Rana Begum’s Optical Shifts

Rana Begum, No. 1128 Mesh, 2023, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photo: Ismail Noor / Seeing Things. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue, Dubai

Dappled Light at Concrete, Dubai departs from the artist’s hard-edged and ordered geometric forms towards a softer and more airy abstraction

The four soaring doors that make up the translucent facade of Concrete stand wide open, throwing bright daylight into the cavernous exhibition space in which Rana Begum’s polychromatic abstract wall-works, a video and sculptures of varying scales are installed. On the whole, the exhibition presents Begum’s progressive exploration into materials, shapes and colours: visitors are shown how the artist’s practice departs from hard-edged and ordered geometric forms in works from 2016, and moves towards softer and more airy abstract works made recently. These latter are best demonstrated by woven sheets of metal manipulated into seemingly weightless installations that allow light to stream through. Here, Begum’s works are influenced by the surrounding environment, as subtle interactions between colour and the changing qualities of natural light create optical shifts, lending the static pieces an illusion of movement. Many of the works, whether pinned to walls or suspended from the ceiling, invite visitors to get close to and move around or through them to see the transformations.

No. 1228 Mesh (2023) is a largescale installation that draws you into the space. Vivid, multicoloured crumpled balls of layered fine-steel mesh appear to float underneath a skylight, like trapped clouds. Each crumpled ball contains another, differently coloured ball. As the daylight streams through the nested semi-opaque scrunched metal, some colours emerge while others evaporate from sight: as one moves around the installation, for example, the charcoal-coloured outer mesh of one ball appears to dissolve like a puff of smoke as the pastel green of the crumpled mesh it contains shines out.

Dappled Light (installation view at Concrete, Dubai), 2023. Photo: Ismail Noor / Seeing Things. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue, Dubai

The exhibition – filled with bright neon hues, the moving bodies of visitors and the downpour of sunshine – breaks for a moment of calm and stillness in a dark room at the back of the gallery. A screen spanning one wall shows No. 1080 Forest (2021), a 38-minute timelapse capturing the movements of sunlight filtering across foliage and gravestones. As the sun’s rays pass from foreground to background, the tree branches in the centre of the frame appear to breathe, exposing the passing of time captured in the sped-up video. No. 1080 Forest presents the ephemerality of time and light in a semi-natural environment, and, shown alongside the steel mesh installations in which Begum attempts to capture those intangible elements, a tension emerges between ideas of the organic and the manmade.

Dappled Light spreads outdoors, where No. 1235 Mesh (2023) stands on a patch of grass beside Concrete. The hollow sculpture is made of square pink-, navy- and red-mesh panels, connected by zip ties, that expand and stack in a random pattern; the effect is a buildinglike structure. A small gap in the arrangement allows you to step inside. The work, which visitors are permitted to touch, encourages further interaction from curious onlookers; children play inside and around the structure and birds are able to alight on the panels. Throughout the exhibition, visitors eagerly posed for photos in front of, underneath or in between the works. But while the aesthetics and scale of the works make for an easy, enjoyable and durational engagement for a wide range of audiences, one is left contemplating the irony that this exhibition might just be more spectacle than substance.

Dappled Light at Concrete, Dubai, 26 February – 4 April

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