Shirazeh Houshiary’s optical illusions transfix New York

Shirazeh Houshiary’s optical illusions transfix New York

Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary puts perceptions of time, space, and materiality through their paces in ‘A Thousand Folds’ at Lehmann Maupin New York

Shirazeh Houshiary’s ‘A Thousand Folds’ is a game of laws: the laws of nature and the laws of physics that underpin works that are laws unto themselves. It’s all contradiction and paradox: transparency and opacity, sound and silence, physicality and intangibility. 

As the show’s title suggests, the London-based Iranian artist’s latest work explores the many folds of the artist’s practice and the thousand dimensions it occupies. 

Houshiary’s work has the rare attribute of offering viewer’s two, very distinct experiences. For the first, it may be worth summoning on Rothko’s recipe for viewing his own abstract works: at a distance of 18 inches. At this proximity, Houshiary’s work is the cosmos in our field of vision: a universe of undulations, swirls and hypnotics. The second experience requires a closer inspection, through which viewers can absorb the true magnitude of meticulousness the artist has envisioned, which include a web of hidden Arabic phrases which translate as ‘I am’ and ‘I am not’ – Houshiary’s work creates ample intrigue and few conclusions. 

Shirazeh Houshiary Feel, 2019. Pigment, pencil, and black aquacryl on canvas and aluminum
Shirazeh Houshiary Feel, 2019. Pigment, pencil, and black aquacryl on canvas and aluminum
Above and below: Feel, 2019. Pigment, pencil, and black aquacryl on canvas and aluminum. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London

With each work, Houshiary attempts to make visual the intangible: an echo, a breath or a memory. The artist describes water as her collaborator. Her distinctive painting technique involves the successive layering of water, pigment, and line drawing, an intense method that often takes several months to complete. Through this process, the artist gives water the autonomy to express itself, movement is organic and free without being mastered by the artist’s hand.

Elsewhere, A powder-coated aluminium piece, The Order of Time, (2019) offers more plot twists. Polychromatic lines curve and weave in rhythmic loops. Elsewhere, her new digital animation A Cup and a Rose muses on 17th-century Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán’s still-life painting A Cup of Water and a Rose (1630) and set to a musical score by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt titled Cantus in Memoriam. ‘The cup breaks as the pressure of the water within it intensifies and the rose ages only to eventually pulverise as the cup shatters,’ says Houshiary. ‘This video installation echoes the theme of fragmentation and fission to reveal that space where infinity appears fleeting and vanishing only to revert to a plenitude of water and to appear as though all comes and goes again and again with no end to it.’ 

Shirazeh Houshiary The Order of Time, 2019, powder-coated cast aluminium. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London
The Order of Time, 2019, powder-coated cast aluminium. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London

Emerging as if rooted in the floor are Houshiary’s dazzling and dynamic sculptures Aura and Twilight (2019), which see Murano glass bricks stacked in a spiralling helix. Each fragment echoes the original shape at its footprint with precision, in this case, a seedpod incrementally rotated to the maximum degree the form will allow before the structure reaches instability – just another example of Houshiary pushing materiality, and viewers’ optical capacity to their physical limits. §

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