Deconstructing Photography: Rashid Rana, Lisson Gallery, London

Review by Emily Sack, a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond the American International University in London.

Lisson Gallery’s newest exhibition highlights some of the recent works by Pakistani artist Rashid Rana. Rana works in photography but deconstructs typical photographic renderings and instead challenges the viewer to reconsider the world in which they live.

The first two pieces visible upon entering the gallery are entitled Language Series 1 and Language Series 2 (both from 2010-11). These large-scale works have the appearance of being landscape paintings from a slight distance. However, the interplay of colour and the almost mosaic-like visual texture evolves from the thousands of individual photographic fragments woven together. Each of the photographs depicts a sign of some sort, generally for a shop or restaurant, and in a variety of languages – both English and South Asian. Though most of the signs are not readily identifiable, they are recognized as an integral part of urban consumer culture and, therefore, form part of the modern cityscape. It is not a coincidence that Language Series 2 is reminiscent of a Monet garden painting for both the Impressionists and Rana use new techniques and aesthetics to create modern life paintings. By using the DIASEC technique, Rana’s photographs are bonded directly to acrylic glass creating a flawlessly smooth final product so the perceived texture is entirely visual.

In the main gallery on the ground floor the visitor encounters Rana’s Desperately Seeking Paradise II (2010-11). The work occupies an entire corner of the gallery and extends from corner to ceiling. Upon entering the space it appears to be a multifaceted and mirrored sculpture, but when one achieves the desired viewpoint, a cityscape miraculously appears. In between each crevice created by the stainless steel is a small photograph that reflects on the structure that encases it. The individual photographs are each unique and depict a different aspect of the urban environment. Together, however, the differences are not noticeable and they unite to become a magnificent city. Rana’s title for this work is rather poignant as it addresses the utopia and dystopia of a city. From a distance, a skyline of skyscrapers is a beautiful monument to modern life, but when coming closer to observe the details, the bigger picture disappears. The viewer becomes involved with looking at each of the smaller pictures and their own reflection within the metal frame so that it is easy to forget the panoramic image just witnessed. Cities are composed of individuals and all of the problems the individuals possess, and it is really only when stepping back that the comprehensive city view becomes visible.

Rana further challenges the traditional two-dimensional character of photography by creating Books-2 (2010-11). This sculpture consists of an aluminium cube with a pixelated photographic image adhered to the surface. At first glance it appears to be a stack of large books sitting in the middle of the gallery space. The pixilation becomes more pronounced as the viewer walks closer to the sculpture. Whereas the other works in the exhibition become clearer when examined closely, this work actually becomes more difficult to read and therefore more confusing and disorienting. Books are meant to be read, but here not only do they actually not exist, they cannot even be easily read. Rana is creating a contradictory space where the viewer must reconsider their beliefs on the nature of books, photography and art.

The exhibition as a whole is visually stunning, but after spending time with the works, the viewer understands the artist’s critical philosophy of the modern world. There is beauty to be found undoubtedly, but it is also important to recognize each of the individual components that comprise the landscape as a whole.

Rashid Rana continues at Lisson Gallery until 30 April. For more information visit the website.

Rashid Rana
Detail from Language Series # 1
LightJet print + DIASEC
360 cm x 270 cm
Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery