To celebrate the opening of the 2012 Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, which opened last Saturday, all this week I’ll be posting texts that I wrote for the catalogue of said exhibition. First up: Haroon Mirza’s piece that is represented with a video in Shenzhen, but in reality is a rather complex installation, as I’ve tried to describe.
The elaborate installations of artist Haroon Mirza analyze the formation of sound and noise as a cultural and social mechanism as much as a mechanical one. The various parts of the piece Adhãn build into a work that touches on the way music and noise produce and communicate meaning in context with other objects. The cultural results of these productions of meaning hold particular significance for the artist, especially (as in this case) the role they play in religious and secular society.
Created following a visit to Pakistan in 2007–8, Adhãn reflects the artist’s research into the “uneasy role music plays in the Islamic faith”,1 the title referring to the call to prayer performed by the Muezzin, an official in a mosque. The installation is made up of seemingly disparate objects with their workings and formative elements insistently exposed, as is common in Mirza’s work. Various old items of furniture support or become part of the process of the piece, including a long, low cupboard with integral lamp at one end. Next to the cupboard sits a radio tuned to static, whose aerial pokes up into the canopy of the lamp. The lamp flickers in tandem with music coming from a small TV set at the other end of the cupboard, causing the radio’s interference to modulate in sync with these pulses. The TV is broadcasting an acoustic session by musician Cat Stevens from 1971, who famously converted to Islam some years after the recording, changing his name to Yusuf Islam in the process, so creating a direct link to the recent history of the Islamic faith within the piece.
On the other side of the installation a small projector sits on the floor casting a close-up video of the strings of a cello onto the side of an overturned speaker box. The cello player performs short snatches of notes that themselves never seem to cohere into music as such, although in combination with the simple tune emanating from the TV, it’s almost possible to link them together as music. The final element is a chair with a glass cube embedded in its seat. Inside the clear cube, a milky fluid bubbles and steams, looking somewhat like an arcane alchemical symbol or mechanism embedded in this prosaic furniture.
Another installation by Mirza, Taka Tak (2008), can be seen as something of a companion piece to Adhãn, produced around the same time and continuing to address the place of music in the Islamic faith. Taka Tak is the onomatopoeic word used to describe the sound made by the Pakistani chefs mincing goat offal for the street dish of the same name. One of these chefs is shown working away in a video as part of the piece producing the distinctive rhythm. Next to this, on a turntable, spins a wooden figure of a Sufi, a Muslim ascetic, with a radio sharing space on the disc. Between the turntable and the video sit two small, inlaid Qur’an stands converted to objects of sound and light through the addition of trails of speakers and LED lights.
The major thread running through the artist’s work can be seen to be putting audible production on an equal footing with the visual senses, rebalancing the appreciation of objects and installations in this direction. At the same time both the auditory and visual senses are treated to a similar level of disruption in his installations, in an attempt to put into question the structures on which art and society subsist.
The overall effect of Mirza’s work is somewhat arcane, with their convoluted connections between the elements and their use of sound as a manifestation of things in the world. All the objects, though many and various and not always obviously connected intellectually, work in synergy through the physical processes between them and through association by proximity; the artworks build into small, self-contained environments hinting at a deep complexity of meaning.
Author: Edward Sanderson
- Bonacina, Andrew, “Haroon Mirza: Music, tradition and Islam; organized noise, film and instability,” Frieze Issue 133, September 2010.
- Originally published in Liu Ding, Carol Yinghua Lu, Su Wei (eds.) (2012), Accidental Message: Art is Not a System, Not a World, Guangzhou: LingNan Art Publishing House. pp.222–227.