Can a 12th century Sufi poem coexist with a group of contemporary artworks and heighten the perception of Western artforms? The experiment attempted here is an overlay of literary references, traditional techniques, various media and technologies. Four bodies of works —by Hope Atherton, Nicolas Baier, Gonzalo Lebrija, and Anne Lindberg—resonate with Farîd-ud-Dîn Attâr’s epic allegory of Islamic Sufi mysticism, The Conference of the Birds. Each body of work forms a unique cosmography that chimes with aspects of this allegorical tale. An auditory experience, conceived by Frank Dufour of the collective Agence 5970, compels the visitor to delve into their mysteries.
Attâr’s poem is an esoteric quest for truth following the birds of the world on a journey as they seek the king of birds, the Simorgh. The hoopoe offers to lead them to Mount Qaf, a green emerald mountain surrounding the earth, where the Simorgh live. The birds fly across seven valleys: quest, love, knowledge, detachment, unity, wonderment, and annihilation. After various trials, just thirty birds overcome suffering and reach spiritual enlightenment; When they arrive at Mount Qaf, the exhausted and depleted birds, realize that the Simorgh, which in old Persian means thirty (si) birds (morgh), is a reflection of themselves. The powerful bird is hidden in each of them and they all together, in unity, are the Simorgh.
In his “Veladuras Nocturnas” paintings, Gonzalo Lebrija achieves spatial depth with a traditional glazing technique involving the application of multiple layers of translucent and iridescent paint over an opaque underlayer. The painting’s geometric shapes are based on origami paper planes reminiscent of childhood memories. Evocative of cones of light, they recall the cosmic landscape of Mount Qaf, where the invisible is revealed.
In Anne Lindberg’s diaphanous installation, recalling a flock of birds, the corporal becomes ethereal. The artist has stretched a multitude of blue threads across a corner of the gallery space. The aggregation of lines seems to dissolve the space while creating a sense of velocity: space and time are embedded in a continuum. On an adjacent wall, her “Insomnia Drawings” evoke landscapes from a bird’s-eye view. The artist drew serpentine lines over photographs of her wrinkled bed’s sheet; a process that resulted in subtle topographical reliefs.
Nicolas Baier’s bas-reliefs from the “Constellation” series depict arbitrary connections between the stars from a non-terrestrial vantage point. He creates cartographies based on coordinates issued by astronomical databases such as the Bright Star Catalogue. The stars connected via an algorithm form random constellations. These topographies are carved in high-density foam with a CNC (computer numeric control) machine and coated with brass or with meteorite graphite.
Hope Atherton resorts to ancestral techniques to create sculptures that point toward nontraditional temporalities. Due to their elemental qualities, they occupy a site of possibility between the past and future. Two birds coalesce in an enigmatic posture so as to form one mass. Their vulnerability recalls the trials encountered by the birds in Attar’s poem and the ultimate transformation that followed.