09 February 2012
Being exhibited in the Whitworth Art gallery's award-winning Mezzanine Court are three new sculptures and a series of drawings based on a single aspect of Hajj ritual: the stoning of the jamaraat. It is a ritual where pilgrims are encouraged to turn their attention inward through physical action, contemplation and meditation, with the aim of bringing them closer to their Lord.
During this act, pilgrims recite supplications to Allah and throw seven stones at three pillars in three different locations in Mina, East of Mecca. It is a commonly held belief that each of these pillars represents the devil in his three attempts to tempt the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him). The ritual symbolises the sufferings Abraham experienced when he had been asked by Allah to sacrifice his own son to prove his devotion.
Idris Khan's artistic practice follows patterns and rules that blur the cultural boundaries between the secular and spiritual. He uses repeated actions and engraved or printed words to explore his Islamic heritage.
The first elements of the installation are three large, black, cylindrical sculptures, each with a central, downward sloping funnel. Radiating out from, and sometimes plunging into, the dark centre of each sculpture are selected texts from the Qur'an in Arabic and English, sometimes in distinct lines but also sometimes overlapping each other.
For these sculptures, Khan has not referenced the three pillars directly, but instead the cylindrical forms of the works allude to the circular dishes into which the stones gather after hitting the walls.
The gesture of throwing is central to this work in the artist's focus on transferring thoughts into objects and text.
Khan engraves texts into the black-painted metal surfaces and the words curve through space, subtly disappearing into the central vortex of each sculpture.
The same ritual theme using repeated texts is present again in the seven drawings exhibited, selected from a series of 21 drawings, called "21 Stones".
These drawings, comprising lines of text printed using wooden stamps, were a new medium for the artist when they were made in 2011.
Khan includes both personal statements and quotations from the Qur'an, in Arabic and English, printed repeatedly in a circular, mandala-like pattern, evoking the sensation of a dhikr or chant, alluding again to Hajj ritual.
This rhythmic patterning of thoughts, mingled with Qur'anic texts, printed letter by letter onto paper, offers a secular approach to the spiritual practices of meditation evoked by the installation. The colour of the ink also references Islamic culture: the blue traditionally found in mosques, the black referring to the Ka'bah, the cube-shaped structure in Mecca that is the most sacred site of Islam.
Accompanying The Devil's Wall installation are four photographic works based on New York minimalist music from the late 1960s to the late 1980s by Philip Glass and Steve Reich. In these photographs of musical scores, Khan also alludes to the rectilinear shapes celebrated by minimalist artists such as Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman.
Listening to the music of minimalist composers demands a prolonged level of concentration as the repeated musical patterns carry the listener away from their immediate thoughts. Khan likens these rhythmical patterns in the musical scores to the actions of millions of pilgrims throwing stones or chanting the same words to create an endless sound.
In "Contrary Motion", the artist uses a type of music that has no true conclusion, which Philip Glass has referred to as "open-form". The composite image created by Khan exposes the process of accumulation and creates a seemingly endless pattern; only a blurred line highlights the slight changes in the repetitions.
Idris Khan (b. 1978, Birmingham, England) lives and works in London. He has had solo exhibitions at international venues including: Elementa, Dubai; Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto; Victoria Miro, London; K 20, Dusseldorf; and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisc. He has also been featured in numerous group exhibitions at venues including: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Saatchi Gallery, London; Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton, Paris; Baibakov Art Projects, Moscow; Institute of Contemporary Arts London, London; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; and the Helsinki Kunsthalle, Finland.
The world premier of "The Devil's Wall" took place in New York last spring.
"Idris Khan, The Devil's Wall, At The Whitworth Art Gallery" Manchester Confidential February 9, 2012
Yvon Lambert, "Idris Khan 'The devil's wall' (New York)" Art Net April 13, 2011