Lee Bul at Ikon

Entering this first UK solo exhibition by Korean artist, Lee Bul, is (for want of a more grown-up word), magical. Confronted by a new commission, After Bruno Taut (Devotion to Drift) (2013), a piece suspended from the ceiling, comprised of chains and glass beads, the visitor is launched into this exhibition with a feast for the eyes. The exhibition continues with more beauty, lights, mirrors and trickery, making this a must-see show at the Ikon.

At the centre of 'Via Negativa' (2012)

At the centre of ‘Via Negativa’ (2012)

Playful and child-like, beautiful and crazy, experimental and chilling, this exhibition is bursting at the seams with creativity, fun and imagination. The curatorial decision to not display information about the pieces plays to the strengths of this show, allowing the visitor the freedom to engage his/her imagination with Bul’s works. And what a treat that is with such a collection of intriguing and immersive installations and sketches.

Inside Lee Bul's 'Bunker (M. Bakhtin)' (2007/2012)

Inside Lee Bul’s ‘Bunker (M. Bakhtin)’ (2007/2012)

Lee Bul’s dystopian installations, sculptures and sketches fill the first and second floor galleries of Ikon, taking the visitor to what almost seems like another world. Mirrored corridors distort reality, while eerie sounds playing through headphones in Bunker (M. Bakhtin) confuse the senses.

Optical-illusions galore, this exhibition is interactive and fun, while being thought-provoking and at times a little scary. The maze of mirrors, Via Negativa, confuses the visitor’s sense of space as you cautiously walk through it, narrowly missing walking into reflections of yourself at every turn.

At the centre of 'Via Negativa' (2012)

At the centre of ‘Via Negativa’ (2012)

What makes this exhibition really special is that the visitor can see Bul’s creative processes. Sculptures are displayed alongside their moquettes and sketches, and material exploration is expertly shown in a series of wolf sculptures, all identical in shape and size, but made from a huge variety of materials. It is exciting and refreshing to be invited into the creative process behind this collection.

'Untitled ("Infinity wall")' (2008)

‘Untitled (“Infinity wall”)’ (2008)

Allow plenty of time to see this exhibition. It is full to the brim of exciting works, with a section of the second floor gallery reminiscent of the crowded walls at the RA Summer Exhibitions. The installations and sculptures will set your imaginations rolling, taking you back to younger years and your eyes and mind will be tricked over and over again.

Lee Bul’s work is shown at Ikon until 9th November 2014.

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Symmetry in Sculpture: Recent Work by Zarah Hussain

Simple yet complicated, sculptural yet 2D-looking, clean yet vibrant. This is an exhibition of opposites.

This beautifully spaced room of work by Zarah Hussain is stunning. With simple shapes and patterns that look complicated, and 3D sculptures that when stood head-on look flat, this body of work is a treat (or trick) for the eye.

'SuperSymmetry' Image from zarahhussain.co.uk

‘SuperSymmetry’ Image from zarahhussain.co.uk

Like the past craftsmen of the Islamic World, Hussain employs traditional yet complex mathematical principles to build beautiful, repeating pattern from individual symmetrical shapes.

With the gallery full of shapes based on hexagons and equilateral triangles, one would think this exhibition would be rather repetitive. However Hussain manages to give each shape, each colour its own character and identity. Perhaps this is because each sculpture is created and painted by hand. Hussain describes this exhibition as a ‘marriage between painting and sculpture’ and this is an experiment for her in moving her expertise in painting on into 3D sculpture.

And this is an element of the sculptures that is noticeable, although not initially tangible. Indeed, while Hussain has managed to achieve clean lines and symmetry, the pieces just stop short of being clinical, maintaining a sense creativity and expression that cannot immediately be grasped.

Hussain talks beautifully about the exhibition in this clip:

My favourite thing about this body of work is that these are not static sculptures. They interact with light and shadow such that as you move, they move with you. This exhibition is understatedly active and playful, interacting with the viewer as you stroll through it.

There are also two large paintings amongst the sculptures that draw on geometric ideas. In fact friends that I went to the exhibition with said that the canvases reminded them of drawing using spiral kits when they were children. That is the beautiful opposition that these works hold: vibrant and energetic, yet structured, systematic and mathematical.

This beautiful exhibition of contemporary sculpture has been around at BMAG for quite a while, but it is only showing for a few more weeks! Make sure you grab a visit before it closes!

True to Life? New Photography from the Middle East

From Morocco to Afghanistan, photography has become an increasingly important medium in today’s Middle East. It allows artists from this vast and diverse region to project an accessible, engaging and often deeply personal voice.

This exhibition is one of the most interesting collections I have seen for a while. Not only does it present beautiful and sometimes difficult images, it also asks the viewer to question the integrity of the very images they are seeing: ‘Do these photographs reflect real life, or are they merely versions of reality created by the photographers?’

With the Middle East frequently discussed and represented in the media, this question posed in True to Life? is a welcome one. The viewer enters the exhibition reminded that photography does not present the facts. We are immediately invited to step into this space with a critical eye, leaving our prejudices and indeed our faith in a camera lens at the door.

Spread across two galleries in BMAG, the first room of this free exhibition is haunting. A series of six portraits from Shadi Ghadirian’s series Qajar span one of the four walls. These images, staged and photographed like traditional Iranian portraits include women with modern objects that are forbidden in Iran. The mixture between old and new, forbidden and expected is particularly striking.

'Qajar #1' Image from shadighadirian.com

Shadi Ghadirian: ‘Qajar #1’ Image from shadighadirian.com

In the next room, Hassan Hajjij’s two pieces are displayed side-by-side. Saida in Green, the face of the exhibition sits alongside Jama Fna Angels. Both of these works depict Moroccan women wearing versions of traditional dress that are covered in symbols of western consumerism. The frame of Jama Fna Angels is decorated with aluminium cans, aerosol cans and glass bottles with famous, western branding on them. The repetitive nature of this piece gives a nod to pop art, creating an interesting, typically Moroccan, yet Warhol-like image.

Hassan Hajjij: 'Saida in Green' Image from bmag.org.uk

Hassan Hajjij: ‘Saida in Green’ Image from bmag.org.uk

The standout works for me were the poignant images from Amirali Ghasemi’s 2006 series, Party. In these photographs of young people enjoying a house party, any visible flesh is blocked in white, while any hair is blocked in black, creating cartoon-like, featureless young adults. These party-goers are having their anonymity and safety preserved but are consequently covering up their identity and even their race.

Before reading in the supporting information that this was a work based on the underground youth culture of Tehran, images of the secret parties in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (graphic novel and 2007 French animation film) came to mind. Perhaps Ghasemi was aware of Satrapi’s work. For me, the association deepened and enriched my understanding of the photographs and added an extra element of youth rebellion to the images.

Such was my fascination with True to Life? that I made notes on almost every work featured. However, I must leave some space for surprise for any future visitors. This exhibition has been brilliantly crafted and presented and it is certainly one to leave you thinking. Go to it with an open mind, leave your previous convictions at the door and question everything you see. You will not be disappointed.

 

True to Life? is in galleries 12 & 13 of the Birmingham Museum until 2nd November 2014. Entry is free.