Haroon Mirza: The Construction of an Act Exhibition Kit

Haroon Mirza: The Construction of an Act is the first solo exhibition in Australia by London-based artist Haroon Mirza and brings together new commissions with existing artworks to showcase a decade of the artist’s practice. Mirza has created a new installation for ACCA that responds to the gallery’s unique architecture through a combination of sound, light and sculptural assemblage. The exhibition operates like a score, drawing upon the musical analogy of the artist as composer and the gallery as an instrument. Mirza’s intention is to engage viewers’ physical, visual and aural perceptions and to blur the boundaries between individual artworks within an immersive space. Mirza has an ongoing interest in the diverse ways that systems of belief are structured across far-ranging disciplines including science, religion, politics, technology, mysticism and medicine. Pursuing this inquiry, Mirza has invited collaborators to undertake residencies inside a studio within the gallery to co-produce a live performance that will respond to a real-life story of belief, mysticism and conflict.

How to use this kit

This exhibition kit has been written by ACCA Education to support learning alongside Haroon Mirza: The Construction of an Act. Three key artworks from the exhibition have been highlighted to prompt thinking and inquiry with students. Primary and secondary activities, mapped to the Victorian and Australian Curriculum, can be found in the section For Teachers.

List of works »

About the artists

Haroon Mirza is a London-based, British Pakistani artist who has a diverse art practice and extensive exhibition history. A major source of inspiration for Mirza are his formative experiences as a DJ. This can be clearly observed in his use of light and sound to create immersive environments that are reminiscent of darkened, sound soaked dance floors. 


Mirza frequently collaborates with other practitioners including dancers, musicians and composers. For the past fifteen years the artist has operated his studio under the company pseudonym hrm199 Ltd. By shifting from his name to that of a company Mirza aims to emphasise that his working process and output are inherently collaborative, and the result of many minds and skill sets coming together. Mirza has exhibited prolifically including recently at Sifang Art Museum, Nanjing, China (2019); Ikon, Birmingham, UK (2018); and Zabludowicz Collection, London, UK (2017). In 2018 Mirza undertook a two-month residency at European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Switzerland. He is represented by Lisson Gallery in London, New York and Shanghai and has had several books published on his work. 


Key Artworks

Haroon Mirza, Copy of Pavilion for optimisation 2019 (detail), bespoke media device, LED tape, microphone, pvc bucket, water, water pump, hose, showerhead, amp, horn speaker, mixer, ant farm, dimensions variable, installation view, Australian Centre of Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Commissioned by ACCA. Courtesy the artist. Photograph: Andrew Curtis

Copy of Pavilion for optimisation 2019

bespoke media device, LED tape, microphone, pvc bucket, water, water pump, hose, showerhead, amp, horn speaker, mixer, ant farm
dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist

The original concept for this artwork was developed in 2013 as Pavilion for optimisation, shown at Lisson Gallery in London. There were three main components of this original artwork – sounds of streaming water from a shower-head and an ant farm were amplified into a room painted white, which was illuminated intermittently by a flashing white LED strip. A later iteration of this work was exhibited at the Museum Tinguely, Basel, for which Mirza incorporated works by Jean Tinguely in lieu of the ant colony.


Spread across two unconnected gallery spaces, Copy of Pavilion for optimisation 2019 reconfigures the original concept in response to ACCA’s architecture. Entering the exhibition the viewer first encounters an empty ant formicarium, video footage of ants running across a microphone and the live sound of water from a showerhead hitting a plastic bin. This sound has been amplified via microphone and audio cable in ACCA’s largest gallery space at the end of the viewer’s journey. As the title describes, the work introduces audiences to the concept of optimisation – a methodology used in science, mathematics and technology to maximise efficiency. The flow of water and the movement of ants are just two natural systems at play in the work. Both are acoustically transported via electricity, the principal natural phenomenon alive in the artwork. The transportation of sound to ACCA’s largest gallery space was an intentional choice by Mirza, as the angular space has the qualities of a reverberation chamber. This second site for the artwork is illuminated by a strip of LED lights that runs from floor to ceiling. The lights fade intermittently, and once nearly dimmed, the amplification of sound from the first gallery space increases in volume, leaving the amplified sounds to reverberate in the darkened space. 

