The first work in Hassan Khan’s exhibition at MMK 3 was viewable from the outside. It comprised two heads cut from light filters and applied to the glass façade of the smallest of the three buildings that make up Frankfurt am Main’s Museum für Moderne Kunst. The heads face away from one another, pointing, in semi-profile: inward to the gallery, and outward towards the street. The work and show’s title, “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said” (2015) – taken from the artist’s favourite Philip K. Dick novel – was written in vinyl and had also been applied twice to the window, facing inward and outward, directly above each head. Hassan Khan’s work has a tendency to implicate the viewer and here the passing pedestrian was granted the same privilege as the gallery-goer.
Inside “Flow My Tears…” a gripping sound work resonated across the show’s entire space. Live Ammunition! (2015) is a four-channel audio installation, a spell-binding rhythm of clapping, strings, and electronics that the Cairo-based artist described as ‘the beat of the show’. The next piece one encountered, LightShift (2015), was comprised of fluctuating coloured lights whose gentle pulse guided you up the dozen steps into MMK 3’s main hall. However the unfortunate placement of ticket inspectors at the top of the steps disrupted the careful, systematic logic of the exhibition.
MMK 3’s chapel-shaped gallery tends to give the works it houses an imperious quality, adding a near-tangible sense of theatricality to its exhibitions. Here the pronounced grandness of the work that filled the centre of the room mirrored its surroundings: a cluster of 13 glass sculptures, each raised from the ground on individual small wooden plinths, lit dramatically from above. The title, Abstract Music (2015), seemed deliberately off-kilter, shifting the material presence of the works into the realm of the cerebral. What do abstract music and glasswork have in common, other than the measured precision required to make both? The work then, became something else entirely, anchoring and defining the structural space of this show and challenging viewers to examine their own path through it.
A small projection shadowed this centrepiece. Studies for Structuralist Film no.2 (2013) is a 24-minute, black and white HD video in which a camera circles two people in an empty room. The video was rear-projected and a small alcove between the projector and screen allowed you to view the film from behind. It provided an arresting counterpoint: the degraded image quality viewed from the rear made it seem like you had stepped out of the exhibition and were watching a performance from the wings. Set off to the side of the room, the third work in the main space felt incongruous, creating an odd sense of balance to the display. The Double Face of Power (2015), a title that recalled the exhibition’s first work, is a three-panel wooden dressing screen. Each shows a different emblem comprised of white lines carved into a grey, green and red coloured background. Decorated only on the front side, the piece felt frustratingly incomplete, deliberately giving the viewer no reward for close examination.
Accompanying the show was a text written by Khan that took the form of an imaginary exhibition tour. Outlining the background to the works it resisted definition beyond its originating context. As did this exhibition. Khan wasn’t seeking to create a language for ideas with these works, nor to systematize a process of thought. Instead, his hand gently conducted the passage of the viewer through the show, maintaining a uniform tempo throughout. That’s when this exhibition revealed its internal logic: as a performance in which you are inextricably involved.