Idris Khan transforms the conceptual art of appropriation into an elegant and substantial meditation on the act of creativity. Appropriating icons of literature, music, and art, Khan methodically layers his material. The process allows the artist to tease out certain areas adjusting the source material so that the soul of the piece is manifested in Khan’s accreted interpretation.
By Efi Michalarou
Photo: Victoria Miro Gallery Archive
Idris Khan in his solo exhibition “Absorbing Light” at Victoria Miro Gallery presents a monumental sculpture, a multi-part installation, paintings of geometric and stripe formations, and works on paper. A 4-metre square sculpture composed 15 columns, each painted a light-absorbing black to achieve a fathomless darkness, on initial impression reads as a solid, impenetrable mass rising up towards the ceiling. Upon closer inspection, as viewers’ eyes adjust, its interior structure is revealed as natural light travels through small spaces between each column. Always sensitive to the notion of scale, in particular the scale of a human body in relation to space, in this work Khan marries aesthetic beauty with a sense of disorientation and physical exclusion – heightening the anxiety a spectator might feel when unable to ascertain their surroundings. A painting 3.5-metres in length, is composed solely of alternating bars of light and dark black, subtly modulated to suggest surface and depth. Created to disrupt perception, the work accentuates the ways in which eye and mind can be tricked by a simple image into to seeing lights, lines, after images and shadows. The stripes, like bars, bring to mind thoughts of incarceration, while the interference patterns and strobing sensations, redolent of op-art, are suggestive of altered emotional or psychological states. In this work, Khan refers to the artistic lineage of the monochrome. Rather than reject representation, however, he embraces its complications and possibilities. Both painting and sculpture allude to spaces of imprisonment and the experiences of those whose perception has been compromised. Deeply moved by testimonies from Saydnaya, Syria’s most notorious and brutal prison, Khan has researched the ways in which inmates encounter and remember their surroundings. Words taken from stories or testimonies from conflict, and also Khan’s personal responses to them, are incorporated into a patinated cast bronze floor piece comprising 44 blocks of various dimensions, each stamped with numbers and texts, and distributed in seemingly random configurations. Texts are further incorporated into monochrome paintings made with large-scale stamps, applied repetitively to the surface of the canvas in radial formations. In these intensely visceral works, where addition and erasure become as one, Khan pushes his subject matter to the cusp of legibility. Works on Japanese paper, cast in resin to achieve maximum translucency, are displayed on plinths between sheets of Plexiglas, questioning their own materiality and status as objects.
Info: Victoria Miro Gallery, 16 Wharf Road, London, Duration: 3/10-20/12/17, Days & Hours: Tue-Sat 10:00-18:00, www.victoria-miro.com