Haroon Mirza, The construction of an act 2019 (detail), 2-channel video and 8-channel electrical signals from the ‘Emerging Paradigm’ media device, steel, LED tape, carpet, Google Home device, 20:16 mins, installation view, Australian Centre of Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Soprano: Sarah-Jane Lewis. Commissioned by ACCA. Courtesy the artist. Photograph: Andrew Curtis

The construction of an act 2019

2-channel video and 8-channel electrical signals from the ‘Emerging Paradigm’ media device, steel, LED tape, carpet, Google Home device
20:16 mins
Soprano: Sarah-Jane Lewis
Courtesy the artist

The construction of an act 2019 is a new work commissioned for this exhibition that explores ideas around healing, communication, collaboration, authorship, truth and belief. The work spans two connected gallery spaces, featuring video footage in one gallery and an immersive light and sound installation in the next. The video is a collage of several elements, including the artist as a monkey Animoji, speaking with a Google Home device; and documentation of a session in the artist’s studio with British soprano Sarah-Jane Lewis. This element of the work speaks to Haroon’s interest in the impossibility of there ever being a single creator of an exhibition and the single authorial voice of the artist. The audio signal of this moving-image component is transmitted into an eight-channel sound installation in the adjacent gallery. 


A chandelier made of steel and LED lights hangs above the circular arrangement of speakers, creating a gathering space for audiences and performers to join in the simple ritual of coming together. Mirza constructs a careful balance between the aspects of this multi-sensory installation – dimmed lights afford the viewer the ability to be engulfed by the loud surround sound. The original duration of this sound-piece passes over twenty minutes, and over the course of the exhibition, Mirza and his musical collaborators will score, compose, perform and record a new track to be included in the artwork.

Green studio 2019

residencies and live performance in response to the exhibition Haroon Mirza: The Construction of an Act. Script: Haroon Mirza. Score: James Rushford. Performers: Jessica Aszodi, Alexander Garsden, James Rushford and Freya Schack- Arnott. Choreographer: Julie Cunningham. Dancers: Chess Boughey and Julie Cunningham. Courtesy the artists. Presented with Melbourne International Arts Festival and Liquid Architecture, with support from JMC Academy

The title Green studio is a combination of the names of spaces of a green room and studio. A green room is a space that performers can use before and after going onstage or performing. It is associated with backstage and is an area not open to the audience. Performers use a green room to either prepare before a performance, or unwind afterwards out of sight of anyone else. A studio differs from a green room because it is intended to be a productive space. It might be used by an artist to make artwork; a designer to prototype new designs; or a dancer to develop and practice choreography. It is also a ‘backstage’ space as it is generally not open to the public or other audiences.


In Green room Haroon Mirza has combined the qualities and functions of both types of space. During the exhibition different collaborators – a composer, musicians, dancers and writers – will occupy the space to co-create an artwork in response to a poetic sci-fi script that Mirza has provided. During their residencies Mirza’s collaborators will use a specially built space within ACCA’s largest gallery to both work and take time out. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to observe what is happening in Green studio through a viewing window in ACCA’s foyer. The artwork will both facilitate the creation of the performance The construction of an act and reveal to audiences the messiness of collaboration behind the scenes. This work relates strongly to Mirza’s interest in revealing to audiences the collaborative reality of making art before it is seen in the gallery – as audience members we will literally get to go ‘backstage’.

For Teachers

Primary activities


Distorted Ideas: Experimental Record Remixing


Part 1: Sound as art element

This activity is devised in response to Mirza’s use of sound in his exhibition at ACCA, in particular his attitude toward reorganising sound and noise within his artworks. This activity also connects to Mirza’s earlier career as a DJ and artworks that he has made incorporating vinyl records. A turntable is needed to experience the sound aspects of this activity. 


