January 13 – March 19, 2017
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first solo exhibition in Canada by British artist Haroon Mirza.
Mirza has received international acclaim for work that tests the interplay and friction between sound and light waves and electric current. Kinetic sculptures, performances and immersive installations purposefully cross wired. An advocate of interference (in the sense of electro-acoustic or radio disruption), he creates situations in which he describes his role as a composer, manipulating electricity, a live, invisible and volatile phenomenon calling on instruments as varied as household electronics, vinyl and turntables, LEDs, furniture, video footage and existing artworks by other artists to behave differently.
The exhibition will centre on a series of new and recent works linked to various plants such as Lophophora williamsii, (Peyote), Psilocybe (mushrooms) and Echinopsis pachanoi (San Pedro cactus) known worldwide as supplements to various transcendence practices through their psychotropic qualities, and used for spiritual purposes including meditation and psychedelic psychotherapy. As such the exhibition invites us to consider perceptual shifts, disorientating environments and displacements of light and sound that create delirious moments as we unwittingly interfere with altering signals and appearances.
First made for PIVO in Brazil in May-July 2016, ããã takes over much of our BC Binning Gallery. Developed during a two-month residency in São Paulo, captured images and sounds from the city combine as four videos and eight channels of electric signal visualised through strips of LED light and heard via an array of speakers all in synchronization. The videos reflect on a heady mix of the current political climate in Brazil, the local culture of music, entheogens (plants that have psychedelic properties like the ones used in Ayahuasca) and developments in physics and cosmology, while the overall experience of the work collectively creates a mesmerizing visual and aural effect. Alongside this installation are series of new pieces consisting of framed copper plates printed and acid etched using various methods including passing an electrical current through plant forms such as Psilocybe cubensis, Amanita muscaria, resting atop the plates. Amanita for example, is a mushroom genus noted for its hallucinogenic properties, with its main psychoactive constituent being the compound muscimol. The mushroom was used as an intoxicant and entheogen by the peoples of Siberia, and has a religious significance in these cultures. There has been much speculation on the possible traditional use of this mushroom as an intoxicant in other places; in the works, the phantom-like images are indelibly fixed into the metal surface, akin so some kind of vision or half-remembered experience.
The copper in these pieces, normally the raw material in the manufacture of printed circuit boards (PCB), also appears along with commercial solar panels in the relief works presented in our Balkind Gallery. Powered by energy from our gallery lights, both Five Liberty Caps (Solar Powered LED Circuit Composition 25) (2015) and Liberty Cap (Solar Powered LED Circuit Composition 27) (2015) comprise Psilocybe semilanceata imprinted copper plates used to complete the circuit, with the solar panels powering the LEDs. As part of their composition, therefore, these wall works involve the mushroom, commonly known as the liberty cap, a psychedelic (or “magic”) mushroom that contains the psychoactive compounds psilocybin, baeocystin and phenylethylamine. Of the world’s psilocybin mushrooms, it is both one of the most widely distributed in nature, and one of the most potent.
Together with these are other new works combining recycled furniture, solar panels, lights and various plant forms that have also have psychotropic qualities. For example, Lophophora williamsii or peyote is a small, spineless cactus containing psychoactive alkaloids, particularly mescaline and is one of the sacred and sought after cactus known to have been used for shamanic ceremonies for over five thousands of years. LED Circuit Composition 18 (Self-Transforming Machine) (2016) references Terence McKenna, an American ethnobotanist, mystic, psychonaut and author, and advocate for the responsible use of naturally occurring psychedelic plants. His experiments with hallucinogens are linked to the experience of viewing the work, named after the supernatural entities encountered during his Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) experiences.
Lamp for Williamsii (2016) is a sculptural assemblage involving a speaker from The National pavilion of Then and Now, a chair, a plastic cover for a civil aviation authority lamp from Emley Moor radio tower, cable, circuit board, Moroccan antique wooden door arch with Iraqi stained glass, and three Big Bend Peyotes. It is designed to provide the perfect lighting conditions for the plant to grow requiring certain frequencies of light which are visible to the human eye along with blue and red light. More blue light is required than red so Mirza has created a sequence to calibrate the LED lights to the correct ratio using various electronic processes such as pulse width modulation. Such processes were also used in early electronic instruments and as the electrical signal from the LEDs is also amplified through a triangular speaker incorporated as a plinth, the electricity can be heard. The sound composition is therefore dictated by the lighting requirements of the plant.
Changing light conditions in the LEDs and the movement of visitors to the gallery will cause fluctuations in the light signals received by the solar panels across all of these pieces, a metaphor for the transformative properties that can occur through ingesting the plant forms. Processes are left exposed and sounds will occupy space in an unruly way, testing codes of conduct and charging the atmosphere whereby Mirza asks us to reconsider the perceptual distinctions between noise, sound and music, and draws into question the categorization of cultural forms. The exhibition presents a truly hypnotic and transformatory experience.
The exhibition is generously supported by Brigitte and Henning Freybe.