The CAB is delighted to announce its new exhibition titled ‘The Fold’, which explores, under the curation of Michel Dewilde and Azar Mahmoudian, topics such as absence, disappearance, amnesia and the importance of memory set against the background of modern and contemporary Iran.
Inspired by ‘Le Pli’ (1988) of the French Philosopher Gilles Deleuze, the curators choose the fold as the leitmotif for the exhibition. Here, the concept of the fold functions in a variety of modalities including the psychological, historical and political level.
The image of the fold offers interesting starting points for different layers of the exhibition. For example, it combines at the same time the idea of a series of actions and a covering up. A fold can be opened or closed: it unfolds itself to the world or it can fold up. Simultaneously, it can hide certain dimensions or types of information, even only temporarily. In the end, the fold encloses the passing of time, it can suggest memory or the loss of it. The fold symbolizes the interval where time is suspended, while its cracks or fissures also refer to unseen dimensions.
The term can lead to a different understanding of one’s relationship to oneself, a world where the internal and external or past and present can no longer be located.
In this hyper-modern age, we witness an even greater embrace of the new, the belief in unlimited progress, the role of technology and the importance of the here and now. This hunger for instant changes results in the neglection of the memory, the past and history: on a personal level, it leads to alienation and to the loss of the self or on a larger scale, to the alteration of the collective memory. Records, facts or memories are enfolded and can hardly be remembered.
This situation is quite a paradox, given the fact that we are able to record, store and assess more facts and traces of the past than ever before.
The fold can refer to different conditions of modernity: the growing amnesia and the disappearance of the subject altogether. In the end, we find it in the process of modernist urbanisation with its cycles of replacement or destruction of the old and ancient. Finally, it produces its own protagonist: the figure of the lost and amnesic wanderer.
The exhibition ‘The Fold’, favors an intergenerational approach, confronting different aesthetic positions, spanning four decades of art in Iran. Beginning in the 1960’s modernist era, the show combines internationally renowned artists, such as Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, who started their career at a time of an imposed modernism, with others who were living abroad or in exile and emerged in the 80s and early 90s, such as Chohreh Feyzdjou and Reza Abdoh. These artists are brought together with representatives of the most recent generations such as Shirin Sabahi or Mani Manzinani. The exhibition combines unique existing art works with site-specific creations by Parastou Forouhar, Homayoun Sirizi and Arash Hanaei. The use of the mirror state, of the reflection, but also of the notion of the absent, the invisible or the wanted or forced amnesia and alienation are recurrent themes in their different art practices.
Michel Dewilde is a curator and art historian based in Ghent (B). He curated exhibitions for the MSK & SMAK museums (Ghent), the Art foundation Gynaika (Antwerp), the CC Bruges and worked freelance. Since 1996 he organised several projects with Iranian artists such as: Shirin Neshat, Chohreh Feyzdjou, Shadi Ghadirian, Bita Fayyazi, Neda Razavipour, Simin Keramati, Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Shirin Sabahi, Sona Safaei, Baktash Sarang Javanbakht, etc.
Azar Mahmoudian is a freelance art critic and curator based in Tehran and London. She studied at Goldsmiths, University of London, as a recipient of the Schevening scholarship in 2008. Her research interests have been mainly focused on transcultural circulations and politics of display. In 2010 she co-curated the archive and documentary series on representations of Iranian contemporary art beyond the borders in Bruges, Belgium, as part of the project “Iran and co”. Since then, she has collaborated with Tehran based project spaces and worked as a researcher, associate editor and university lecturer in Tehran.
Shirin Sabahi (*Tehran, 1984) is based in Copenhagen. working mainly with time-based media, she uses image as the primary material in her works and text as the interlocutor of ideas embedded in the image. Ranging from video and slide projection installations to collages, artist books and movie subtitles, her projects often develop from the tracing of the visual and textual material she collects. In her artistic practice, she addresses interpretations and identifications encouraged by language and image in relation to different temporalities. She uses translation and transformation and plays with formats and rituals to fabricate and perceive art in a broader sense and meaning. Sabahi’s recent projects address the rituals and formats of production, distribution and consumption of cultural goods.
“In the flipping pages of the book, a man signs three words ‘I’, ‘Love’ and ‘Man’ in two different orders. Depending on how the book is held in hand, he signs either ‘Man I Love’ or ‘Man Loves I’. The signing is a re-enactment of Lutz Förster’s choreography for Gershwin brothers’ song ‘The Man I Love’ as a sign-language dance. The book flips from both ends in a loop of uncertainty prompting ‘(s)he loves me, (s)he loves me not’ game where chance speaks for the reciprocity of affection.”
