Multimedia artists Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian turn Italy’s OGR into a playground of alien commentary.
Operating as dastgah(s), or painting machines, the trio emphasises the importance of ‘post-ego’ collaboration.
In her poem Under One Small Star, Wisława Szymborska writes:
I apologise for my record of minuets to those who cry from the depths.
I apologise to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today at five a.m.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time…
My apologies to the felled tree for the table’s four legs.
My apologies to great questions for small answers.
Truth, please don’t pay me much attention…
My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and each man.
Here Szymborska serves as patron saint of serial apologisers, of those who labour with words and navigate between scattered thoughts. The Iranian artist collective – consisting of Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian – has decided to use this poem and its apologetic tone as the forefront text of their ongoing exhibition “Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home”. But while the poem’s tumbling sentiment meanders along a string of interconnected regrets, the exhibition speaks to the artists’ ability to take bits and pieces from other sources, incorporate fragmented sources into their work and take part in a cross-cultural, cross-temporal and cross-practice collaboration.
Curated by Abaseh Mirvali, “Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home” at Officine Grandi Riparazioni (OGR) is the trio’s first solo show in an Italian institution. The phrase ‘solo show’ must, however, be taken lightly, as the artists have developed a career based around co-operation; and while each is known to have a thriving individual practice, there is a magnetising element to their work, pulling themselves, their disjointed and multifaceted research endeavours and myriad interests together. Currently based in Dubai, the Iranian trio has taken over OGR’s dynamic space in a multitudinous, site-specific installation, serving as an extension to Rokni Haerizadeh’s acceptance of the OGR Prize during the 2017 edition of Artissima.
Reflections on collaboration
The signifying element of the collective’s work is a form of collaboration that “doesn’t suppress individualism”, but supports it. Having worked together since the late 1990s, their practice offers up a novel redefinition of the collective, growing and transforming it to invite friends, writers and fellow artists to co-create. Their work adopts and utilises an array of references whilst embracing “what is considered marginal, wasted, wrong, messed up, useless, and taken for granted”. And while their singular practices differ stylistically, they find common ground in political and social reflection and the ritual of “post-ego practice”.
For years, Ramin Haerizadeh has been constructing an archive of personal photographs and documentary images from the 1978 Iranian Revolution. Examining what he calls a “sense of historical schizophrenia”, Ramin looks for the humour and curiosity that stems from the entanglements of fact and fiction, of truth and fabricated events.
Hesam Rahmanian’s work, on the other hand, finds itself concerned with corners: those places where, as Fred Moten says, “sight and work converge”. Hesam’s approach to painting and assemblage is based around the found object, implementing old shoes, gardening tools, toiletries, paint brushes and fruit boxes, and combining them in order to create a witty archive of detritus.
Meanwhile, Rokni Haerizadeh re-tells contemporary history by repainting over mediatic images of current affairs. In selecting iconic and “newsworthy” photographs, Rokni comments on the performativity of journalism, showing us that images of natural disaster, war, protest, immigration and political strife are often more entertaining than informative.
Whilst living together, the artists’ disjointed methods of creation have somehow been woven together, creating a unique visual language that allows them to collaboratively work on different and stratified topics. Aware that their practice does revolve around their solo contributions, but exists thanks to the contributions of other artists, carpenters, art-handlers, technicians, light designers, Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian sidestep authorship, giving ample credit to those who have become part of their productive processes. For this reason, and with a nod to the members of the Fluxus group, the trio does not consider their installative spaces to be works of art, but rather processes of exploration, evanescent and ephemeral as they may be. In an interview with ArtAsiaPacific, the group elaborates on their collective working model:
In the art world, we are practicing to make a space, an ambiance for equality to thrive – we have artworks by other artists, ordinary objects and then our own artworks… It’s about finding a new idea, a new arrangement. If we as human beings can deal with our ego, and if we can erase the question of money and spend time together, then we can move beyond the ego… Whatever we earn from art, we put back into art.
“Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home”
“Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home” is a result of a two-week intensive gallery takeover. It does not seek to be a retrospective or a generic presentation of the artists’ oeuvre, but is, instead, an on-site demonstration of how each incorporates their own work in a heterogeneous brainchild. As a site-specific project (using OGR’s Duomo as a temporary atelier), the group has made their inclusively eccentric world manifest.
