A harmonious blend of primary forms and bright colours, the work of Bangladeshi-born, London-based artist Rana Begum appeals to the emotions as much as to the intellect.
Drawing inspiration from Constructivism and Modernism, the city environment and the artist’s own memories of the geometric patterns of traditional Islamic art and architecture, Begum’s artworks reveal themselves gradually, in spite of what we may call an apparent immediacy.
The interplay of full and empty spaces, the shift in colours and forms enlivened by the gallery’s light, only become apparent as we move around the works and change the viewpoint. Bit by bit, we unravel the complexity and dichotomous nature of Begum’s art, where the geometric rigour of the works clashes with their undeniable open-endedness, and the use of industrial materials counterpoints the lightness and fragility of the installations.
1883 sat down for a chat with the artist to discuss her work and influences.
Your work has often been described as having an unmistakable minimalist trait; how influential has Minimalism been in the development of your practice?
Both Minimalism and Constructivism have greatly inspired the way I think about my work and in many ways form the foundations from which it is created. They served as a catalyst for my need to create something that was beyond the material. I discovered these movements at a very early, formative stage of my practice which perhaps explains why they have had such an enduring impact. The constructivist ethic of “truth to materials” and the desire to express the experience of the present really struck a chord yet I also have a deep affinity with the minimalist approach to colour, light and form. For me, Minimalism is about searching for something pure in both a spiritual and physical sense - producing work which suggests contemplation and serenity while using materials that bear truth to structure, mass and surface.
Are there any minimalist artists in particular from which you make reference to?
For me the work of Donald Judd, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly and Sol LeWitt embodies this combined interest in Minimalism and Constructivism. These artists collectively brought my attention to how you can embrace the physicality of materials while simultaneously exploring light and colour. However, it is perhaps Agnes Martin’s work which has had the most palpable influence on the underpinnings of my practice; while her paintings are non-representational and reductive, they are abundant in light. I find her rational and logical processes lead to limitless possibilities in terms of expression. They bestow a sense of calm and serenity, leaving you feeling exposed to their presence. Similarly with the work of Fred Sandback, his decisive way of working succeeds in surpassing materiality to communicate directly with the viewer allowing the experience to become an integral part of the work.
Needless to say, geometry plays an important role in your art; can you talk us through the process you use to create your geometric patterns?
I am perpetually drawn to basic geometric shapes because they facilitate my core interests of colour and light rather than detracting from them. I use simple geometric that are recognizable and universal in a modular way. Basic shapes can be used to create both regular and random patterns which may then be built up - expanding and distorting to create unexpected results. I find it satisfying to see how these geometric forms may be used in a very straightforward way to create bold, striking works but can also be used as units of a highly elaborate and intricate design. This way of working is still entwined with the desire to bare truth to materials.
Speaking of geometry, I read somewhere that you see the triangle as “the most honest and pure of shapes”; can you please elaborate?
This is not based on any concrete theory; it just feels that way to me. It is the form I am consistently drawn to because, of all the geometric shapes I employ in my work, the triangle seems to offer the most versatility while retaining its structural integrity. A triangle can take on a multitude of forms, disparate yet unified, allowing the flexibility for unexpected and fortuitous occurrences within the work.
Despite its geometrical and formal rigour, if you like, some of your work is also undeniably open-ended; how do you reconcile these two seemingly opposed qualities in your work?
I think that this dichotomy arises from my use of industrial materials and geometric forms to explore more transient and nebulous elements of light, colour and space. The idea of the infinite is undeniably a constant within my work. Natural light is impossible to pin down and capture and so are the ways in which it interacts with colours or casts shadow. These occurrences vary every day and from each viewpoint thereby constantly renewing and refreshing one’s perception of the work, diluting its geometric rigidity and formal rigour. In terms of materials, a single box section may seem like a self-contained geometric element but once it is used as a unit in a greater repeating pattern, it becomes part of something open-ended and infinite. This sense of the infinite is heightened by the use of industrial materials. I see a certain beauty in their mass production which becomes two-fold once this endlessness and repetition takes on new life as a work of art. In a more abstract sense, my work is open-ended in that it is in a constant state of evolution with each work informing the next. It is important for me to know that work has potential to be pushed further and that I don’t need to feel as though my work process has reached some sort of conclusion.
It has been said that your work has what we may want to call an “interactional feature” that makes it very “architecture-wise”; would you agree with this interpretation? And if yes, how important is architecture in your work?
Yes absolutely, the physical interaction and engagement of the viewer is essential in the activation and appreciation of my work. By walking from one side of the work to the other a plethora of uncontrolled compositions and reflections are revealed producing an experience that is both temporal and sensorial. As the work transforms and changes depending on the environment and perspective, the viewer is afforded their own universal and unique encounter with the work. When I am producing a piece of work I always begin by thinking about the space (architectural or otherwise) that it will inhabit. The work is not intended to be a passive object imposed upon a space but rather a dynamic presence which responds and reacts to its surroundings. By adsorbing and reflecting varied densities of light throughout the day, the work responds to its environment creating a dialogue with the space that it’s in. My work is architectural by nature. Modular structures and repetition used in my box works undoubtedly lend a physicality that allows the work to connect with built space.
Light and colour evidently play a strong visual role within your aesthetic; however, to what extent do you feel they actually inform your work process?
Light and colour are key elements in my work process, each as important as the other. It was amazing for me to discover how light and colour can interact with one another, reflecting and blending to produce a vast spectrum of hues - for instance as seen with No.531 and No.480. The technique of causing colours to blend through reflection rather than by me physically having to mix them by hand allows me to experiment and explore colour in a far more playful way than I had been doing previously. Although the colours that I use are quite instinctive, there is a method involved and all are reliant on light. Fluorescent and pastel colours interact with each other in my box works through reflection to create a third layer of geometry and unexpected and surprising colour mixes. For the folded works, colour accentuates the geometry within the form. By applying fluorescent colours to the reverse of the folds, bright reflections give the work an ethereal visual lightness. Many of my works are direct responses to fleeting light effects and unexpected colour combinations I have encountered while travelling abroad or simply walking around London.
As a last question, what does the future hold for you?
This show at Parasol unit has been a fantastic way to push my work further while also allowing me to see how certain ideas have evolved and overlapped. It feels like this show has summarised what I have been doing up to this point and I would now like to take some time to focus on the next stage of my work and how best to further my practice as a whole. There are a number of projects that I am currently working on including Gwangju 2016 curated by Maria Lind, a group show at MRAC (Musée Régional d’Art Contemporian) and a project at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Kettle’s Yard. I am also completing a few commissions this year, one in Ohio for Cleveland Clinic, another in Oxford and a temporary commission in King’s Cross. The future looks busy, but exciting!
Rana begum – The Space Between will be on display until 18th September at Parasol unit, 14 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW
Words by Jacopo Nuvolari @jacopo982