“Product of Chohreh Fezdjou is not a product, but a volume of black air” Chen zen
What the work of Chohreh Feyzdjou (*Tehran, 1955 – Paris, 1996) is famous for, is the almost systematic use of black. Deep black, mysterious and disturbing, from a mixture of melted wax and black pigment or subtle black, nuanced, consisting of a coating of walnut.
These two types of black lay a veil of dust on the Products of and identify if not stigmatize the work. In the late 80s, the artist retrained her previous productions (drawings, paintings, found objects) in a single material / memory she started naming Products of Chohreh Feyzdjou, as from 1989 onwards. The Products form a coherent group and are organized into sets of identifiable letters and digits: a letter followed by a serial number and the year.
Homayoun Sirizi (*Kerman, 1981) works as an artist and critic based in Tehran. Sometimes, he displays his concerns about philosophy, politics and art in the gallery space. His works are mainly focused on the relation between the state, the capital and the social domain.
Keep Right, his latest piece, is commissioned by the CAB.
Behind one of the walls of the gallery, the sounds of weak poundings can hardly be heard. If decoded on the basis of the conventional communication system used by Iran’s political prisoners in the 80s, the sounds indicate the presence of someone on the other side of the wall.
Ahmad Aali (*Tabriz, 1935), a key figure in Iranian photography and painting from the 1960s and 70s, is renowned for his serial photographs of urban spaces. His photographs of city walls covered in graffiti illustrate his attention to the aesthetic of everyday spaces. In the years preceding 1978, when the whole country was in a state of upheaval, street facades were covered with slogans, some painted over with thousands of unexpected forms. Repetition is a recurring element in his works… repetition of a story, a shape and a meaning. while Aali’s work follows a formalistic mandate, the viewer who holds a memory of the slogans hidden beneath the retouch, can recall and relate to another dimension of these visual cues.
Due to his interventions in the subject, his work appears less as a form of documentation than as a search for aesthetic beauty.
Ahmad Aali, 1963
The visionary theater director and playwright Reza Abdoh (*Tehran, 1963 – New york, 1995) is present in the exhibition with the video ‘Hip-Hop waltz of Eurydice (1990)’ which was part of the play with the same name. I had the opportunity to see one of his memorable plays performed by his company Dar a Luz during their European tour in the early ‘90. I experienced Abdoh’s brilliant mix of theater, dance, video, film, performance and music, a post-modern assemblage of narratives and merge of cultural genres. He provided a multi layered analysis and combined different, often simultaneous critical positions on different forms of bias and sexual, political and cultural forms of repression within the same play.
Parastou Forouhar’s artworks almost always make a political point without ever relinquishing their aesthetic sovereignty. Her art represents a textile-like interweaving of contrasts. She often lets the gaze oscillate between the breathtaking beauty of the ornamental and the masked brutality underlying its symmetrical order. Even in her artistic representation of the most brutal exercise of political violence, the sensitive, the vulnerable, and that which is in need of protection takes centre stage. She is a master of grief and play. Her works seem to say: see how beautiful and seductive loss can be made to look. Parastou Forouhar presents this precarious condition with an ease and joy that is at the same time touching and dizzying.
Dr. Shulamit Bruckstein
Barbad Golshiri is an artist, critic, and tombstone maker. His media vary from video, installation, photography and documented performance to comic books and critical writing. He is also a translator and editor of Samuel Beckett’s dramatic works in Persian. Most of his works are language-based and contend with art and literature’s plane of the feasible; with the impossibility of quitting the possible field of expression; with the aporia of expressing not to express. He has described his major approach towards plastic and visual arts as ‘Aplasticism’, a plasticism that tends towards sightlessness; a visual art that nullifies the visual perception and yet still remains a plasticism. Golshiri has also been portrayed as a critic of the current socio-political situation in Iran, of the hegemony of the new art market of the region and of the living doxas.
Arash Hanaei, (*Tehran, 1978) is based in Paris. with a background in graphic design and photography, Hanaei has mainly been focussing on digital drawing in his latest series. while concentrating on the paradoxes between the imagery and slogans of our era and giving them a sarcastic look, Hanaei recreates actual events and reproduces images found in mass media or online sources.
His latest piece Behesht-e Zahra (from the Capital series) was commissioned by the CAB.
Shirdel’s films are regarded important references for social documentary and filmmaking in Iran.
