Idris Khan: Words Beneath Words / 65,000 Photographs

Idris Khan: Words Beneath Words / 65,000 Photographs

A solo exhibition by Idris Khan is on display at Victoria Miro in Venice until 14 December. A major sculptural commission by the artist has also recently been unveiled in London. 

Words Beneath Words showcases a series of paintings by Khan which continue the artist’s work with text layering. The works comprise dense layers of words, applied to glass panels using woodblocks coated with oil based ink. The texts are written by the artist, with many influenced by philosophy and poetry, but are generally illegible as the layering process shifts their format from words to image. 

The works in the exhibition exist in the space between abstraction and meaning-making. This is evidenced not only by the dense and partially-intelligible layers of words, but also by the way the artworks were made. Repetition of gesture and action are key to Khan’s practice, and the process behind the works exists somewhere between painting and performance, artisan and factory, religious ritual and industrial production. Words Beneath Words mediates on the moment where the ordinary transcends to the spiritual, defined meaning becomes indefinable void, fragment becomes (more than) whole. Located in Venice, the exhibition starts a further layer of dialogue with the city’s tradition of glass making.

65,000 Photographs by Idris Khan at One Blackfriars. Photo by Stephen White. Image via Wallpaper

Khan has also been commissioned to make his first UK public sculpture in London. The piece, located at One Blackfriars Square, is a monument to, and critique of, our collective obsession with capturing our lives through digital photography, and a reference to the artist’s own archive of around 65000 photos.

The sculpture is a reflection on the materiality of digital images. Recorded onto SD cards or in the cloud, stored in server farms or within digital cameras, desktop computers and mobile devices, today’s photo albums seemingly take up no physical space, yet have a material impact on the way we define ourselves within, and move through, the world. Digital images create communities, carry forward political messages, and inform and create epoch-defining artworks.  The physical imprint of the digital photograph is immense but unseen.

Khan’s 65,000 Photographs is an imposing, towering structure in a busy public square forming part of a new residential development in the city. The sculpture is in the shape of an exclamation mark, tapering outwards in defined blocks the taller it gets (each block references a standard photographic print size).  

The eight metre tall aluminium statue echoes the shape of the buildings around it as well as the way new residents will build images of themselves in the area, their digitally mediated identities making physical marks on the landscape. Khan was inspired by his own collection of digital images, which shapes both his family life and his art. 

65,000 Photographs was made in collaboration with the design and fabrication studio UAP and was commissioned by St George City Ltd and the London Borough of Southwark.

Top image: Words Beneath Words, Idris Khan at Victoria Miro Venice

Words Beneath Words is at Victoria Miro, Il Capricorno, San Marco 1994, 30124 Venice, IT until 14 December. 65,000 Photographs is on permanent display at One Blackfriars in London, UK.

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