LONG MUSEUM WEST BUND
From 5 March, 2023, Shirazeh Houshiary will open her first major museum exhibition in China this Spring, at Long Museum West Bund, running until 7 May, 2023. Exploring philosophy, cosmology, geography, physics and faith, Houshiary's solo show features new large-scale paintings, complex, composite sculptures and a monumental, immersive sound and film installation. Rhizome begins with the work Breath (2003/2013), a four channel video depicting hand-drawn animations that represent the inhalations and exhalations of vocalists chanting multi-denominational prayers. First shown in this configuration during the 2013 Venice Biennale, Breath is within a black box draped in felt, its walls representing the four points of the compass and the meeting point of world cultures.
Houshiary's other works presented in the exhibition all date from the last three years of artistic production and include ambitious new organic and architectonic sculptures in glass and aluminium, such as the nine-part Maelstrom (2022) that depicts the growth of life at a cellular level, as well as the spiralling, crystalline tower of Pneuma (2022). Recent paintings include the deep red interior worlds of Zygote (2022) with the cosmic compositions in green and blue, where Houshiary's palette mimicks nature's elemental force of growth and origin – from algae and blood to air and water. Houshiary's painterly process, developed over the artist's forty-year career, begins by pouring pigment across the canvases before adding layers of inscriptions on top of the sediments and shapes formed by this liquid ground. Two words, the physical manifestation of breath, are repeated, layered and interwoven.
On the exhibition's title, which signifies an expanding, never-ending network of roots and possible paths, Houshiary says: "The rhizome is a map. It's a map of life. This mapping is actually what nature does in following various paths and evaluating their potential. So if you can reveal this process of networking and re-evaluation at the centre of one's own psychology, then you can begin to unveil your own thoughts and all its folds."
Since rising to prominence as a sculptor in the 1980s, Shirazeh Houshiary's practice has swelled to encompass painting, installation, architectural projects and film. "I set out to capture my breath," she said in 2000, to "find the essence of my own existence, transcending name, nationality, cultures." Veils, membranes and mists are leitmotifs in work that tries to visualise modes of perception, spanning the scientific and the cosmic while drawing on sources as wide-ranging as Sufism, Renaissance painting, contemporary physics and poetry. Houshiary finds succour in the transformation of material: Arabic words, one an affirmation the other a denial, are pencil-stroked onto canvas so lightly, and clouded over by finely wrought skeins of pigment, that they morph in front of the naked eye and defy reproduction. So too, aluminium armatures and elliptical brick towers, charged with dynamic tension, appear different from every angle, as if negating their own presence.
"The universe is in a process of disintegration," she says, "everything is in a state of erosion, and yet we try to stabilise it. This tension fascinates me and it’s at the core of my work" (2013).
About the Artist
Shirazeh Houshiary was born in Shiraz, Iran in 1955, where she attended university before moving to London, UK in 1974. She has a BA from Chelsea School of Art (1979) and lives and works in London, UK.
Her solo exhibitions include: Lisson Gallery, London (2021), Shanghai (2020), and New York (2017); Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore (2016); The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, Ireland (2007); Tate Liverpool, UK (2003); Islamic Gallery, British Museum, London, UK (1997); Magasin-Centre national d’art contemporain, Grenoble, France (1995); University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA (1994); Camden Arts Centre, London, UK (1993); Musée Rath, Geneva, Switzerland (1988); and in 2013, her exhibition ‘Breath’ was a celebrated Collateral Event of the 55th Venice Biennale in Italy.
Recent group exhibitions include: 'Artists and the Rothko Chapel: 50 Years of Inspiration', Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA (2021); 'Abstraction and Calligraphy − Towards a Universal Language', Louvre Abu Dhabi in collaboration with Centre Pompidou, Abu Dhabi, UAE (2021); 'Spirit and Endeavour', Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury, UK (2020); Jesus College, Cambridge, UK (2017); Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, Collezione Burri, Citta di Castello, Perugia, Italy (2016); University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI, USA (2014).
Her work has been included in major group exhibitions since the 1980s including: Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, OH, USA (2011); Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA (2007); Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy (2002); Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, Netherlands (1990); Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (1989); Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark (1986). She has also participated in numerous biennials including Cartagena deIndias, Colombia (2014); Kiev Biennale, Ukraine (2012); the 17th Biennale of Sydney, Australia (2010); and the 40th Venice Biennale, Italy (1982).
She was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1994 and became a Royal Academician in 2022.