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‘An Opera for Animals’ at Rockbund Art Museum Ocula Report ‘An Opera for Animals’ at Rockbund Art Museum 19 Jul 2019 : Penny Liu for Ocula

An Opera for Animals was first staged at Para Site in Hong Kong between 23 March and 2 June 2019, with works by over 48 artists and collectives that use opera as a metaphor for modes of contemporary, cross-disciplinary art-making. The exhibition's second iteration takes up a large portion of the Rockbund Art Museum (RAM) in Shanghai (22 June–25...

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Mandy El-Sayegh: Productive Ambiguity Ocula Conversation Mandy El-Sayegh: Productive Ambiguity

Moving across installation, painting, drawing, and writing, Malaysia-born and London-based artist Mandy El-Sayegh explores the political, social, and economic complexities of humanity, using a mosaic of information—from advertising slogans and pornographic imagery to newspaper articles—that she subjects to processes of layering,...

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Get Up, Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers at Somerset House Ocula Report Get Up, Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers at Somerset House 5 Jul 2019 : Jareh Das for Ocula

Get Up Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers at Somerset House in London (12 June–15 September 2019) surveys more than half a century of black creativity in Britain and beyond across the fields of art, film, photography, music, design, fashion, and literature.Curated by Zak Ové, works by approximately 100 intergenerational black...

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Ocula Insight

Shirazeh Houshiary at Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong

Katie Fallen 15 December 2015
Shirazeh Houshiary. Photo: Shannon Oksanen

At the opening of her first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, Shirazeh Houshiary, the Turner Prize nominated artist, confidently told a small group of art journalists that while they might be eager to hear her explain the meaning of her work this was something she has always struggled with. Turning to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein for support in her argument, Houshiary quoted his statement, ‘What can be shown cannot be said.’  With this in mind, Houshiary’s seven new works on show at Lehmann Maupin, six paintings and a wall sculpture, are perhaps best defined by the cross-sensory encounter they present.

Image: Shirazeh Houshiary, Through Mist, 2015. Exhibition view, Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong. Image courtesy Lehmann Maupin New York and Hong Kong. Photo: Dave Morgan. 

For Houshiary, an Iranian-born Briton who currently lives and works in London, making art is a journey about perception and experience. Her work Soar, 2015, for example appears to vibrate and undulate within the exhibition space; the unfocused pencil and pigment work emanates from the canvas, shifting before the eye like a mirage. The canvas is the product of two months’ careful work, in which Houshiary painstakingly applies layer upon layer of colour onto the canvas, which is laid across the floor. The end result is a staggeringly unsettled image.

Image: Shirazeh Houshiary, Soar, 2015. Pencil and pigment on white aquacryl on canvas and aluminium, 190 x 190 cm. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photo: Dave Morgan

Getting closer to the work, it is possible to see how Houshiary has layered the coloured clouds of pigment with delicate writing. Totally illegible, the artist has superimposed the phrases ‘I am’ and ‘I am not’ across the canvas, blurring what she feels is the paradox at the heart of our existence. By overlapping such an essential binary, Houshiary enhances this sense of flux, suspending the canvas between being and not being. In this way her works appear to be indefinable physical entities that cannot be classified. 

Overwhelmed by images on a daily basis, for Houshiary, contemporary society has become increasingly removed from physical, sensorial engagement. Existing in their liminal state, Houshiary positions her canvases as a challenge to distance being created in our hyper-visual world. Impossible to capture with a simple glance, the tactile waves of colour and lines call on the viewer’s haptic senses. The delicate nature of Houshiary’s canvases make them untransferable to the digital world and utterly embedded in the tangible. The title of the exhibition, Through Mist, aims to heighten this desire to reach past the haze of the canvases, breaking through the drifts of colour to discover what lies beyond reality. In Houshiary’s opinion, an unfocused image allows us to see better as we cannot rely solely upon sight, but must employ other senses.

Image: Shirazeh Houshiary, Through Mist, 2015. Exhibition view, Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong. Image courtesy Lehmann Maupin New York and Hong Kong. Photo: Dave Morgan. 

For Houshiary, the canvases are painted in such a way that each time you encounter them they look different; filled with a shifting energy the works appear to hold the potential to continually change. The sculpture Resonance, 2015, according to Houshiary, is most indicative of this infinite temporality as it captures a ribbon blowing in the wind, preserving one moment forever.

Image: Shirazeh Houshiary, Resonance, 2015. Painted stainless steel, 68.7 x 191 x 51.8 cm. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong Photo: Dave Morgan

Surrounded by fellow journalists fervently recording, photographing and writing notes about Houshiary’s speech, it was a challenge to fully grasp her arguments; there was too much noise and background activity to calmly absorb the aesthetics of her works. Despite this, meeting Houshiary has created a compelling need to return during a more peaceful moment, and revel in the paintings’ experiential vitality, taking a break from the chaos of the quotidian in order to reconnect with the sensual, physical reality. —[O]

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