Idris Khan transforms the conceptual art of appropriation into an elegant and substantial meditation on the act of creativity. Appropriating icons of literature, music, and art, Khan methodically layers his material, whether it is Beethoven’s symphony, Milton’s Paradise Lost, or Bernd and Hilla Becher’s stylized sculpture of water towers. The process allows the artist to tease out certain areas adjusting the source material so that the soul of the piece is manifested in Khan’s accreted interpretation. For example, in Struggling to Hear… After Ludwig van Beethoven Sonatas, 2005, Beethoven’s entire series of sonatas becomes a dense wall of near blackness; a virtual illustration of the composer’s deafness.
Khan’s work tests our experience of these other art forms; words and music are experienced sequentially, however the artist compresses time visually. Photographic iconography such as Bernd and Hilla Becher’s water tower series—a body of work based on the inherent nature of recurring form—layer upon one another and ultimately create a ghostly animation describing the ‘essence’ of the form rather than each individual tower.
Born in Birmingham in 1978, Khan lives and works in London. Solo exhibitions of his work have been mounted at the Gothenburg Konsthall, Sweden (2011), the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (2009), and K20, Düsseldorf (2008). His work has been exhibited at Forum d’art Contemporain, Luxembourg (2008), the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2006), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2006), and the Helsinki Kunsthalle (2005). His work is included in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou, Paris, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, among others.