Arts Council England
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Birmingham gallery welcomes world premiere inspired by pandemic

Birmingham’s Ikon is set to host the world premiere of year zero (2020), a new audio-visual artwork by British artist Haroon Mirza and supported through Art Fund.

A person dressed in a costume of gold lamé and electric blue body paint designed by Osman Yousefzada

Sarah-Jane Lewis performing as part of year zero by Haroon Mirza (2020). Costume by Osman Yousefzada

At 8pm on Wednesday (16 December) Ikon Gallery’s YouTube account will host year zero – part of Mirza’s ‘modular opera’ series, composed by him and realised in collaboration with musicians, a singer and designer.

Produced during the COVID-19 lockdown, inspired by smartphone footage of Italians singing from their balconies and windows at the start of the pandemic, the piece documents an evening performance outside Mirza’s studio (hrm199) for his neighbours during the UK’s second national lockdown in November 2020. Part recital, part voice experiment, year zero is performed by vocalist Sarah-Jane Lewis, wearing a costume designed by Osman Yousefzada, accompanied by an electronic score performed by musician Jack Jelfs. The work also features a performance by Alessandro Ravasio, a musician based in Bergamo, the Italian city most severely impacted by the first-wave of the pandemic.

A black and white photo of two people smiling at the camera.

Haroon Mirza & Jack Jelfs at CERN, Photographer Sophia Bennett. Courtesy hrm199

Peter Knott, Midlands Area Director for Arts Council England, yesterday said:

“Despite the challenges and personal tragedies that the pandemic has brought, it is heartening to see that artists like Mirza, have been inspired by the situation to create something positive and new.

“Being able to explore our experiences though art helps create connections between artists and audiences everywhere, and we’re proud to support Ikon as they showcase new work from their gallery in Birmingham to the wider world.”

Artist Haroon Mirza yesterday said:

“For this commission I was somehow compelled to think about a very local community and how we can connect to another community elsewhere through music, performance and storytelling. I saw it as an opportunity to both develop the fictional narrative of my modular opera but also bring something meaningful to being at home. As I developed the piece it became very much about breathing – the unconscious process we do at all times yet take for granted.”

Jonathan Watkins, Director, Ikon yesterday said:

“Haroon Mirza’s exhibition at Ikon was a highlight in our gallery programme. Covid-19 has since shifted our focus outdoors and into virtual space, where necessity is embraced as a source of inventiveness by artists and audiences alike. This impulse is epitomised by Haroon’s new operatic project, engendering a sense of community paradoxically through our shared experience of locked-down isolation. Music is the unlocking key.”  

Watch the premiere with Ikon Gallery on YouTube until 14 February 2021.


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