Runa Islam was Born in Dhaka in Bangladesh in 1970 and lives and works in London. She studied at Middlesex University, followed by a studio residency at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Islam has taken the nature of film as her principal subject, examining its narrative structure and its relationship to reality. Her film installations and short single screen works recreate cinematic moments of enchantment and disclose the artificial, constructed nature of filmmaking itself.
All of the Islam’s works is referential, in the sense that it has developed out of the artist’s love of film as well as her critical interest in the methods of filmmaking itself. Fassbinder, Godard and Antonioni provide the horizon against which she creates her aesthetic that feels saturated with an aura of filmic nostalgia as well as with a charged and stylized sense of beauty. In this way, her films also hint at a post-modern idea of a collective film experience, whereby people, places and objects always seen uncannily familiar. In some cases, Islam has literally “remade” well-known passages of film in her own manner. “Tuin”(1998), for example, recreates an epic moment from Fassbinder’s film “Martha”(1973), where a unique 360-degree camera angle is used to describe a fleeting encounter between a man and a woman. Islam recast the scene in a formal, urban garden and recorded it from three different perspectives, in an attempt to materially deconstruct Fassbinder’s original.
Islam’s fragmented narratives are compelling and opaque at the same time, visually rich scenes that emphasize the impenetrability of human communication and personal language. Islam originally studied art history and philosophy and the act of intense observation and analysis of apparently simple events underpins all of her artistic output. “Stare Out(Blink)”(1998) depicts a young woman gazing intently at the viewer who suddenly disappears leaving the ghostly after image of her presence imprinted on the viewer’s retina. For Islam, the act of looking becomes a game between artist, viewer and subject where nothing is certain and everything is contingent. A lack of fulfillment and a frustration of the viewer’s gaze are present in many of her works. In the video “Turn(Gaze of Orpheus)” (1998), for example, a beautiful young woman slowly turns her head towards us; however, the viewer’s gaze is consistently deflected as the face of the girl never fully comes into our vision.
In 2002, Islam made Rapid Eye Movement, a complex film that sets out to explore the uncanny, almost mimetic analogy that can be made between the mechanism of film which records the past at 24 frames per second and the movement of the human eye during light sleep. Using the set-up of six people on a train as her central motif, Islam weaves together what you could describe as a “dream narrative”. an amalgamated series of stories where characters appear and re-appear, partial, fractured narratives illogically sequenced, linked together in a seemingly random manner like an individual’s train of thought. Islam resists an investigation into the romantic possibilities of the dream state and has instead used the trope of a “dream” as a vehicle, a structure that can house a myriad of different possible narratives, emotions, incidents and iconic, filmic motifs; a cognitive journey which can be seen as a parallel to the journey of the actual train itself. Real time and dream-time, fiction and reality are collaged together with abrupt, disjunctive edits in a desire to create loosely metaphoric associations as well as lay bare the mechanical process of film itself.