One of the highlights of my visit to the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester last Saturday was The Devil’s Wall, an exhibition of work by the British artist Idris Khan.
According to the Whitworth’s publicity, the exhibition
draws inspiration from rituals and practices of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that is one of the pillars of Islam and is undertaken by millions of Muslims each year.
It’s being shown in one of the galleries on the first floor.
The centrepiece is three large, black, metallic, cylindrical sculptures scattered in the middle of the room. The cylinders all have a funnel like hole in their centre and lines of text from the Qur’an, in both English and Arabic, are engraved radially into the metal, plunging into the central vortex. Even standing on tip-toe and leaning over the cylinders (being careful not to touch, of course) I couldn’t see the bottom of the hole, increasing the impact of the work.
Picture source Whitworth Gallery website copyright Victoria Miro Gallery, London and Yvon Lambert Gallery, New York.
My initial impression was that the black cylindrical sculptures looked like black holes, the effect enhanced by being sited in the darkened room And just like anything approaching a black hole is drawn in and cannot escape, it appeared that the religious words were being pulled into the vortex. To me, the work suggested how religion and religious ideology (not just Islam) suck people in.
Well, I got that wrong, as that wasn’t what the artist intended. The sculptures are meant to reference the stoning of the Jamarat, a ritual during the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca where pilgrims chant and throw seven stones at three walls, each representing the devil and symbolizing the suffering of the Prophet Abraham.
Picture source: Art Face – this picture is from a previous showing of the work, not the Whitworth. But the layout and lighting is more or less the same.
The exhibition also features a number of 2-dimensional works illuminated by spotlights so that they appeared to glow in the subdued background light. They include seven drawings from a series of 21 drawings, called 21 Stones.
Picture source anyartsmanchester
They were produced using rubber stamps to print lines of text – extracts from the Qur’an and more personal statements. Like the words carved on the sculptures, they are arranged in radial patterns. To me they looked like stellar explosions or the “atoms tracks” produced by atomic disintegrations
Disintegration of a nitrogen atom Source here
The other works on show were from Khan’s Voices series –pictures of scores of minimalist music by Phillip Glass and Steve Reich. These were created from multiple photographs of the scores which are superimposed over each other, producing a blurred image where the notes and the underlying staff are visible but indistinct. This is a technique that Khan has used in a large number of his works.
I enjoyed the exhibition. The individual works were simple, but effective and were enhanced by their setting in the darkened room, lit by spotlights. One thing that, perhaps, could have improved the experience would have been to play some of the minimalist music featured in the Voices pictures.
Images of Idris Khan’s work, including some of the sculptures and pictures shown in the exhibition can be seen here.