Haroon Mirza’s exhibition at Ikon, ‘reality is somehow what we expect it to be’, is the artist’s most comprehensive since his 2015 survey at Museum Tinguely in Basel and his largest to date in the UK. Yet, despite featuring 31 works across two floors – including the influential installation Taka Tak (2008) and The National Apavilion of Then and Now (2011), for which he received the Silver Lion award for most promising artist at the 54th Venice Biennale – it proved to be somehow less than what I expected it to be.
The Tinguely titling – ‘Haroon Mirza/hrm199 Ltd.’ – incorporated the artist’s studio name in order to, as the press release explained, ‘deconstruct […] the role of the authors and artists in a solo presentation’. At Ikon, too, collaborators are named in various works. As well as using off-cuts of damaged celluloid from the structural filmmaker Guy Sherwin (alongside footage by Jeremy Deller) in the installation An_Infinato (2009), Mirza homages Sherwin in the three-screen sculpture Tescotrain (2012), a weird fluxus misfiring. A Chamber for Horwitz: Sonakinatography Transcriptions in Surround Sound (2015) is an exciting, if literal, audio-visual installation of the Los Angeles artist’s meticulous graphic diagrams. Finally, there’s the fashion designer Osman Yousefzada who, with Mirza, enlists another, unwitting, collaborator: Louis Vuitton.
According to Mirza, the luxury French fashion house bit his style in a recent store window display. (Ryan Gander, another Lisson artist, lately accused the brand of the same.) Powerless to sue, Mirza has instead dedicated the majority of Ikon’s second-floor space to his new series, ‘Rules of Appropriation’ (2018). Swapping out the customized National Panasonic radios, Sony Cubes and B&O cabinets of his An_Infinato-era sculptural assemblages the new pieces instead include iPhones, photovoltaic panels, ‘levitation devices’ and Yousefzada’s ‘designer-inspired’ swag – a slick reboot that loses the analogue interest of the earlier installations. In Open Source / Copyright (Rules of Appropriation 5) (2018) a ‘modified designer-inspired purse’ levitates and rotates at the centre of a mirrored table.
Embittered and academic, the series is an untimely (not anachronistic) revival of out-of-the-box, post-internet aesthetics, which discounts the art gallery’s capacity – different in quality to the shop window’s – to bestow symbolic value on the things it pulls into its realm. Luxury fashion can accommodate modification – especially by the likes of Yousefzada and Mirza, and in the setting of a contemporary art gallery art – in ways that art, linked to sole authorship, cannot. The engagement with ‘rules’ of appropriation seems counter to Mirza’s wider referential practice, which is animated by the open ethics and aesthetics of sampling and combining to produce larger compositions (he’s happy for the ‘good’ immaterial value of certain associations).
Inspecting Mirza’s assemblages as a sound technician might, it becomes clear that, sometimes, there is no causal relationship between components: a record player appears to be a sound source but is not connected or a cable leads to nowhere. Relationships are illusions, or non-relationships are subservient to the overall image of the work. These leveraged systems of feedback are compelling evocations of causality and correlation.
Feedback has become a defining characteristic of our time. As James Bridle observed in New Dark Age (2018), our failure to comprehend a complex world leads us to demand more and more information, which only further clouds our understanding. Artificial intelligence, on the other hand, tells us what we want to hear. This is the subject of Mirza’s recent installation, āāā – Fear of the Unknown remix (2017); it also appears to be what is signposted by the title, if not the works themselves, of his show at Ikon. Only when reality is not what we expect it to be will it cease to be what we expect it to be.