Idris Khan at the Whitworth

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A new exhibition of works by the Birmingham born artist Idris Khan has just opened in the at the Whitworth in Manchester. This is the second exhibition of works by the artist at the Gallery. In 2012 they showed The Devil’s Wall (2011) three large, black, cylindrical sculptures, along with a series of works on paper.

For the current exhibition, a new wall drawing has ben created which can be seen on the right in the picture at the top of this post. It was difficult to take a photograph which fully captures the impact of this work which is made up of lines of text in English and Arabic printed onto the wall using rubber stamps – here’s a close up


Like some of his other works, to me, the wall painting resembled a stellar explosion.

Beginning or End (2013), a meditation on Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and the cyclical nature of life and existence, was created using the same approach as the wall painting. However it’s painted on a dark background


Eternal Movement (2011) was commissioned for Sadler’s Wells Dance House was inspired by Muslim religious texts.


It’s meant to represent part of the Hajj pilgrimage where devotees walk back and forth seven times between two mountains near Mecca.

Death of Painting (2014), a series of five oil works on paper, are displayed on the wall directly opposite the wall painting.


They were inspired by Kasimir Malevich’s iconic black square painting. Khan’s composed  black squares were created by writing a text with thick oil sticks over and over again on paper. Close up it could be seen that the squares were not “pure” black – traces of the writing could be seen.

The Rite of Spring (2013), created from layering photographs of Stravinsky’s score on top of each other.


From a distance the work just looked like a textured black and white pattern. Close up, however, the notes and staff of the musical notation could be made out.

I’ve enjoyed all the exhibitions shown in this new gallery space, created when the Whitworth was renovated and enlarged. The gallery is bright and airy and suits the modern works that they’ve displayed here.

The Devil’s Wall

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.

Idris Khan_The Devils Wall_2011

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

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.

An afternoon at the Whitworth

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Yesterday I decided to travel over to the Whitworth gallery in Manchester. I hadn’t been there for quite some time and a visit was overdue. I thought I’d spend an hour or two looking around and then head into Manchester city centre. However, I ended up spending a full afternoon in the gallery

The main exhibition, taking over the ground floor, was “Cotton:Global threads” based around the natural fibre that was the basis of Manchester’s prosperity. It featured works by a number of contemporary artists and samples from Manchester University’s textile collection

to tell a compelling story about the production, consumption and global trade in cotton. With exhibits ranging in date from the late Middle Ages to the present day, the exhibition takes in Lancashire and South Asia, the Americas and Africa and is the region’s flagship exhibition outcome of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

It included some paintings and collages, woven pieces, historic examples of products made from textiles and, as always seems to he the case these days with exhibitions of contemporary art, some video works.

Upstairs there were three separate exhibitions,

Dark Matters: Works from the Collectionwhich showed a selection of works from the gallery’s permanent collection. It included works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Francis Bacon and Henry Moore

Victor Pasmore: Transformations -  various abstract prints produced between 1965 and 1974

Idris Khan: The Devil’s Wall –  which features sculptures, literary texts, drawings and photography

The Idris Khan exhibition was particularly good and deserves its own write up

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The Three Crosses (1653-4) Drypoint by Rembrandt from the “Dark Matters” exhibition

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The Fortifications of Paris With Houses (1887) Vincent Van Gogh from the “Dark Matters” exhibition

While I was looking around the gallery I heard music coming from one of the large rooms on the ground floor. Looking over the balcony I could see chairs set out ready for an event and a group of three musicians, who were clearly practising and getting ready for a performance. I discovered that there was to be a poetry reading and concert that afternoon organised by Poets and Players an organisation supported by the Arts Council who run such events on a regular basis, mainly at the Whitworth.

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Jinny Shaw and friends

I’d never been to a poetry reading before, so while I was there (and it was free!) I decided to sit in. There were readings by three poets, Marius Kociejowski, Janine Pinion and Jeremy Over, interspersed by music from three musicians from the Halle Orchestra, led by oboist Jinny Shaw. I really enjoyed the music, most of it composed by Jinny Shaw (although they also played two movements of a piece by Villa Lobos), some of the pieces especially created in response to the poems read by Janine Pinion -  after each poem the ensemble  followed with a short instrumental response. I really enjoyed the music, which, to me,  was similar in style to the compositions  of Ravel and Debussy.

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Marius Kociejowski

I think that I enjoyed the Janine’s poems best. They were simpler than those read by Jeremy and Marius, both published authors. The others were, perhaps, more intellectually demanding and not as easy to relate to for somebody who had walked in off the street, so to speak.

But it was interesting to sit in on the event and I enjoyed the new experience. All in all, a good afternoon.