Electrical Impulse

Haroon Mirza’s most comprehensive exhibition to date is loud. The noise emanating endlessly from his installation at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, is so incessant the gallery staff have to rotate more regularly to avoid migraines. And A Chamber for Horwitz: Sonakinatography Transcriptions in Surround Sound (2015) is wired into the mains, so only the force of a power cut can silence it.

The buzzing is matched by visual stimuli; flashing lights, spinning handbags and flickering technology, allowing Mirza to interrogate the link between sight and sound. As such, reality is somehow what we expect it to be is an assault on the senses, albeit a pleasurable one. There is something mesmeric about the way a UV lightbulb rotates around a cymbal in Siren (2012), and the rushing of a waterfall paired with the white noise of a Marshall Amp in After the Big Bang (2014) is bizarrely addictive.  

Mirza’s artistic tool of choice is electricity and all of the works at Ikon are testament to this. Uniting pieces from 2008 with newly conceived creations, the exhibition documents his longstanding ability to utilise technology to explore a myriad of ideas. His newest installation features large solar panels, powering rotating and floating fake Louis Vuitton handbags and purses. Entitled Rules of Appropriation, the intriguing forms comment on the ownership of creative ideas. Mirza was inspired by a recent run-in with the fashion house after a window display was created mimicking his solar panel designs but with no credit to him.

In the conjoining room, handbags are discarded for an examination into the work of American artist Channa Horwitz. A Chamber for Horwitz: Sonakinatography Transcriptions in Surround Sound (2015) is an immersive experience with LED framed sound bars neatly arranged around the space. Horwitz’s colour schemes are transformed into a fascinating display of choral whirring and choreographed lighting that encases the audience, delving into the nuances of perception; do the lights direct the sound or vice versa?

This question reappears in The National Apavilion of Then and Now (2011), Mirza’s contribution to the 2011 Venice Biennale. Another immersive space, Apavilion invites viewers to stand in a small dark room, flanked by black foam triangles. At intervals a ring of white LEDs appears in the centre of the room, joined by a high-pitched squealing. Both sound and light increase in intensity only to cut out suddenly, plunging the audience into darkness once more. 

Although reality is somehow what we expect it to be is full of objects we are very well acquainted with in everyday life – lights, TVs, wallets, solar panels – his creative reinterpretation takes the items into a realm all together unexpected. Ikon’s survey reveals that Mirza still has plenty to say, and plenty of ways to say it.

Hannah Clugston

Haroon Mirza: reality is somehow what we expect it to be runs until 24 February, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham. www.ikon-gallery.org.