On ViewLisson Gallery, 508 West 24th Street, New York
January 14 – February 12, 2022
Published in 1937, Star Maker is a science fiction novel by British author Olaf Stapledon. The titular Star Maker is the creator of the universe, and has an analogous relation to it comparable to an artist to her work. The novel features an orbital device for sourcing energy from the sun, later made more widely known by the English-American scientist Freeman Dyson in 1960, who also gave it its popular name. A reimagining of the Dyson sphere energy capture device by Haroon Mirza constitutes his Lisson Gallery installation and is the London-based artist’s second solo exhibition in New York.
Mirza’s immersive installations explore the relation between light and sound, using electrical current as a medium to act on a variety of devices that in the past have included musical instruments, household electronics, vinyl and turntables, pieces of furniture, video recordings and other existing artwork by other artists, for example works by Anish Kapoor and Channa Horwitz. The disruption of any assumptions about the nature of sound—noise or music; its structures or sources—are challenged on entering the installation. John Cage seems like a very distant precursor. Mirza has in fact described himself as a composer—the sounds are generated by his assemblage of sculptural objects using new and antiquated technologies, including energy-saving lights, LED lights, or old transistors.
The central piece of this exhibition, the Dyson sphere itself, has at its core a number of intense tungsten lights surrounded at a short distance by a series of encircling solar panels. This is the energy center for a dependent network or solar system of other assembled sculptural objects. The sound systems and flora that constitute parts of these sculptures that are placed through the galleries, connected by electrical cables or the glow of LED lights, all rely on particular solar panels that are sequentially activated by receiving tungsten light; these subsequently and intermittently illuminate or issue sound. For example, two tabla drums on a traditional carpet are operated by a device above the surface of the drums in response to variable electrical current: the percussive taps are mechanically produced, rather than by the blows of human fingers or hands. Another sculpture features hallucinogenic succulents and loudspeakers. In other places, plants stand independently and receive nourishing artificial light. This world, created in the galleries, therefore, includes an echo system sustained artificially and removed from any natural environment. Red, green, and white lights, together with movement and sound, are at once an organic and artificial hybridized context for the viewer.
So many questions are asked of our relationship to the planet on which we exist and the priorities for the technologies we choose to deploy. Are we going to create ever-new technologies to sustain life, or conserve the limited and dwindling resources that we already have? There is no labored pedagogy in Mirza’s poetic approach; rather, the experience is playful, fun—it thoroughly involves and disorients the viewer, both sensually and intellectually. The disparate sounds, fluctuating colored light, and heterogeneous connected objects provoke sociological and philosophical thoughts—where are we in this fragile and changing environment we call the world? In previous installations, theological and political questions were asked, the looped sound and images sourced in regional conflicts. Considerations about the synthesis of sound and light waves when merged as here, light converted to energy, wattage, then sound, add another complexity to our understanding of everyday experiences. It is understandable that there is so much interest in Mirza’s work, his freshness, originality, and apparent joy in producing his installations (whilst also acknowledging that the collaboration necessary to realize them, including the skills of exhibition designers, technicians, and more recently live performers, is the work of a team of people) puts him in that position where we should look forward eagerly to his next works.