Reviewed: Everything Is Happening At Once

Cornerhouse Digital Reporter Bryony Moore explores our current exhibition…

I recently made it to the Rashid Rana exhibition. Having read beforehand about the artists’ fascination with the idea of duality and our perception of images, I ‘d been looking forward to seeing the show for ages. And I was glad I did.

Rana’s huge images which bring reality and illusion colliding into one another were just captivating. Those that caught my eye on the first floor were The World Is Not Enough, which looks like a pixellated image made up of thousands of minute photographs of rubbish from a landfill site, and Veil VI. Both display Rana’s mesmerising attention to detail and finely-honed craft of photo-collage. Veil VI, an image depicting women in burqas composed of tiny pornographic images, comes across as being perhaps a bit gratuitous – I couldn’t help feeling that I’d seen it all before – but that’s a view no doubt particular to the jaded eyes of a Western art audience, used to the jarring imagery of Shock Art. Looking at the work in context of Rana’s roots gives a different picture. Attending a talk on Rana’s work by Virginia Whiles I learnt that 70% of websites in Pakistan are pornographic.

I did find that some of the works left me cold – the sculptural pieces in Gallery 1 seemed to me more like gallery furniture than part of the exhibition and were less visually interesting than the photographic pieces.

However, the best was saved for last. The final and in my opinion most majestic piece in the show is a huge structure resembling a super shiny inner-city skyscraper. For several minutes I could do nothing but gawp blankly at this mind-bending sculpture constructed from a dizzying arrangement of mirrors and tiny photographs of homes in Lahore. It was described in a conversation with the artist as a “kaleidoscopic” and I can’t think of a better word. All I can say is, see it! If you only see one piece in the whole show, see this one.

Fellow Digital Reporter Jake Sturgess also shared his thoughts on the exhibition…

As part of Manchester’s Asia Triennial 2011, Lahore-based artist artist Rashid Rana exhibits his first major UK solo exhibition at Cornerhouse. The exhibition, entitled Everything Is Happening At Once, wrestles with the nature of truth and contradiction through self-reflexive photographic collages. Duality emerges as the central theme of the exhibition, with the fragmentary nature of urban existence represented in a variety of formats throughout a diverse collection of pieces.

I found a great example of this in Rana’s pixelisation of items from the every-day. Stacks of newspapers and bright flowerpots are reduced to harsh low-resolution cubes, substituting the natural, familiar and tangible with infuriating computerised replacements. These pieces seem to be Rana’s commentary on the developed world becoming increasingly interwoven by its digital counterpart, but in my eyes their most remarkable achievement was the emotive reaction they provoke.

What I like about Rana’s exhibition is that it can always be interpreted on two competing levels; allowing multiple perspectives on the artist’s potent political and cultural commentary. This is particularly true of exhibition’s culmination entitled Desperately Seeking Paradise II, a photographic installation depicting a high-rise panorama that dissolves into hundreds of smaller images when the viewer steps closer. Interestingly this means that the significance of the piece is reliant on the viewer’s own interaction with it, as you wander round the space you are granted your own dimension of meaning within the work through the reflections within the intricate mesh of mirrors that make up the towering installation.

Rana’s exhibition is both thoughtful and contentious, harshly reminding us that the images and simulations that populate modern urban culture are not always what they seem.