An artistic intervention by Haroon Mirza at the Villa Savoye, produced by Lab’Bel, the arts laboratory of the Bel Group, in collaboration with the CMN, Centre des Monuments Nationaux.
Invited by Lab’Bel to produce a new ensemble of works in direct dialogue with the architecture of the Villa Savoye, the British artist Haroon Mirza chose to focus on several aspects or details of this building. One should recall that this icon of modernist architecture was originally intended as a weekend residence. To use two of Le Corbusier’s famous expressions, the house was designed as ‘a machine for living’ in terms of its functionality and as a machine ‘that moves us’, notably thanks to the harmony of its forms and the particular way in which light interacts with the structure. Equipped with a solarium, a hanging garden and large bay windows, the villa provides ample views of its natural surroundings. The interior and exterior seamlessly merge into each other where the light pours into the building.
Light is also a central element of Haroon Mirza’s art. In his work, he often plays with the presence of light and the effects produced by hanging light bulbs, strobe lighting, projections of coloured shapes and the screening of videos on a loop in the exhibition space or on television screens. It was therefore fairly obvious that for the artist, light appeared as a possible connection or link between his work and the architecture of the villa, as well as being a pertinent means of creating a dialogue between the two. The title of the exhibition itself refers to the name given to the Villa Savoye by its owners: ‘Les Heures Claires’ which translates into English as ‘The Light Hours’.
In order to design and install his artworks in the villa, Haroon Mirza visited the location blindfolded so as to privilege his perception of the sounds and acoustic characteristics of the site in which he had been invited to work. Wishing to establish a sort of organic correlation between his artworks and the villa itself, the artist designed dynamic installations consisting of four light and sound sculptures which would be arranged, according to the artist’s intention, in four rooms of the villa: the living room, the Savoye’s bedroom, their son’s room and the guest bedroom located on the first floor.
Although the works are composed of various technological components such as LED lights or amplification and sound diffusion systems, the works that form part of this exhibition are all constructed from the same element: the solar panel. Juxtaposed, framed, customized and positioned on the ground, this familiar object is used throughout Mirza’s intervention and indeed forms the base of the different 3D structures that draw shapes in space and which are both open or closed in on themselves. They may be said to evoke screens, tables or indeed, items of furniture of an undefined function, reminiscent of Haroon Mirza’s early career. The artist initially studied design before turning to the visual arts with a special emphasis on, or predilection for, sound.
Used for the first time in the artist’s work, the solar panels that structure the sculptural ensembles presented at the villa offer an incontestable visual quality, creating abstract geometric compositions such as the ones used in the poster for the exhibition (which is also an allusion to the floor plan or layout of the first floor of the villa). Normally designed for outdoor use, the solar panels have been placed inside the building, in a reversal effect which nevertheless does not undermine their habitual mode of functioning. The sunlight that is very much present in the rooms of the villa makes it possible, once captured by the panels, to provide the vital energy needed to make these pieces work. The light is a direct source of energy for the sound and light systems of which these artworks are composed.
The installations are dependent upon the light, an intangible and fluctuating element that directly powers the works that not only receive energy, but also emit autonomous sounds, which may be heard in a loop or overlapping effect, as is often found in the artist’s work. The sounds that are generated form an audio composition that is the expression of the sun as it moves through the building. Produced in real time, the sounds are in direct response to the environment, in a sense transforming the installations into living systems, with their own energy source and rhythmic sense or logic. Varying according to the intensity of the light, the sounds come together and offer various possible perceptions according to the movements of visitors through the villa. It should be noted that Haroon Mirza’s work explores or makes use of sound without any real distinction between noise and music, similar to major composers and artists of the twentieth century such as Pierre Schaeffer, John Cage and Nam June Paik.
The sculpture displayed in the guest bedroom includes a projection of a tapestry motif designed by Irish architect and artist Eileen Gray, a contemporary of Le Corbusier’s, superimposed on a projection of the floor plan for her villa E-1027. The latter was another renowned modernist secondary residence completed a few years prior to the Villa Savoye in the south of France. In the villa E-1027, Le Corbusier painted frescoes against Eileen Gray’s wishes, an act which would become a considerable source of dissent between the two artists. By including Gray in his project for the Villa Savoye, Haroon Mirza pays an amicable tribute to the latter.
Echoing the architecture of the villa, Haroon Mirza has therefore emphasized a minimalist intervention that interacts directly with its environment. Sound, which is an essential feature of the artist’s visual work, strives to find a balance or harmony with regard to this architectural space. Visitors to the exhibition are invited to consider the villa from a new perspective, not just visual but also auditory.
A selection of books on the theme of sound and silence may be consulted freely in the boudoir and offers several avenues or lines of thinking to those visitors wishing to broaden their knowledge of some of the themes evoked by the exhibition.
Haroon Mirza b. 1977 is a British artist, born in London where he continues to live and work today. His installations are an assemblage of recycled and ready-made objects. They also consist of technological elements in an experimental DIY fashion which can be said to rework various phenomena of cultural history and modern and contemporary art, and more specifically musical phenomena. His works solicit both visual and auditory perception. Recipient of the Silver Lion Award at the 54th Venice Biennial in 2011, Mirza has exhibited his work at Spike Island (Bristol), Studio 231 of the New Museum (New York) and at the Lisson Gallery (London) which represents the artist. An artist and DJ, Haroon Mirza launched an Internet site, o-o-o-o.co.uk in 2013, which invites artists and musicians to download audio samples of his work, to remix them and then upload them via Sound Cloud. He was invited by Lab’Bel to create a site-specific work for the Villa Savoye.
Lab’Bel, the arts laboratory of the Bel Group was created in the spring of 2010 with the aim of fostering and promoting contemporary art in compliance with the values of sharing, accessibility and enjoyment supported by this food-processing group of which it is a part. In accordance with this philosophy and since its creation, the group has put together a collection of artworks produced since the beginning of the last decade and organizes a number of exhibitions and artistic events both in France and overseas every year. Since 2011, Lab’Bel has sought to develop a dialogue between modernist architecture and contemporary art. Stefan Brüggemann’s intervention, The World Trapped in it Self (Mirrors for windows) in Mies van der Rohe’s German pavilion in Barcelona was the first in this series of exhibitions, followed this year with Haroon Mirza’s The Light Hours at the Villa Savoye.
Produced by Lab’Bel, the arts laboratory of the Bel Group, in collaboration with the CMN, Centre des Monuments Nationaux.