by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
Choreographing a world of awe, interplaying the mysterious relationship between natural light and casted shadows, and abstracting cohesion within an aesthetic chaos define the irresistibly Instagram-able world of Rana Begum that has opened doors to be experienced in the heart of London, UK. From a traditional white cube - Mead Gallery, to an English country house - Pitzhanger Manor, the artworks in this travelling exhibition adapt and shape diverse personalities as they strikingly respond within new surroundings. Currently on display at the Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery, Dappled Light forms Begum’s first solo exhibition in a public gallery in London over six years.
"It was beautiful!”, exclaims the visual artist recalling her initial interaction with this space. "I love the way the gallery is connected to the house so you can walk through both spaces. The location is lovely with an amazing park behind. It felt tranquil, removed from the hustle and bustle of Ealing Broadway. This feeling of calmness, of having a space to think and observe, is something that I want to create in my work," adds Begum.
Curated by Dr Cliff Lauson, Dappled Light builds a dynamic dialogue with the architecture of Sir John Soane. Begum's artistic creations lend a vibrant contemporary character to this neoclassical space. The result culminates into a beautiful confluence - where the artist’s influence from the Islamic aesthetics compliments with existing elements of Italian Renaissance in Soane’s architectural style. “Sir John Soane was known for the way he brought light into a space - playfully positioning windows, skylights and stained glass to create a sensory experience. Light, in all of its variations, is essential to my work so it was the perfect space to experience how different qualities of light interact with a surface and impact the work,” informs the Bangladesh-born artist.
A diaphanous rendering of a vibrant mesh of clouds stages the heart of this art exhibition. "This body of work was developed in response to a series of spray paint spot paintings I have been working on over the last few years. I felt like the work needed to be brought out in to three-dimensional space, that it was trying to transgress the limits of the two-dimensional form. I started experimenting with mesh as a way to sculpturally recreate these sprayed spots. This started small but as I scaled up the work transformed – I was drawn to the fragile edges and the impression of weightlessness,” says Begum. The installation holds a decorative quality akin to Persianate clouds in Shahnameh miniature paintings. It holds a certain playfulness that unveils layers of meaning making and expression as each asymmetrical element mysteriously illuminates through the ceiling canopy. The ethereal cloud installation introduces enchanting discourses with the overhead tinted panes as it dramatically suspends at centre of the gallery hall. Painted in diverse shades - blue, green, yellow, grey and pink - the sculptural installation is both static and in a state of constant flux. The artwork constantly engages with the filtered skylight as shadows gradually enlarge and then fade away.
The immersive exhibition celebrates Begum’s sheer brilliance as she tactfully mends her large-scale installations into a journey of exploring the transient quality of light. Her quintessential neon fishing net gracefully descends down a Georgian stairwell. In complete contrast to the expansive installation at the majestic courtyard of the Durbar Court of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office during the London Fashion Week 2020, the restricted positioning in Pitzhanger stairwell manages to capture the essence of diffracted colours as light penetrates through the light-weighted fabric. The dramatic zig-zags and elegant pleats add depth to the blocks of neon as the fabric overlaps and intertwines within itself. Blurring the line between art, design and architecture, this installation art becomes a harmonic extension of the 18th century Palladian staircase. "I love this collaboration between neo-classical architecture and contemporary art," adds Begum.
In juxtaposition to the ionic columns and stained glass in the Conservatory, Begum has installed a LEGO like world of reflector towers. This reflector world models Begum’s very own mini cityscape and depicts our ever-evolving built environment. The window pane shadows too extend to the artist’s repetitive geometric aesthetic, that is quite common across her visual language. Begum shares, "I have always found this feeling of repetition calming, bringing back memories of my childhood reciting from the Quran. I remember a feeling of tranquillity that accompanied these rhythmic recitations. This feeling of meditation has influenced my practice, drawing me towards repetition and order, and the idea of the infinite.”
The medium constantly shifts and changes with the varying light exposure and the angular positioning of an individual. The overall experience allows the viewers to immerse and engage with the minimalistic artwork and witness it within its own elucidation of time.
In contrast to the interior decorative scheme, Begum installs five free standing panes of coloured glass in the front garden. The sunlight streams through the tinted glass, casting radiant shadows on the summer grass. At once, the panes feel marching in a perfect symmetric parallel while at another fleeting moment one may find them disjointly rising from the ground. Begum's art is minimalist in a colloquial sense and self-contained as they reside within this impressive palatial space.
Pitzhanger’s atmospheric Monk’s Dining Room showcases Begum’s first ever video work. The film runs as a time-lapse through the British seasons during the pandemic year. "I found it calming!”, she exclaims. Further on, she adds, “I started documenting these changes, taking a photo every hour. I wasn’t sure how I was going to use these images but I loved the way the quality of light and seasonal changes was captured. I started to experiment and put them in to a film and it was amazing – as the film transitions between the stills the trees look almost like they are breathing.” The video installation captures the fugitive and dappled light as it cascades through the tree canopy in a woodland cemetery outside the artist’s city home.
Adopting diverse modes of visual expression – painting, sculptures and video installation –Begum has once again outdone herself. The exhibition brings out her strong sense of colour psychology, distinctive geometric forms and diverse textures as they bathe under the filtered skylight. Dappled Light elicits a sensorial experience as the natural light caresses the material: filtering, glancing, reflecting and blending. The light, an important artistic element for Begum as well as a strong architectural tool for Sir John Soane, becomes a guiding force for striking the perfect harmony in this avant-garde curation. The exhibition is on display until September 11, 2022. “I would recommend making a morning of it to explore Soane’s house and enjoy the beautiful park,” concludes Begum.