Students begin by watching this TATE studio visit with Haroon Mirza:



Students are to consider sound as a primary element within an artwork. They are to use everyday materials of a paper cup and sewing needle to amplify a vinyl record. At this stage the quality of the sound created and the science of how it is created (sonic vibration, amplification) can be discussed. From this point students manipulate their record manually. They can scratch the surface or drill a new spindle hole in the record to create different types of distortion. Alternatively, students could create a collage on a piece of cardboard in the shape of a vinyl record, as the artist demonstrates in the video. 


Part 2: Visual response 

After this experimental phase, students can create a visual element to accompany their sound artwork. This could be a label that they design for the centre of their record, using patterns and colours that reflect the sounds they are hearing. They can then learn about how certain patterns can create visual effects when the record is spinning, how this effect works on a scientific level. Alternatively, they could shoot a short video clip whilst their experimental record is playing as an audio-visual artwork. Students could exhibit their records as documents of their audio-visual performances.


Australian Curriculum / Visual Arts / Years F-6

Develop and apply techniques and processes when making their artworks (ACAVAM111) (ACAVAM115)

Victorian Curriculum / Visual Arts / Levels F-6

Visual Arts Practices (VCAVAV026), (VCAVAV030)

Curriculum Interpretation


This activity is devised in response to Mirza’s use of sound in his exhibition at ACCA, in particular his attitude toward reorganising sound and noise within his artworks. Students are encouraged to manipulate and experiment with combinations of various materials and technologies to create an outcome that is both sonic and visual.

By undertaking these activities, students:

  • explore sound an art element
  • translate sound to visual effect
  • select and experiment with forms, styles, materials and technologies
  • understand the science behind sound

Secondary activities


Constructing an Act: Experimental Noise Performance 


Part 1: The classroom as an instrument

Students are to consider how they could turn their classroom into an instrument and a stage. They experiment with noise and movement by considering what sounds come from different actions, and how actions create a physical performance. Using paper cups and pieces of string of varying lengths, students create paper cup telephones and learn about the scientific principles behind the function of the device. They can experiment in small groups, talking and listening, or recording sounds and listening. Students can loop the telephone string around different materials in the classroom – the leg of a desk, a door handle – and others can listen while one student taps on the surface near the loop. They could also create a 4-way link – where one telephone string is hooked around another. Finally, students draw a visual diagram of how they used the space as an instrument, aiming to describe one action and noise that they might like to perform. 


Part 2: The classroom as a stage

In groups, students will create a one-minute performance to be recorded. Elements of the performance will include sound, props, movement/dance, and light. Students split into small groups and share their ideas about the actions and noises they would like to perform. The group will be asked to collaborate and plan a performance in the classroom, using furniture and objects as instruments and props. Students should also decide on the level of lighting to be used for their performance – fluorescent, natural light or shade. The groups may also choose a conductor, and incorporate the string-telephones to play to the conductor’s command.

Australian Curriculum / Visual Arts / Years 7-10

Develop ways to enhance their intentions as artists through exploration of how artists use materials, techniques, technologies and processes (ACAVAM119)

Develop planning skills for art-making by exploring techniques and processes used by different artists (ACAVAM120)

Manipulate materials, techniques, technologies and processes to develop and represent their own artistic intentions (ACAVAM126)

Present ideas for displaying artworks and evaluate displays of artworks (ACAVAM129)

Victorian Curriculum / Visual Arts / Levels 7-10

Explore and Express Ideas (VCAVAE034), (VCAVAE041)

Visual Arts Practices (VCAVAV035), (VCAVAV042)

Present and Perform (VCAVAP037), (VCAVAP044)

Curriculum Interpretation


This activity is designed in response to Mirza’s new commission at ACCA, The construction of an act, and the idea of artist as composer. Considering how the artist used ACCA’s gallery as an instrument, students work collaboratively to replicate this idea in the classroom.


By undertaking these activities, students:

  • consider sound and performance within the visual arts
  • work with peers to creatively problem-solve
  • Using a contemporary artist as inspiration, experiment new with forms, materials and technologies

Terms of Use

This education resource has been produced by ACCA Education to provide information and classroom support material for education visits to the exhibition Haroon Mirza: The Construction of an Act. The reproduction and communication of this resource is permitted for educational purposes only.

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