If it is possible to see just one exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art from August to September, then this outstanding selection of 16mm film installations by Runa Islam from the past seven years should be it. Runa Islam (1970- ), a Bangladesh born British artist and nominee for 2008 Turner Prize, is internationally noted for her 16mm and 35mm film works. Her first solo exhibition in Australia displays her distinctive creativity to blend cinematic elements into display space and promote different ways of viewing.
Islam successfully ‘moves’ a cinema into the art museum, for she displays the works in cinema-like surroundings, which erases the boundary between museum art and film. There are plenty of spaces among each film work, and the audience is left in darkness, while the screens and labels on the wall are lit by dim light from the projectors. When the viewer is walking into the display space, they can feel themselves entering into a private cinema. Indeed, all the projectors in this exhibition are treated as part of the artworks. They either stand on the bases or in the well-designed cabinets which not only enhances the reality of cinema, but also challenges the notion that tools should always be behind the scenes. Additionally, sound in this exhibition plays a relatively important role. Islam either chooses natural sound or lets the sound of the projector to directly match the film. The whole installation of the exhibition greatly enhances the viewer’s experience.
The exhibition not only requires the viewer’s attention visually, but also questions their visual perceptions at the same time. Untitled (2008) is the smallest scale work in this exhibition while cannot be missed. By moving closed focus to distant focus, the artist shows that the more something is magnified, the less truth it reveals. An individual’s vision often gives only one part of the story, which is often distorted by imagination. Be The First To See What You See As You See It (2004) is one of her representations which challenges visual perceptions by creating subtle changes among scenes. Contrasted with the other five works, this short film shows distinct visual and acoustic effects with fresh scenes and smashing sound.
The success of this exhibition is achieved by deep experience and different ways of interpretation. Long shot is an important technique in Islam’s works, which gives the audience time to be in deep contemplation, and the application of abstract and geometric shapes allows the works to be open to interpretation.
Magical Consciousness (2010) is a new work showing Islam’s interest in Eastern meditation. This 8:22 minute film presents several changes of a rectangle Japanese screen and plays a visual game based on changing relationships between Yin and Yang, which in Chinese philosophy are complementary opposites within a greater whole, such as dark and light, visible and invisible, and falsehood and reality. The viewer is encouraged to project their interpretation to the aspect of Yin, which looks invisible but may possess more meaning.
This exhibition of six artworks requires viewers’ time and patience, while it is an invitation to see and think.