Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)
19 Aug 2010 to 21 Nov 2010
This exhibition represented British artist Runa Islam’s first solo project in Australia. Islam was born in Bangladesh (1970) and grew up in London, where she lives and works. She is renowned for her 16mm and 35mm film works that experiment with light, colour, movement and abstraction as a means to question visual representation and create new ways of seeing. She draws on the history and aesthetics of cinema, engaging notions of ‘language’ within film, and its relationship to photography. Narrative structures are tested in Islam’s films and she cites experimental and expanded cinema as influential.
Runa Islam introduced audiences to a selection of the artist’s 16mm film installations from the previous seven years. Featured works included Assault (2008), a small suspended back-projection of a young man who is subjected to a ‘screen test’ of constantly changing coloured lights. Another silent work, Untitled (2008), employed a macro lens to focus on an indistinct black-and-white surface which slowly resolves, with the camera’s backwards pull, into an old photographic reproduction of a hunting scene from the artist’s family archive. In both films Islam used the apparatus as her medium and subject. Other works included Scale (1/16 inch = 1 foot) (2003) and Be The First To See What You See As You See It (2004), which used architecture of existing buildings and constructed sets to explore ideas of physicality and scale.
A major new work, Magical Consciousness (2010), co-commissioned by the MCA and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, completed the exhibition. It focused upon the reverse side of a folded Japanese screen, revealing a gold-leaf surface which viewers would not normally see. Islam’s film suspended narrative content in favour of abstraction, manifested in her focus on the unseen, ‘invisible’ side of the screen with its unexpectedly opulent surface. It created its own tempo of panels and folds, extending the artist’s focus on overlooked aspects of representation. The horizontal format of the Japanese screen suggested a cinematic screen – an empty, luminous space for the projection of visual imagery and the black-and-white footage transformed gold to silver, like the ‘silver screen’ of Hollywood cinema.