UK artist Haroon Mirza’s new work sets the artist up as a DJ Shaman.
British artist Haroon Mirza’s oddly titled work /\/\/\ /\/\/\ (2017) is on display at LiFE until 24 September 2017. Art Radar takes a look at the display.
Haroon Mirza was born in London, where he has been creating “sculptural soundscapes” since graduating from Chelsea School of Art in 2007. Mirza uses a range of materials and tactics in the production of his exhibition work, from beats reproduced by makeshift instruments to recordings of the voice as well as creative manipulations of electricity and voltage designed to intervene in image and sound, reminiscent of early 1970s experiments with video.
Haroon Mirza has been called “sculptor of acoustic space”. His practice is engaged in manipulating electricity, constructing make-shift instruments from domestic objects, transforming furniture into vinyl turntables, and using LED lights and video as well as “remixing” existing artworks in different contexts making them behave in unexpected ways.
Between the esoteric and techno-scientific
The artist likens his work to that of a composer – bringing sonic and visual elements together to create composite installations that mix a range of materials (videos gleaned from YouTube, sound, architecture and light). His choreographed sensory environments designed for the exhibition space have been called “alchemies of disruption”. The current exhibition bears the bizarre title “/\/\/\” – a typographical set designed by the artist. The basis of the typographic sign of six forward slashes and six backslashes is left somewhat a mystery by the artist at first. It is possible that the graphic is based on ASCII ([aski:]), an information coding standard that appeared in the United Statest in the 1960s. As viewers wander through the exhibition, it becomes clear that the graphic sign is an interpretation of the zodiac sign for Aquarius.
This initial zone of doubt created by a fluctuation between the esoteric and techno-scientific origin and meaning of the exhibition’s title prepares the viewer for the rest of the show. By linking the sign of Aquarius with the waveform as it is recognised as electromagnetic unit, particle and even DNA strand by science, Haroon Mirza creates a stage in which scientific and esoteric knowledge and languages of representation mix irreverently.
The wave as form is thus the focus of this exhibition, which explores the possible mystical, astrophysical and electromagnetic “meaning” of a wave. From electromagnetisms to DNA, waves are the unit and mode of representation through which we perceive reality. The installation is awash with fragments of cutting-edge scientific research, images and archival-like documentation of primitive beliefs and narrations of premonitions.
A rhythmic electronic sound pulses through the installation as a soundtrack. For the exhibition, the artist has collaborated with architect Francesca Fornasari and musicians Nik Void (from Factory Floor) and Tim Burgess (from the UK alternative rock group The Charlatans) to produce a work that aims, as the press release states, “to sculpt the acoustic space in the visual space, and vice versa”. The typographic interpretation of the sign of Aquarius, the water carrier, thus translates both as a vessel for ancient knowledge and contemporary techno-scientific research.
Haroon Mirza’s mixing of the esoteric and the scientific follows the epistemological clues offered by UK artist and theorist Roy Ascott – widely regarded as a pioneer in the fields of new media, cybernetic and bio-art theory and practice. Ascott proposed in a number of seminal essays such as his 2002 publication Technoetic Arts that innovations in telecommunications and cybernetics in the 1960s and 1970s merely reflect the fragmented modes of representation and temporalities already present in the natural world. Ascott encouraged artists to thinking of the range of mind expanding or psychedelic drugs as akin to the experience of surfing the internet and called for the politicisation of these experiences, as opposed to their commercialisation and banalisation.
Haroon Mirza has similarly been plugging his techno-scientific experimentation with sound and image into studies of organic and natural processes in the biosphere. Previous projects include a stint in Brazil researching entheogens – herbs that have psychedelic properties like the ones used in the ancient Amazonian hallucinogenic blend, Ayahuasca – with a view to furthering his exploration of developments in scientific endeavour, theoretical physics and cosmologics. In the exhibition “ããã – Fear of the Unknown remix” at the Lisson Gallery in New York in April 2017, (which also used a cryptic typographic sign as a title) the artist placed a number of psychotropic plants in the gallery space with four videos and eight channels of electrical signals, proposing the arrangement as a kind of bio-organic-techno computer.
The work created a disorientating effect for the viewer as the signal was transmitted through several strips of coloured LED lights that had been arranged in a circle to provide the frequencies of light required for the plant’s growth. The electrical signal was converted into sound, creating a pulsing visual and sonic experience that mirrors hallucinations experienced when psychotropic plants are ingested.
For Mirza the drastic reorganisation of perception mimicked in such exhibition projects and based on experience of psychotropics also characterise the general shift in perception brought about by cybernetic technology and globalisation.
In “/\/\/\” Haroon Mirza further develops his research into techno-ethical readings of the vegetable and virtual, offering sustenance for the wacky (and perhaps genius) idea that the artist in the age of globalised techno-interconnectivity is a kind of DJ Shaman.
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