Lawrie Shabibi presents Open Cube by Hamra Abbas, her third solo at the gallery, which runs concurrent with her permanent sculpture Trees: Gardens of Paradise at Qasim Park commissioned for the 2019 Karachi Biennale.
The title of the exhibition refers to Sol LeWitt’s Incomplete Open Cubes (1974) in which the artist identified 122 unique variations of an incomplete cube. These ‘open cube’ structures had between one and nine limbs removed, but always with the structure remaining three-dimensionally connected. It was Abbas’ encounter with these works at MASS MoCA in 2016 that provided her with new insights into her own practice, specifically with regard to his treatment of the cube and his explorations of colour. In the current exhibition, Abbas draws upon this intimate encounter, incorporating her understanding and experience of LeWitt’s systems into her own personal language.
Colour has been central to the perceptual identity of work created by Abbas in recent years. It was Abbas’ interest in colour that led to her visit Sol LeWitt’s landmark exhibition Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective at MASS MoCCA. More recently she stumbled upon a publication entitled Sol LeWitt Incomplete Open Cubes, The John Weber Gallery 1974, which laid out the arithmetical process of ‘unpacking’ the cube to create new forms, providing her with a new contextual framework for her own works, recalling her series Kaaba Picture as a Misprint (2014) in which she ‘unpacks’ the colour black to reveal hidden multiplicity (i.e. cyan, magenta, yellow). In Open Cube Abbas presents a series of three diptychs that build upon the Kaaba Picture as a Misprint series but substitute the abstract Kaaba image with a triangle, square and hexagon. These shapes are filled in solid black against a white background, recalling LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #343 (1980) and Malevich’s Black Square. The solid black shape is then rotated on its axis in order to reveal colour peaks of primary and secondary colours, drawing attention to its compositional presence or polysemy.
Extending from these new Misprints are three Construction Drawings, a series of marble inlay works that repeat the process of rotating triangle, square and hexagon but in this instance to create a complex circular web of straight lines. These works are meticulously hand-crafted from two contrasting colours of stone – white marble and black granite. Unlike the Incomplete Open Cube forms which are finite, these spinning lines are expansive and boundless. They have a mystical quality, recalling the geometric drawings of Emma Kunz or ancient mandalas.
In direct reference to LeWitt’s Incomplete Open Cube, Abbas’s series of nine marble ‘drawings’ entitled Open Cube: After LeWitt (2019) each of which appropriates one of the Incomplete Open Cube drawings. In contrast to LeWitt’s line drawings, the broken forms are filled in with jet black marble which adds more density to the shapes and reinstates her fascination with the colour black.
Finally, Open Cube (2019) a floor sculpture, is the largest work in the exhibition. Floor sculptures and installations in differing materials and formats have long been a feature of Abbas’s practice, inviting a different sort of interaction with the viewer. Her first was Please Do Not Step (2004), exhibited at Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, with various iterations at other institutions including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London for the Jameel Art Prize 2009. Initially, these installations were always made out of paper, ephemeral and intended to be fleeting, much like her own sense of temporariness whilst living away from her hometown Lahore from 2002 to 2015, first in Berlin and then Boston. It was not until she established a permanent studio in Lahore in 2015 that the floor installations took on a more permanent, sculptural presence, moving from the most light-weight material to the heaviest. In Open Cube (2019), the image of two squares appear to float on top of each other creating an optical illusion. Unlike the other monochromatic marble pieces in the exhibition, the inlay used here is colourful (blue Afghani Lapis Lazuli, red Pakistani Indus Gold and the yellow Italian Giallo Siena). Although Open Cube (2019) draws its inspiration from the Incomplete Open Cube drawings, the squares do not connect, thus defying the guidelines of LeWitt’s drawings.