Breaking Boundaries brings together antipodal linguistic and cultural aspects
of communication through the works of Saudi Arabian artist, Nasser Al Salem and British artist, Josh Rowell.
It is considered a truism that language is a crucial tool for successful communication in all walks of life. Since early history, humans have crafted languages in order to refine communication. The emergence of language was a defining moment in the evolution of modern humans, setting the pivotal foundation for all means of dialogue. Throughout the history of linguistics, the expansion in methods of communication has led to an unlimited potential for interpretation.
In Breaking Boundaries, Al Salem and Rowell use language as the core of their artistic practice, however, both artists explore and juxtapose concepts of communication in diverse ways. Through the works of Josh Rowell, we are presented with a language that explores and reshapes information, and celebrates the hand-made in a time that is increasingly being enveloped by the virtual. Nasser Al Salem, on the other hand, pushes the boundaries of age-old Islamic art by re-inventing it in non-conventional mixed media forms and by exploring its conceptual potential.
With Breaking Boundaries, Firetti Contemporary once again pushes the importance of the gallery to act as a platform for connecting minds and concepts within a global cultural space, by intersecting ideas and themes of significance towards the forefront of the art scene.
Virtual Tour of "Breaking Boundaries"
Breaking Boundaries presents viewers with a variety of works by both artists. Rowell’s Virtually Fragile series, features the moment in which connectivity is lost to the digital world. This series highlights the loss of the ability to connect and communicate within the virtual realm, a great shift from a space where functions of data and connectivity is transformed into abstract chaos.
These alternated abstract linear movements are interpreted by Al Salem, through his multimedia installation, Allah. The visual manifestation of the word Allah is an abstracted representation in which its letters are stripped down to basic geometric lines and shapes. Nasser explores through a minimalist approach, how form and light can imitate an approximate representation of the divine. Al Salem radically eschews the conventional and traditionalist aesthetic appeal of a calligraphic form, creating an immersive and experiential representation. Both artists signify a shift in language, breaking it down to deliver separate messages. We see this once again in What if the circle disappeared, where Al Salem explores the use of the circle throughout history in relation to traditions of calligraphy in particular. The calligraphy used here by the artist is called Mushaf Koofee, or Old Kuffi—meaning before the introduction of the ‘dot’, and of the three main traditional Arabic calligraphic systems created by the Arabic calligrapher Ibn Muqlah in the ninth
century. In this work, Al Salem is questioning what effect the possible non-existence of the circle may have had, using calligraphy as a vehicle for exploring social and religious questions.
An additional series presented by Rowell is Painting Language, which was born out of a long-term interest in the functions of language and information, especially in light of the digital age. These paintings are coding systems for language, each one contains in them a body of text that can be taken from any source (book, magazine, script) and from any language. The system operates through colour, sequence and pattern, and ultimately the language becomes transformed into detailed and symmetrical paintings.
Similarly, in Al Salem’s work State of Affairs, the artist unveils the power of words and the production of meaning. Al Salem deconstructs the verse “He arranges [each] matter” into a letter or groups of letters, which are then repeated or duplicated and scattered across the surface of the paper. The expansion of the letters on the paper represents the continuous expansion of the universe and the constant movement that characterises it in its entirety. Here, each letter is a unique element of formal organisation within a system. Al Salem is not only concerned with the way the system expands, but is also interested in exploring notions of matter within such a system, such as the endless motion and vastness of the universe, the intense diversity of nature and the world and the logic that affirms the belief in God.
While highlighting emerging cultures and behaviours within the internet space, Rowell presents the Mosaics series. These bodies of work also comment on the importance of archiving events within the internet’s history. For each of these pieces, Rowell has been taking inspiration from trending comments that you can find on various social media platforms; these comments vary from comical, to weird, to alarming!
One of the striking features about comment memes, is the fact that they only seem to be popular for a short period of time, perhaps a couple of months at best, before they are then replaced with the next popular comment to copy and paste. The idea to recreate them as mosaics, is a way to play on the idea of the works being almost archaeological. There are real similarities when you start searching through the forgotten detritus of social media feeds, to digging up the earth and discovering some ancient artefact. This exploration of language shaping society is further portrayed by Al Salem’s Curfew / Risk of Transformation, which symbolises future changes and signals to a new world. Two Arabic words swing back and forth between two meanings through simple and clever changes in placements of the accent marks, which playfully urges the viewers to consider the precariousness of life and the fragility of our existence. Arabic calligraphy that is used in most warning panels usually require simplicity, speed of reading and clarity, therefore Curfew / Risk of Transformation becomes a continuous warning sign that transcends our present time.
Works on viewby Nasser Al Salem and Josh Rowell