All the Letters in All the Stars is Timo Nasseri’s first solo show in the Middle East. In it he fuses philosophy, quantum mechanics, calligraphic precision and a romantic conclusion to an ancient story.
Timo Nasseri’s Unknown Letters (2015) are a fantasy but couched in reality. He uses the actual historical account of Ibn Muqla – a 10th century calligrapher from Baghdad who believed that the Arabic written language was missing four letters – and takes on the search for these lost letters by turning his attention to the night sky.
To justify this, he also delves into the world of quantum mechanics where he references Jorge Luis Borges’ 1941 story The Library of Babel, which describes an almost infinite library containing every possible combination of letters in a vast collection of 410-page books. By combining these two stories and a myriad of other strands of thought and concept – ranging from Islamic geometry to Western notions of perspective and precise mathematical equations – Nasseri suggests that: “Like in Borges’ library, if any combination of any star is possible, then all of the letters must be somewhere in all of the stars, you just have to look for them.”
The exhibition therefore charts a mysterious story presented in the language of geometry and mathematics. Every piece in the exhibition, from small abstract doodles pinned to a thought board, to the incredibly complex white ink on black paper drawings that resemble blueprints for architectural masterpieces that could be crafted in the stars, are all mind-blowingly precise in rendition and immensely meditative in content.
“I am fascinated by the visual language of mathematics,” he says. “And, because I’m an artist, it doesn’t have to be completely logical. For me, my tool box is full of mathematics, geometry and drawing, which I am using in an artistic rather than a scientific language.”
To traverse this exhibition is also to voyage across centuries and dimensions. The Ibn Muqla story is condensed into the four wooden sculptures of the letters that were once lost and culminates in a beautiful mahogany inlay work depicting the actual star chart of the sky above Baghdad in the 10th century. Then, Borges’ story and the related theories of quantum mechanics are illustrated with a wall filled with 54 painstakingly drawn but imagined constellations titled I saw all the letters (2017).
The show’s thematic strains all culminate in a central room fully lined with triangular mirrors, which take reference from Islamic geometry – something central to Nasseri’s practice – and also feed nicely into the current and global obsession with the self/selfie.
The success of Nasseri’s practice comes in the deep thinking behind each work, their stunning and meticulous aesthetics and the pathways of concept and reference that link each one. The mathematical base for his practice is at times, achingly complex and at others, strangely freeing in its possibilities. Perhaps this is a metaphor for lived experience.
It is almost unbelievable that this is Nasseri’s first regional show. It is long overdue and very welcome.
All the Letters in All the Stars runs until February 23, Maraya Art Centre, Al Qasba, Sharjah. www.maraya.ae