Encountering Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq’s work, ‘Black Sun’, is as much a lesson on the poetics of architecture as it is a visual experience.
The work itself is a perfect circle 5 metres in diameter, etched directly in graphite on to a wall. At certain angles due to the wall’s asymmetry, the drawing appears three-dimensional. Traces of the artist’s hand are visible in the patchy marks on the surface. Graphite presented this way takes on the illusion of burnished metal or weathered stone. I am compelled to run my hands across the drawing as I would a Richard Serra sculpture’s massive sides.
As the name suggests, there is an elemental naturalism to the work, perhaps gleaned from the intersection of mathematics, nature and astronomy so present in Islamic architecture. The circle as a symbol of unity in creation is prolific in Islamic architectural achievements such as the Taj-Al-Mulk North Dome, built in 1088 in Isfahan, which contains within its circular form ideas contemplating the cosmos and the natural world.
Above all else, what strikes me most about ‘Black Sun’ is the idea of perfection. This permeates the rest of the artist’s work. Natural perfection, as a star or geometric circle is thought to be, and compositional perfection, as architecture aims to be, is countered by the fact that these works are drawings which can be easily destroyed, painted over or buffed off. Built into the idea of architectural perfection is the expectation of longevity, yet the work at Hannah Barry Gallery will be removed in a few weeks, and this contributes to the sense of urgency that the piece compels – to believe in its truth and existence before it’s gone.
Recalling ideals upheld by movements such as de Stijl, the work seems to address the ever-present need for harmony and universal order. However, where Ashfaq departs from 20th century design or older philosophies of natural order is the impracticality of his site-specific design – the drawing crowds the wall, almost touching the ceiling and floor. There is a strange humour in seeing a giant circle float awkwardly in a space almost too small to contain it. What’s even more perversely enjoyable is that this absurdity manages to coexist with Ashfaq’s technical finesse – a merging of discomfort and precision that produces something hardly two-dimensional.