Between the columns, arches and gilded mihrab of the Great Mosque of Córdoba in Spain is a complex, blooming mass of geometry. It spills from the walls, links flashes of calligraphy together, crawls up the domes – you can follow a pattern from one side of the mosque to the other as it blossoms across the interior. Bangladeshi-born British artist Rana Begum watched her work change since visiting there last year: ‘It was breathtaking. As I walked around the mosque, standing in many different positions, I could see how the geometry came together from every viewpoint. Thinking back, that must have come into these works in some way.’
Begum last exhibited at The Third Line in 2007. In the time between these two shows, her style has changed significantly. Previously, she exhibited resin creations composed of carefully placed and balanced bands of colour – the final pieces appear like tablets of harmonious, stacked tones.
Those earlier attempts toyed with three-dimensionality, given depth by being created on a Perspex box and exhibited alongside tall Perspex sculptures. But in her latest work, Begum has taken this a step further. ‘I was becoming excited by the way my style was becoming more sculptural,’ she tells us. ‘I wanted to push that element. Now the viewer is able to walk around it, in some way participate in the work.’
The new pieces, which go on show this week at The Third Line, are stark: rows of oblong aluminium bars painted black on their front, and a different colour on their left and their right sides. The effect is that, as you approach from the left, one colour becomes visible. Face on, you see only black lines and then, walking past to the right, an opposing but harmonious colour painted on the right side of each aluminium bar slowly becomes visible.
The effect is heightened by the faint glow of the colours as they reflect onto the whiteness of the gallery wall behind. This subtle fuzz mingles with the boldness of the colours on the aluminium, creating an ethereal undulation of colour. ‘It’s very much about the experience of walking down a street,’ says Begum, referring to the title of the show, Moments Of Alignment. ‘You might see, for instance, a purple bin in front of a pink door. As you approach it, that colour combination may appear visually foul. But somehow, it comes together as you walk past, perhaps from the light or from the angle of your eye as you move.’
Begum explains that this show is about reflecting on those moments. ‘On a street, no shop considers whether a colour that they will use on their shop front will work with the building next door. A street scene becomes a mish-mash of all these different colours, but somehow it comes together as we walk.’ She suggests that we sense a harmony amid all of those conflicting colours. ‘It’s how we make sense of this that I’m trying to capture with these latest works.’
We ask Begum if she would classify these pieces, which are so reliant on the viewer’s perspective and the visual interplay of colour, as Op Art: ‘I know the colours that I use are very much related to Op Art and the repetitions found in minimalism but I refer to these as relief pieces.’ She talks about them as if they are architectural features in the gallery space. ‘The six larger works are like one piece when they’re together. In some ways, you have to see all of them together to really understand what I’m doing.’
The sacred architecture of the Córdoba mosque seems to have seeped far into these new artworks. ‘I’m fascinated by Islamic art and architecture, the way that repetition is used to create infinite possibility. It can continue forever and that idea excites me.’ We ask whether her art has become a search to contain the sense of infinity found in the geometry of Islamic art. ‘Take any one of these works, they could be a section out of something much bigger.’
Moments Of Alignment. The Third Line (04 341 1367) September 10-October 1.