The Consciousness Of Breath
Breath is the substance of air and air is nothing. Air has no reality. Yet, air is everything, believes artist Shirazeh Houshiary. The Iranian-born, London based artist was invited by Jhaveri Contemporary in liaison with Lisson Gallery to showcase a series of her work – Breath – her first solo exhibition in India. The series opened with a blue canvas labelled Origin. At first glance the painting could have been rendered as clouds against the azure sky. On stepping closer, Shirazeh’s idiosyncratic technique of signing two Arabic words developed. In this case, fana (annihilation) and baqa (eternal presence) – an antithesis – came together in a tangle of strokes.
The second room held a suite of seven paintings created through complex layering of strokes – Presence. Each had an intriguing story behind its mystical creation. For example, it was not just a white smudge on a black background; a mirror with no reflection has your mark on it – your breath. Each painting had a text of affirmation (positive) and denial (negative) inscribed into each other – rendering each almost to oblivion. And just like that, what was abstract with no real form is suddenly a metamorphosis of a physical presence.
Shirazeh’s show was completed by its title piece Breath, a projected animation of the choreographed breaths of four vocalists – Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Islamic – chanting prayers. The movement of their reciting breath was shown on four screens of the room with their rise and fall, and expansion and contraction. Here, sound and image coalesced within the thickness of space, creating a haunting understanding of spirituality through its corporeal and intangible being.
Shirazeh was in Mumbai to introduce her creations to her audience. Her talk at Jnanapravah opened with a screening of her video – Veil. Two amoebic forms of air bubbles moved to the sounds of a through-sung opera in Veil. It denoted Majnu’s acknowledgement of Laila’s presence even during her absence.
The artist admitted that her work was imbued with complex considerations. Her efforts to explain her art were summarised through short stories. She humbly rationalised this by saying, “What can be shown cannot be said and this is my problem often.”
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