“I’m fascinated by the way natural light can change an artwork throughout the day,” says the artist Rana Begum, whose vivid, genre-defying installations come to Pitzhanger Manor this month. “I love the way light floods into the manor house – I wanted to use that to make the work more active.”
The exhibition, which has travelled from Warwick Arts Centre’s Mead Gallery (a traditional white-cube space), will sit beautifully within the setting of the Sir John Soane-designed stately home in Ealing, adapting to the shifting light and interacting with the elegant surroundings. “To be able to do something that responds to the architecture really excited me,” says Begum. At the heart of the show is a large-scale suspended installation made from soft layers of mesh whose spectrum of pastel shades have a sensual, almost hypnotic effect on the viewer.
The venue will also play host to Begum’s first ever video work, which captures the changing light in a green space close to the artist’s London home. “When the lockdown started, I’d recently moved into my new home and studio near Abney Park cemetery in Stoke Newington,” she explains. “I decided to take photographs every hour to record how the light changed each day and throughout the seasons, and then I animated those stills into a video.”
The result is a film that evokes the passing of time through a series of poignant details. “There’s a view of a tree that has had the ivy cut at the root so the ivy’s dying – the way the light falls on that is beautiful,” says Begum. “You feel like you’re getting lost in that movement of light; sometimes it even feels like the trees are breathing. I’d like people to leave with heightened senses, to notice things around them they hadn’t noticed before.”
The influence of minimalist, abstract painters such as Agnes Martin is evident in Begum’s work, with its focus on colour, line and geometry. Architectural motifs also recur across her output, partly influenced by her visits to mosques as a child growing up in Bangladesh and, later, during her travels to Córdoba and Granada. “There’s always echoing in my work – that idea of repetition and the manipulation of light you get from Islamic art and architecture,” she says.
Not only do Begum’s artworks blur the boundaries between sculpture, architecture and design, but she also collaborates with other creative figures to deepen the connections between artistic disciplines. Next month will see the unveiling of her site-specific sculpture for London City Island, which will launch with a specially commissioned five-minute dance piece featuring two members of the English National Ballet wearing costumes designed by Roksanda Ilincic. Dance appeals to Begum’s interest in kineticism (“A lot of the time you can see the rhythm of my work”), while Ilincic’s sensitivity to colour, light and movement makes her the perfect fashion partner.
“Public art can sometimes be quite cold and removed,” says Begum, “so in this case I hope that activities can happen around my piece and that it can generate conversations.” If her previous work is anything to go by, this new commission is sure to get people talking.
‘Rana Begum: Dappled Light’ is at Pitzhanger Manor from 25 March to September 2022. ‘Rana Begum: Catching Colour’, curated by The Line for EcoWorld Ballymore, will launch at Botanic Square, London City Island, on 9 April.