binary level; behind the façade of the image interface itself. The information stored in the magnetic and optical devices is thus manipulated, sometimes changing just one bit, the basic unit of information of data stored. This change – mostly random, destroys and reconstructs, breaks & distorts the data imitating the unpredictability and change that it would undergo – with disaster or age.

As I said earlier, no photoshop here. This level of ‘under the hood’ coding on brings to mind the John F. Simon‘s Every Icon

Kidangur1 copy 4

His bodies of work seems to be traveling to exhibitions quite extensively, see Kumar’s website to see if it will be displayed near you; or better yet, hijack a gallery and organize an exhibition.


Here are a few works from Kumar’s really cool previous series, The Lost Museum.

Bodhisattvas and Deities on
the West wall of the Ceiling
Cave 620 | 8th – 9th century A.C.E.
Bamiyan, Afghanistan

31″ x 40″
Archival Inkjet Print

Monolithic Stelae
Kohaito, Eritrea
3rd century A.C.E.

26″ x 40″
Archival Inkjet Print

Kumar’s work is smart and compelling. We look forward to seeing what he will do next.

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Categories: Artists, Exhibitions, Uncategorized

3 Responses to “Shaurya Kumar’s Collapsing Memory Palace”

  1. Faith says:

    Such a great concept and execution! Lovely, lovely…


  2. Rajat Kumar says:

    These works are quite inspiring, appropriate explorations for the present times. The approach becomes more intriguing to imagine where this direction may lead.
    A role of the arts for the benefit of not only those creating or recreating it, but also those who are witnessing of experiencing it, is to search for the Absolute, the Unchanging, the Source.
    One wonders, in the context of Shaurya’s works, that what if our reality, we ourselves, or what we know of ourselves is also at some level a corruption of the True data.
    Can these works, thus, do the opposite of what it does – of finding images by corrupting (changing data-codes), and assume the existing environments (physical and non-physical) to be altered images of the absolute image. Can the approach in Shaurya’s work help find the uncorrupted image hidden in our souls? Perhaps this is not altogether impossible.
    Best wishes!

    More simply written than done I would think. vom ende der langendorfer judengemeinde