Art fiend: Emerging from darkness

06 Mar 2016



Lala Rukh has embraced minimalism for much of her 40-year career. Exposed to these ideas while attending graduate school in Chicago in the ’70s, the artist creates pictures with simple forms — ones that almost fade away in front of your eyes. This ethereal quality is found in works that she presents at Grey Noise, Dubai, as part of a group exhibition But Even if I Cannot See the Sun recently. The lyrical title frames a collection of art that brings to mind darkness of the night.

Both the works that Lala Rukh has in the show contribute to such an impression. In one, the artist ponders over her mother’s death. It was produced after her demise in 1997. Included in ‘Heartscape’ are exposed photographic sheets placed on top of graph paper; appearing to be X-rays, they are visual metaphors for entering a deep slumber. The methodically darkened papers reveal little or no representations; instead their abstraction allows the viewer to imagine a process of fading away from the world of light into a shadowy, eternal cosmos.

Inquiries into transition are seen throughout the exhibition, whether it is between life and death or night and day. Qualities that seem to be opposites are, in fact, more closely related. Light and dark go hand in hand; sorrow and happiness are two sides of a coin.

Inquiries into transition are seen throughout the exhibition, whether it is between life and death or night and day

‘Heartscape’ provides a form to abstract concepts like endings and beginnings in life that everyone experiences at one time or another. These are moments that have no defined physical features, but make big impressions upon us. Several of the artists in the exhibition explore such intangible ideas.

In another series on display, Lala Rukh offers fugitive pictures made with carbon paper. The discovery of carbon paper as a medium fit the artist’s method perfectly. It is a fragile material that is simultaneously present and absent; it is set to disappear with a stroke.

Produced with graphite on carbon paper, ‘Nightscape’ represents an everyday occurrence — the reflection of moonlight on water. Black pigment on a similarly hued surface resulted in invisible images that nonetheless can be seen as viewers move their positions or adjust their eyes. The graphite’s sheen allows for such a possibility.

Furthermore, when the artist glued carbon paper onto a mount, it never rested smoothly. Instead, air pockets and creases were inevitable. She utilised this incidental quality to make her imagery. Two minor events — a reflection and difficulties with pasting — provided the means to produce a subtle picture of ephemerality. Emerging from the ordinary, the artist formed a profound yet quiet statement.

In the same way that the artist seized a fleeting moment, as viewers we are charged with grasping a transient thought. It is one that makes us think about how everything is always changing. This approach to art was a hallmark of minimalism from the ’60s and ’70s.

Artists visualised the dynamic nature of life and the presence of multiple perspectives by creating forms that looked different depending on where one stood. Viewers needed to experience this constant change for themselves. Similarly, the works in the current show provide the audience with opportunities to reflect upon the transitory characteristic of the world around.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 6th, 2016