Museum of Modern Art Presents Runa Islam’s New Film Emergence (2011) and Other Works

The Museum of Modern Art presents British artist Runa Islam’s new 35mm film Emergence (2011), commissioned for this exhibition, alongside three of her other films selected specifically in relation to the new work: The house belongs to those who inhabit it (2008), Magical Consciousness (2010), and This Much Is Uncertain (2009–10). For these works, Islam (b. 1970, Dhaka, Bangladesh) constructs austere, minimal installations that take the conventions, histories, materiality, and grammar of film—its language of framing, panning, zooming, editing, and projection—as the bases for structural investigations and narrative experiment. Astutely aware that perception of the world is mediated by cinematic and technological representation, Islam positions her images on the boundaries between visibility and invisibility, legibility and silence, stability and instability, syntactical simplicity and symbolic complexity. On view May 27 through September 19, 2011.

Emergence (2011) explores the relationship between film and still photography. The work shows a photographic print in a developing bath, enlarged from a glass negative taken in the early 1900s in Tehran, during the Persian Constitutional Revolution. As the picture emerges, a city square comes into view; then the photograph, left in the developing bath, slowly darkens and the image vanishes again into the paper’s black surface. Emergence further complicates the nature of documenting violent and dramatic events, as the work also shows the fractures the negative endured, which occurred during the violent events that surround the subject of the image. In the end, the objects in the work are silent, and all that remains is the act of looking, animated and then denied in the material transformation of the image.

The three earlier works correspond to Emergence in their relation to concerns of muteness and a resistance to narration, and they engage directly with the material conditions of film while bordering on abstraction and invisibility. Magical Consciousness (2010) transforms the gilded back of a six-panel Japanese folding screen into the silver screen of film. Its folds are compressed into vertical bars in shades of gray, referring to the format of wide-screen cinema and the unfolding history of the 500-year-old screen, valued for its decorated front side. This Much Is Uncertain (2009–10) creates an abstract vision of the volcanic island of Stromboli through relentlessly edited footage.

As with Magical Consciousness, in This Much Is Uncertain Islam suggests a material transformation, relating the silver grain of the film stock to the texture of the black volcanic sand while pushing the film even farther toward the edge of visibility and disappearance. In The house belongs to those who inhabit it (2008), the artist explores the boundaries of cinematography by ―writing‖ with the camera, moving it like a graffiti artist’s spray can to spell out the Italian words that, translated into English, comprise the film’s title. The resulting tightly framed views show the poisoned grounds of an abandoned industrial complex in Northern Italy; formerly occupied by squatters, it has been reclaimed by vegetation. The images—shot in one almost completely uninterrupted take—are both formal and symbolic, bearing witness to the competing forces that have occupied the space.

Islam lives and works in London. She attended the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam, from 1997 to 1998 and completed an M. Phil at the Royal College of Art, London, in 2004. She has had solo exhibitions at the Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal (2010), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2010), Kunsthaus Zurich (2008), UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2005), the Camden Arts Centre, London (2005), and the MIT List Visual Arts Centre, Cambridge, Massachussetts (2003). She has participated in many group exhibitions, including Prospect 2, New Orleans (2010), the Turner Prize, Tate Britian (2008), Brave New Worlds, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2007), the 51st International Venice Biennale (2005), and the 8th International Istanbul Biennial (2003).

Projects 95 is organized by Christian Rattemeyer, The Harvey S. Shipley Miller Associate Curator of Drawings, The Museum of Modern Art. The Elaine Dannheisser Projects series is coordinated by Kathy Halbreich, Associate Director, The Museum of Modern Art.

The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53 Street, New York, NY 10019, (212) 708-9400, MoMA.org

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