Monday, 4 September 2006

Word Into Art (timely post for Jeff)

Made it to the British Museum today for the last day of the exhibition, ‘Word Into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East’ (in the upper level of the old BM Reading Room of blessed memory). 80 artists from all over the Middle East (or whose parents were), also Islamic North Africa and even Japan and China, each represented by one or two works in a very manageable show in 4 overlapping sections: ‘Sacred Script’, modern instantiations of the tradition of Islamic Arabic inscription in several distinct styles; ‘Literature and Art’, where the tradition opens to secular content; ‘Deconstructing the Word’, where since the 1940s forms of writing appear as elements of abstraction or association in the visual arts, and the rather different ‘Identity, History and Politics’, where writing shows as pervasive, rather than central, to the view of the modern world explored by engaged contemporary artists in painting, print and mixed media / collage. The show is full of fabulous things and gives rise to lots of ideas about text/image, which if I try to ponder now, this won’t get posted (how does Ron Silliman do it??) ... There's a batch of large sculptures by the Iranian Parviz Tanavoli, all versions of a Persian word ('heech' = nothing'), and throughout, play of scale is striking: juxtapositions of large and small, even micrographic. One intriguing and to me unexpected component is magic: amulets, magic squares .... One of the most exciting things was slightly at a tangent to the rest, the only instance of electronic media, a miniaturised video projection by the Israeli / American Michal Rovner, that created, from film of people moving to and fro, rows and columns of textlike forms creepy-crawling on the pages of a notebook.
There’s a web version of the exhibition at and also a lovely catalogue (pbk only £12) (with a staesmanlike preface by the BM’s impressive director, Neil Macgregor).