Installation view of RANA BEGUM’s exhibition “The Space Between” at Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, London, 2016. (Left) No. 647, L Mesh, 2015; (right) No. 6802016. Courtesy the artist and Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art.

The Space Between

Rana Begum

Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art
Bangladesh UK

In my mind, Rana Begum’s home is filled with Danish furniture, and she keeps her clothes hung from a minimal white rail. Perhaps her kitchen cupboards contain white, cross-hatched metal trays on sliders and, maybe, just maybe, she has images of works by Mondrian, Dan Flavin and the Trellick Tower pinned to her studio walls in London. Judging from “The Space Between,” her first solo show in the United Kingdom, at London’s Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, you would be inclined to think that she did. For what seems to unite this clear-cut exhibition is an aesthetic eye attracted to clean forms, well-kept colors and spirit-level precision.

Begum is confident in sharing her sophisticated visual and spatial perception, and the exhibition effortlessly leads the viewer through tight frames, optical illusions, sharp angular folds and delicate shapes, which blur together on close inspection. The most convincing of these experiences revolves around a pillar in the second lower-floor gallery. Here in this space, one is stunned by No. 670 (2016), an expansive maze of powder-coated wire mesh, which at once pushes the viewer against the walls yet compels them to inch closer. The participant must brush against these walls—visibly grazed from the movement of previous audiences—to appreciate the real visual force of this piece.

RANA BEGUM, No. 670, 2016, powder-coated galvanized steel, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, London. 

No. 670, similar to her 2014 work entitled (Study for) Untitled, has entry points that, despite being subtle, pull one into a shield of geometric forms. The arrangement of the steel material, stacked up to the ceiling with clipped cable tie joints, envelop the viewer with light, which splits and shatters through the square voids of the mesh. As with many labyrinths, it has a displacing effect, in which the colors and form of the installation shake, reverberate and emit an ethereal glow.

It is upstairs where this luminosity really emanates and takes over the gallery as its own. In No. 623, M Drawing (2015) and No. 624, M Drawing (2015), pure block colors slide from the walls and onto the floor, spilling out from a set of fragile frames, striking simple poses for the viewers. Set on a rough axis, they are in elegant conversation with a series of large, origami-like wall pieces—No. 394, L Fold (2013), No. 489, L Fold (2014) and No. 591, L Fold (2015)—pinned to a facing wall. Formed from slight, steel sheets with neon undersides, they cast vibrant shadows and further explore Begum’s self-professed interest in the geometric forms associated with her Bangladeshi upbringing.  

This influence of geometry is also found in No. 680 (2016), which is hung elegantly to the left of this space. No. 680, a grid of 54 blocks alive with colorful geometry, is something of an outsider, and introduces us for the first time in this show to Begum’s hand and her ruler. There are faint traces of pencil lines, which cut each block into shards, and the washes of muted acrylics soaked up by MDF board give a sense of the artist’s practice within her studio. It is, however, not just the artist’s choice of materials and palette that subdues the work. Within the wider display, No. 680 is cut across and lost to the neon blurs and coherence of the other works, especially the Escher-esque No. 644, M Mesh (2015) and No. 647, L Mesh (2009), installed nearby.

RANA BEGUM, No. 623, M Drawing, 2015, vinyl and powder-coated mild steel, 67 × 75 × 73 cm. Courtesy the artist. 

RANA BEGUM, No. 489, L Fold, 2014, paint on mild steel, 146 × 119 × 48 cm. Courtesy the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai. 

No. 680 could have been the sophisticated introduction the show deserves, and would have been better placed in the lower gallery at the beginning of the exhibition. Here, the selected pieces, such as No. 531 (2014), a digestible set of aluminum bars with varying surfaces of color, and the adjoining UV installation room feels overfilled with strong works, and the well-meaning enthusiasm is not entirely rewarded. No. 48 (2003), an exceptionally tactile couple of cuboids coated in resin, which appears to be dripping from the edges, was dwarfed by other bolder pieces.

This tendency for Begum’s works to collapse into each other’s presence perhaps hints at the conceptual thinness of the show’s offering. The exhibition is undeniably attractive, exquisitely installed, astute and the viewer should enjoy the lower UV-lit installation and its weightless, flighty forms. The overall lightness of Begum’s works, which often deconstruct the robust materials they are made of, is impressive, yet perhaps remove the work of heavier concerns or concepts.


Rana Begum’s ‘The Space Between” is on view at 
Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, London, until September 18, 2016.