Nanjing

Haroon Mirza, Copy of 9/11–11/9, 2019, mixed media. Installation view.

Haroon Mirza, Copy of 9/11–11/9, 2019, mixed media. Installation view.

Haroon Mirza

Sifang Art Museum

The highlight of Haroon Mirza’s first solo exhibition in China, “Tones in the Key of Electricity,” is a new work, Copy of 9/11–11/9, 2019, a maximalist four-channel video and sound installation that attempts to encapsulate the maximal insanity of the period we have just lived through and whose consequences we continue to endure: that is, the era stretching from 9/11/2001, the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center, to 11/9/2016, the day Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. The room is partitioned into two, with the four freestanding screens in one space and a circle of speakers in the second. The sound and visual footage are oblique, a hodgepodge of both overt and covert political references along with all kinds of detritus retrieved from the twenty-first-century mediascape. That collage is making such a dramatic return of late is interesting, though I guess the resurgence also makes sense—the technique is a convenient way to evoke the feeling of constantly being overwhelmed: What to do with all this information? Collage comes to replicate daily experience.

The new century has brought with it forms of colonialism wholly unimagined, and unimaginable, by generations prior. The obscenest of these is the accelerated colonization of the imagination itself, of thought and perception. OK, so maybe such a suspicion has been on register since the 1960s, but could anyone have predicted the rapidity with which our individual consciousnesses would become the plaything of global corporations? And as this process continues, we become less and less aware of what is happening. It will go on that way, until we have surrendered our minds to the machinery of media, technology, Silicon Valley, the bullshit saturations of capital. In such a scenario, “politics” can serve as little more than a distraction, another form of clickbait. Here, Mirza hints at this condition; the experience of Copy of 9/11–11/9 is essentially musical. The rhythm of sound and image programmed into flickering beats is almost clubby. Scenes flash before us: tribal rituals that are slowly going extinct; talking-head “experts” from cable news; an indigenous Peruvian woman singing, while the text white people sending black people to fight brown people to protect the country they stole from red people appears on the screen; a psychedelic image of ugly mean Trump, his finger raised in dumb stupid constipated anger: supine shitfoozle of all ages.

Light Work xxxi, 2019, consisting of LED strip, wire, and fixings, is a more-minimal elucidation of this shrieking circuitry of filth. Blue and red LED lights blink up in the ceiling arches and threads and wires droop down: a strange dangling geometry. One has come to expect high production values from these big institutional exhibitions—particularly in a space as architecturally audacious as the Sifang Art Museum. A more careful curation would have sought to avoid the installation issues here. For instance, what sound there might be from After the Big Bang, 2014—a digital photo frame of a rushing waterfall atop a Marshall amp—is all but drowned out by the noise from the other pieces, effectively canceling the work.

And, unfortunately, there is a lapse into bad Net art: three LED screens showing stills of Instagram posts. These works—which are titled Biter, (In)appropriate Appropriation, and Toy, all 2019—are rather predictable crowd-pleasers that should have remained on social media, rather than being put on a wall. But they don’t diminish the impact of Copy of 9/11–11/9. And the exhibition redeems itself with Copy of Pavilion for Optimisation, 2019, an empty darkened room in which noise intensifies to a deafening pitch as a sliver of white light fades out. The process then repeats itself, ad infinitum, world without end—until, of course, it does.