After his extensive studies in Rome, Shirdel returned to Tehran in 1965 and started directing documentaries for the Ministry of Culture and Art. Over the next three years, he directed his most renowned socio-political documentaries. In these six films Shirdel revealed a hidden and darker side of Iran’s economic boom, analysing the effects of a society flushed with oil money. These films were steeped in a deep social consciousness reminiscent of the Italian Neo-realist tradition, the cinema that had influenced him during his studies in Rome. Shirdel’s incisive documentaries and cinematic language were heavily contested during the Shah’s regime, because they brought attention to the underprivileged and exposed the corruption of the mechanism of power.
BAKTASH SARANG JAVANBAKTH
Experiencing various media, ranging from photography to sculpture or print and drawing, he has been mostly engaged in a biographical approach and in the construction of a personal archive.
“The turning pages of my books mark the passing of time, and I observe how things change.
Our desires are insatiable… Different desires turn in circles, and at the same time, their story ends with a metamorphosis. The red book is engaged in these two circles, turning simultaneously in two different and inverse directions. Each circle thus annuls the movement of the other, and yet, there is an infinite movement.
I was immersed in these circles and in order to break out, I set out to travel throughout Iran. I began by visiting various chelleh khanehs. Traditionally, chelleh khanehs are designed to bring people closer to God and to purify them. Believers stay in these small dark rooms for 40 days, where there is no space to stand up or to lie down, and thus remain seated and continuously pray.
After this experience of closure, I visited the vast open mountains to work on the black book, spending days and nights wandering through dark and unknown trails, without seeing or speaking to anyone. This retreat allowed me to break out of the circles and to observe the mechanisms of desire from the outside looking in. This book is inspired by Rilke’s poetry, which tells of black clad monks who lived in a monastery many years ago.
And then there’s the golden book without pages, containing only an image of a cube on the golden ground. This simple shape, which represents the sacred, allows one to decipher the true system of the circles and their continuous movement. It is a sensitive system, delicate and fragile, like the rustling of leaves in the wind.”
Mani Mazinani is a multidisciplinary artist based in Toronto. He has produced work using various media, ranging from video, installation, music and painting to photography, printmaking, performance, film and sound.
Mazinani thinks about thinking. In his work, he records thoughts with the intention to cause a transfer of concentration. He is interested in the nature of things and in the metaphysical bridge between perception and reality. In his multidisciplinary practice, Mazinani directs attention to the physicality and logic of his subject medium in order to make things available for understanding. Here, the ancient philosophy and contemporary concerns intersect to create experimental environments for the audience.
MONIR SHAHROUDY FARMANFARMAIAN
The work of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian occupies a pivotal role in the history of modern and contemporary art in Iran and far beyond. Consequently, she is the central figure in the exhibition at the CAB, where she is present with four works, spanning the period from 1970 till now.
Throughout her career, which seriously started in the 60’s, Shahroudy’s artistic practice consisted of a unique dialogue between local Iranian motifs and a personal interpretation of different forms of international late modernist art. In that respect she is in the first place renowned for her geometric mirror-works, which she developed from the late 60’s onwards. However, she is proficient in many other domains such as drawings, sculptures, collage, assemblage, etc. Being fascinated by the ancient Iranian mirror-mosaics dating back to the sixteenth century, she decided to incorporate these motifs and techniques into her practice: ‘I came home from Shiraz fired up with ideas, determined to bring the mirror mosaics into my own work.’ Shahroudy composes her fascinating mirror-sculptures out of a number of complex polygons, which she subsequently shapes with a range of geometric forms. The choice of these motifs and patterns is not incidental, as Shahroudy clearly resorts to ancient Islamic culture and Sufi iconography in particular: ‘I read upon Sufi cosmology and the arcane symbolism of shapes, how the universe is expressed through points and lines and angles, how form is born in numbers and the elements lock in the hexagon. I traced the logic of the great Iranian astronomers,…The artist transforms and decontextualizes this Sufi iconography and interweaves it with her interpretation of modernist visual languages: ‘The geometric patterns began to infiltrate my own art. I used them not quite faithfully but with a minimalist twist, relishing the clean, modern lines that appeared when the mathematical logic was distilled from the traditional designs’3 Shahroudy’s multifaceted sculptures mirror and diffract their context through complex manipulations of folding. Her mirror-structures encompass and reflect the onlooker and his surroundings, they record shards of an elusive and short-lived memory. In a way, the onlooker’s image is absorbed into a folded plane where it disappears, but at the same time it also defers and extends the reflection beyond the mirror. Paraphrasing Gaston Bachelard in ‘L’ eau et les rêves’: the fractured mirrors offer the possibility of an open imagination, they perpetuate beauty beyond the reflecting surface.