RIDA ABBASI is a designer, writer, and researcher, born in Pakistan and based in Melbourne. Currently she’s practising as an independent communication designer, with a focus on conceptual, investigative, and/or research-based projects that use design thinking for problem solving and change making.
Her piece ‘Detritus’ is the cover art for The Suburban Review #14: DETRITUS.
Our Prose Editor, Dinu Kumarasinghe, interviews Rida.
In your everyday life, how do you decide what is garbage and what is not? Does this process change when creating art?
This is a really good question, and it got me thinking for quite a while. In everyday life we decide if something perishable, such as food, is past its time based on how it might look or smell but in artistic practice, conventional notions of object lifespan become irrelevant. Many unwanted things become useful and add to the overall composition as visual elements or textures. There is often beauty in states of decay—I find myself drawn to that. I also find it hard to dispose of ‘art scraps’ and unused experiments, and return to them periodically for new ideas or inspiration.
I returned to your piece many times, and understood it newly each time—how do you entice a viewer to look at your artwork more than once?
Thank you, I’m so glad to hear that. Truthfully, I’m not sure that I aim to entice the viewer. Much of the time, I’m actually working through my own feelings about an idea, or trying to communicate a concept or moment. And sometimes I’m even trying to confuse or disturb the viewer. That sounds a little subversive, but let me explain—I think that through visual art, we can communicate simultaneously with ourselves and others; and perhaps that tapestry of messages and moments, wordlessly coded inside the medium, speaks differently to people at different times.
How does our contemporary culture of over-consumption, capitalism and waste affect your practice as a visual artist?
Every artist is, in part, a slave and an enabler to capitalism, over-consumption, and waste—perhaps now more than ever. Art has many wasteful side effects; experiments and rejected pieces, iterations of prototypes, production and material waste. I try to use materials consciously and with a certain frugality. These steps are necessary to the process, but it’s undeniable that in the long run, they are contributing to garbage/waste in our environment. I often wonder how other artists reconcile these issues with their process. I know the guilt can be crippling at times. Sometimes, I don’t produce a project because I have questioned it out of existence; is it really necessary? How many trees am I responsible for killing for the vanity of publishing a project? Perhaps these are neurotic fears, but they definitely affect my practice. But then, it speaks to the way our culture conceives of value, when art is held to the same standards of usefulness as products in a capitalist framework.
In so many ways, modern culture has reduced art to a single purpose: consumption. Through Instagram feeds, Youtube playlists, and Spotify streams, art has been amalgamated into just another form of entertainment, with unspecified value. As an artist that shares work online, I am complicit. On the other hand, it’s necessary to engage with these content platforms in order to reach an audience. So where does one draw the line? It’s a complex predicament that challenges many aspects of our lives, personally and professionally, and I think it requires careful navigation.