The artist appears to have a simple and urgent proposition: to render the past absurd is to neutralise the rhetoric of the political right.
Without a golden age to hark about, no one can promise to make America, the UK, or India â€˜great againâ€™. And we can instead progress to a state of internationalism, equal rights, economic parity andÂ perpetual peace.
Rahal lives in Mumbai, but he points out that the whole planet is â€œkind of a scary place to be working, globallyâ€. He is, however, welcome in the North West, where for the duration of the 2016 Liverpool Biennial, his sculpture and film is being shown across three sites.
We met at Cains Brewery, a cavernous space for art enjoying a good year.Â It is however scruffy, and Rahalâ€™s work looks in keeping with the general state of repair. It is the first thing a visitor sees: nuggets of clay arranged on trestle-like tables; bits of scaffold, locally sourced, covered in clay; and black-box monitors which appear to emerge from the mess on which figurines breathe or practice with lightsabers.
â€œIâ€™m a huge nerd and I obviously have all these Star Wars referencesâ€, the artist cheerfully informs me. But like many contemporary sculptors, he aims both high and low, looking to Jorge Luis Borges for â€vast metaphysical narrativesâ€, and for that writerâ€™s concern with â€œcreating this itinerary of our cultureâ€.
In short, this itinerary is dystopian. The artefacts presented appear fresh from some archaeological dig. But what kind of half-formed world do they conjure up? A: it is a world run by idiots in which technology has failed us and we have forgotten basic craft skills. And that seems to me the worst of all possible worlds.
â€œI like the fact that these characters, or these objects of clay could somehow become like harbingers of something, you know?â€ Rahul tells me as we contemplate his pottery-based triage stations which all appear to somehow breathe in the light of the moving image work.
He also says: â€œIâ€™m more interested in putting them together to form meaningâ€¦ from these absurd things, which are beyond reason in a certain way. In that meaning-making ritual that people perform, how do we create allegiances? How do we create bonds across space-time?â€
An interest in travel and time travel chimes in well with the 2016 Biennial, which is a nebulous animal in which Monuments from the Future isÂ one of six official themes. You may find, as I did, that as you come across Rahalâ€™s work more than once, you build a pictureÂ ofÂ what might beÂ becoming.Â
It is a picture of a primitive timeÂ around the corner. Rahal expresses concern about right wingÂ governments that have followed the Arab Spring, the rise of presidential candidate Donald Trump, and the hate-filled effect of Brexit here in the UK.
If politics is performative, the artist has another highly political aspect to his practice. Rahul stages improvised, ritualistic performances which offer only â€œfleeting, fragmented glimpsesâ€ of a narrative, and which change gear according to pop cultural requests from his viewers.
â€œEven I donâ€™t have a bead on [these],â€ he tells me. â€œEssentially, whatâ€™s interesting for me is that Iâ€™m also a viewer as well.â€ One supposes that in these powerless times, we are all to a degree little more than viewers, even as we march, occupy, tweet or blog.
But perhaps in the light of our political horizons, we’ll do well to maintain any civilisation at all.
Despite everything, Rahal is making the most ofÂ circumstances:Â â€œEarthenware has so much meaning to our origins so Iâ€™m drawn to that, but saying that itâ€™s also so much fun to just dive into clay and get mud all over me.”
As well he might, since in Summer 2016Â we are all up to the neck in it.