Idris Khan has built his reputation in multiple layers. He repeatedly scrawls or stacks images, creating hypnotic haunting palimpsests, buzzing and charged, dense with history and cultural memory. This is flat work made somehow three-dimensional. But in his new show at London gallery Victoria Miro, Khan goes properly solid and takes on sculpture.
One piece is a four-metre square sculpture made up of 15, tall, tightly packed fibre columns, painted in a light-sucking, despairing black. The slim spaces around the columns allow slivers of light to pass through the installation.
Cell, 2017, honeycomb and fibre, by Idris Khan. Courtesy of Victoria Miro
Khan has been researching first-person accounts of prisoners held at Saydnaya, Syria’s most brutal prison (no small claim). These prisoners were often crammed, 15 at a time, into cells designed for solitary confinement. The cells were darkened and prisoners often blindfolded, a horrible intimacy and isolation all at once, a perpetual night. A large painting meanwhile is made up of alternating dark bars, dizzying and modulating.
The centrepiece of the show is made up of 44 blocks of patinated bronze in various shapes and sizes, stamped with numbers and text; again testimonies of confinement and conflict. Other large paintings are built of these texts, fragments stamped over and over again till they are deafening, incomprehensible, erased in the clamour to be heard.
This is a dark, unsettling kind of minimalism, exercises in imagination rather than just formal experiments in mass and volume. But, as always, Khan pushes the legible trace into the abstract, generating strange resonances.