Haroon Mirza stages a socially-distanced, modular opera, year zero

Inspired by viral footage of Italians singing from their balconies and windows at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

year zero is the latest iteration of Haroon Mirza’s ‘modular opera’ series, featuring works written by Mirza and realised in collaboration with musicians, artists and designers.

Drawing inspiration from viral footage of Italians singing from their balconies and windows at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mirza considers these communal, hyper-local performances as emblematic of a collective optimism and a unifying connection to, and through, music.

Exploring twin narrative elements of pandemic-induced lockdown and a shamanic reconnection with the powerful forces of nature through ancient cultural practice, the artist connects a recital from vocalist Sarah-Jane Lewis with a balcony performance from Alessandro Ravasio, a musician based in Bergamo, the Italian city most severely impacted by the first wave of the pandemic.

Set against an electronic score by Jack Jelfs and staged adjacent to images of nature, foraging and dancing, the two performances are brought together within a digital space. “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,” explains Mirza. “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.”

Sarah-Jane Lewis’s performance was programmed by Mirza during the UK’s second national lockdown back In November 2020, and was staged in the residential courtyard where Mirza’s studio is located for his neighbours that share the building. Lewis appears in a costume of gold lamé and electric blue body paint designed by Osman Yousefzada for a previous performance at the Lahore Biennale 2020.

year zero was a new commission by Ikon Gallery, with Art Fund support.

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