Taming the Horror Vacui – Introduction
Haseeb Ahmed & Guests

01.01.2020 – 30.06.2021

Rib presents Taming the Horror Vacui—a 1,5-year-long program unfolding the practice of artist Haseeb Ahmed (US/BE) in public, who has worked for over ten years with and around the phenomenon of wind exploring many of its guises. The trajectory consists of an evolving installation in Rib, a publication, and a series of workshops, lectures, and excursions.

The program entangles Ahmed’s practice with Rib and its global and local environment in Rotterdam-Zuid through the phenomenon of the wind. Wind is treated as a material and conceptual force, as model, instrument, and framework of architectural, meteorological, technological, mythological, art-historical, socio-political, economic, and recreational imagination. This program convenes practitioners from a variety of disciplines to elaborate on each of these aspects.

Over 12 public lecture and workshop sessions the program addresses the variety of metaphorical and material phenomena of fluidity. The accompanying publication by invited writer and art critic Piero Bisello is based on an exegetical model that makes public the materials made by Ahmed and the invited participants in the context of the installation at Rib, together with commentary by invited writers. It consists of 9 digital editions available on Rib’s website with a final compendium.

A wind tunnel resides at the heart of this project. Ahmed’s wind tunnel for Rib is designed to evolve with the topics of each lecture and available for use in workshops. Wind tunnels are made to model atmospheric conditions at a small and observable scale to aid in the design of vehicles, to cities, and garments. Because air has a fixed density, scaling realities into and out of wind tunnels is non-linear. Ahmed and Rib invite the public to ask, how can different realities exist at different scales simultaneously and how can we use the medium of the wind to understand the city, its architecture, and the experience of its inhabitants in ways other than those intended? A library of the winds archives public contributions made during workshops, neighbourly conversations, and collected and generated mythos of the wind. In a series of educational workshops with primary and secondary schools from the neighborhood we will open the topic of the wind to younger members of the public.

The concept of horror vacui dates back to Aristotle and is commonly known by the phrase “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Having a huge influence on physics, it is thought to be the reason why all fluids like air and water move—rushing to fill voids. The program takes its title from a 1979 essay by historian Richard Ettinghausen in which he explains the driving force of Islamic aesthetics throughout history to be the fear of empty space. Rich geometric ornamentation fills the emptiness of otherwise void desert spaces to create a sense of presence just—as fluid flows into voids. The link of psychology, art history, and physics already shows that ideology can be carried along with material. This concept, like the project at Rib expresses both artistic and scientific phenomena at once and what social anxieties and experiences move and are moved by them.

Haseeb Ahmed is a research-based artist. Originally from the US, he now lives and works in Brussels. He produces objects, site-specific installations, films, and writes for various publications. Often working collaboratively, Ahmed integrates methodologies from the hard sciences into his art production. His recently completed Wind Egg Trilogy blends art and aeronautics, myth and technology, to create new narratives for the present. It was developed with Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics (VKI) in Brussels for and was the subject of his first solo exhibition Harlan Levey Projects in Brussels who now represents him, his solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary art of Antwerp (BE), as well as the topic of his PhD in practice-based arts completed in 2018 as a collaboration between the VKI, University of Antwerp, Saint Lucas Antwerp School of Art and Design,and Zurich University of the Arts. Ahmed has been a lecturer at the latter two art universities as well as the Royal Academy of the Art in The Hague. His work with the wind and science began during his Masters from the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology, completed in 2010. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ahmed has been a resident at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht (NL), the Skowhegan School of Sculpture and Painting (US), a EU Commission STARTS Vertigo resident at the Brain and Emotion Laboratory at the University of Maastricht, La Becque Foundation among others. His work has been exhibited internationally including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (US), The Gothenburg International Biennial of Contemporary Art (SE), and De Appel in Amsterdam (NL).