Don’t Miss This, Rashid Rana: Everything Is Happening At Once, The Cornerhouse, Manchester

Text by Liz Buckley

Everything Is Happening At Once at The Cornerhouse, Manchester, is the first solo UK exhibition in a public institution by Asian artist Rashid Rana. Rana’s work explores how physical realities and social practices affect our culture and identity. He is also particularly interested in the contrasts that appear in everyday life. This interest manifests itself itself in the exploration of both two and three dimensional fields found in the artist’s work. Using a mixture of both micro and macro images in his work, which reference the idea of the whole vs. fragment that many of the pieces in this show embody, Rana uses the theme of abstraction, however his techniques are not abstract.

The first part of Rana’s exhibition is titled Dis-Location. In this section visitors can find varying examples of the artist’s work, including both 2D and 3D. The three dimensional sculptures on display are made up of magnified pixels, which gives the effect of digital movement in a solid space. These pieces play with the idea of stillness and motion coinciding. A particularly fun piece is Plastic Flowers in a Traditional Vase (2007); here Rana has created an almost digitised bunch of flowers, a subtle hint at how our everyday culture is affected by technological advancements. Dis-Location (2007), is a large flat print, and consists of thousands of small pictures which make up one larger image. It appears Rana is trying to portray how many components go towards building a society, culture or identity, and it is the little details which create the big picture. The question of whether to concentrate on the micro or macro image created here shows viewers the contrasts of perceptions that we all experience. A similar piece is The World is Not Enough (2006-2007), which uses the same techniques. Here the small pictures are of masses of waste and rubbish, which ironically creates quite a pleasing abstract and colourful image when one stands back. From a distance the busy movement of forms and colour here could be reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock.

Gallery Two of The Cornerhouse holds work of more explicit content. Rana’s pieces here are concerned with the human body, and the conflicts we find within cultural practices. Again the artist plays with the contrast of the image both up close and far away. Several pieces in this part of the exhibition appear to be paintings of blurred bands of colour, however they are actually made up of yet more pixels, taken from photographs of flesh, blood and wounds. Standing back, Rana’s piece What Lies Between Flesh and Blood I (2009) could be a Mark Rothko with its strips of dense colour, but Rana has used magnified squares again here, making the photographed wounds appear to be painterly in a clever fusion of art with the body.

It is clear Rana likes to experiment with scale in his work, using both magnified and shrunken images in many of his pieces. Veil VI (2007) and Red Carpet I (2007), a couple of the artist’s more explicit pieces, are large scale Asian-inspired prints seen from afar, and are even quite attractive. However these are also made up of tiny images which the viewer can only notice if they get right up close. It seems Rana is using these techniques again and again to portray how every part of social culture is double sided, and that even demure and traditional civilizations almost always have an explicit and violent side to them.

The final part of Rana’s exhibition is on the top floor and holds another mixture of the artist’s work, including some of his most well known pieces. Untitled (HOC) (2010) consists of 4 square panels that form an open-top cube. The panels are covered with tiny mirrors, which are tilted so that only one side shows the viewer their reflection. Behind each mirror there are many tiny images of urban landscapes and buildings from Rana’s home town of Lahore in Pakistan. Desperately Seeking Paradise (2010-2011) uses the same technique but on a much larger scale. Both of these pieces show the relationship between a person’s physical appearance and what makes up their personal identity and culture, as well as the constant contrasts we find in every area of life.

From the range of Rashid Rana’s work on display in Everything is Happening at Once, we can see how the artist uses a range of both modern, minimalist and abstract expressionist techniques to create his art. His pieces compile photographic imagery on an alternative scale, and provoke the viewer to consider how we perceive images. Rana’s work expresses his ideas about personal identities and the contrasts found within varying cultural practices in the modern world. The way he constructs his pieces, whether it’s a sculpture, print or otherwise, shows a curious investigation of the physical realities we create around us, and how existence is made up of many dimensions.

Everything is Happening At Once, 01/10/2011 – 18/12/2011, The Cornerhouse, Oxford Road, Manchester, + 44 (0)161 200 1500.

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Photography: WeAreTape
All images courtesy the artist and Cornerhouse