Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery is something of a hidden gem in west London. A short walk from Ealing Broadway, the Regency manor house on the edge of Walpole Park was designed and built by the architect Sir John Soane between 1800 and 1804 and served as his country retreat in then-rural Ealing. Pitzhanger Manor may be a large residence, but its spaces are still on a domestic scale. That fact perhaps helps to explain why the sculptures and installations in Rana Begum’s “Dappled Light” (on view through September 11, 2022), work so well here. The dedicated gallery shows off a new large-scale installation in its airy, light-filled space, while other pieces respond to the more intimate spaces of the house—the stairwell, the conservatory, and the basement Monk’s Dining Room—as well as the garden.
“Dappled Light” focuses largely, but not exclusively, on three-dimensional work. The central sculptural installation in the gallery, No. 1081 Mesh (2021), seems to billow under the domed glass ceiling, acting as a conduit between viewers and the outside world, filtering daylight from the window above and drawing attention to the colored glass. Begum’s softly colored, cloud-like forms belie their material reality, appearing more like candy floss than powder-coated galvanized steel. Inside the house, the spray-painted fishing net of No. 1127 Net (2021) hangs in dramatic swathes in the stairwell. The boldness of the colors—luminous pink, green, orange, and blue—contrasts with the gently curving drapery. Six Reflector works (all 2019) stand erect in the conservatory, approximations for the human form. The outdoor light and surroundings of Walpole Park beyond the glass reflect off these works and toward visitors, creating an experiential conversation that engages the viewer, the work, the building, and the landscape beyond. This space was originally designed by Soane to allow guests to meander and study his sculpture collection while also bringing nature into the house. Begum’s Reflector works perform a similar function. Downstairs in the Monk’s Dining Room, Begum’s first-ever video work, No. 1080 Forest (2021), gives a hypnotic time-lapse view of a slowly changing forest scene. With mesmerizing imagery entirely appropriate for this intimate space, the film provides an extension of Begum’s sculptural strategies upstairs, reflecting, bathing in, and dappling light, all the time in productive dialogue with the Regency architecture.
On the other side of London, No. 1104 Catching Colour, a site-specific work installed in Botanic Square on London City Island, brings Begum’s interest in light, space, and visual experience to the outdoors. It is very similar in structure and appearance to No. 1081 Mesh at Pitzhanger Manor, absorbing and reflecting varied densities of light. Here, however, the powder-coated mesh cloud forms, which sway in the breeze, are surrounded by towering 21st-century architecture. Rather than opening a dialogue with the surrounding buildings, Catching Colour is dwarfed by them. Somewhat lost and forlorn in the midst of this contemporary urban setting, it seems oddly displaced and silenced, and disappointing when compared to Begum’s exhibition at Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery. If you only have time for one of these two presentations of Begum’s work, head for “Dappled Light” and Begum’s highly intelligent interventions in Regency architecture.