An integral part of the project was the creation of the artists’ alter egos, or dastgah(s), a Farsi term meaning ‘device or machine’. Turning into dastgah(s), the artists perform a continuous and repetitive act as if they were, themselves, machines, whose imperative it is to create. The exhibition thus presents an eerie and otherworldly realm full of “anthropomorphic, phytomorphic or zoomorphic” creatures, the only feasible product of a detached dastagah’s imagination. Reinterpreting the objet trouvé through new, innovative eyes, the artists take mundane objects and offer them up for reinterpretation: here, fragmented, battered or overlooked objects are reinvented in a parallel world, a place that is so far removed, yet reminiscent of contemporary society and its struggles.
While the trio wishes to draw attention to “the great social themes” that afflict daily life, “Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home” does not attempt to deliver any moral message to the viewer; rather, by quoting and decontextualising different sources, they speak from a place of detachment, forcing us to re-read and reinterpret reality with new, heightened awareness. The exhibition begins with Black Hair, a video-installation constructed to look like a film set. Entering the piece, viewers are immediately transported to another place and time, and are instructed to interact with the video’s scenography, thereby transferring the artists’ fictitious world into the real one of the gallery space, blurring the existing boundaries between both.
Viewers then make their way through Slice a Slanted Arc Into Dry Paper Sky, an exhibition-within-exhibition that artists and their dastgah(s) have built in response to Jean Genet’s play The Maids. Inside the space, audiences watch as the protagonists of the main video re-arrange a series of artworks by Hassan Sharif, Annette Messager and Jean Rustin, among others.
Once outside the installation, viewers are confronted by Collected stories by Niyaz and Lo’Bat, a biomorphic creature appearing to be something between a robot and a jellyfish with embroidered wings.
Near the end of the exhibition, viewers encounter the ‘moving painting’ From Sea to Dawn, a rotoscope video of news broadcasts with manipulated stories; the piece engages different political and social commentaries through the use of popular, publicly-sourced images. We see thousands of sequential stills from YouTube videos about the migration crisis or recent Syrian conflicts, but in place of newscasters, victims and journalists, there is a bizarre troop of half-human, half-animal hybrids. The curator elaborates in the exhibition’s catalogue:
What had been presented as documentary footage becomes an allegorical expression of the universality of violent oppression, something that has become familiar to the point of being ignored, taking voyeuristic pleasure in the spectacle of tragedy and catastrophe.
Szymborska’s poem ends with the sombre line:
Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words / then labour heavily so that they may seem light.
It is apparent that the poet is an ironist, but for her, irony becomes a playful, almost whimsical tool by which fact and emotional investment are examined. She demonstrates that the poet – the artist – is an acrobat who moves with “laborious ease, with patient agility, with calculated inspiration”. “Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home” follows this flipping, twirling and flexible trajectory, morphing between fields, projects, practices and ideas.
“Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home” is on view from 12 July to 30 September 2018 at Officine Grandi Riparazioni, Corso Castelfidardo, 22, 10138 Turin, Italy.
- Past and Present in Iranian art: “In the Fields of Empty Days” at LACMA – curator interview – September 2018 – Art Radar got in touch with curator Linda Komaroff to discuss the exhibition’s approach to time, tradition and the ethics of (cultural) appropriation
- “The World Is My Home”: Iranian artists ponder forms of belonging at ADVOCARTSY’s The Space – May 2018 – The Space at ADVOCARTSY presents “The World Is My Home”, a group exhibition deciphering a ‘New Iranian Cultural Identity’
- “Ishra”: UAE-based artists explore signs, symbols and shared languages at Alserkal Avenue, Dubai – March 2018 – the show features new works by 10 UAE-based artists and is curated by Karin Sultan
- “Fragile, Handle With Care”: Iranian artist Gohar Dashti at Officine dell’Immagine, Milan – March 2018 – Gohar Dashti’s “Fragile, Handle With Care” investigates the relationship between humans and nature
- “The Creative Act: Performance, Process, Presence” from the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum collection: a transcultural perspective on art since the 1960s – May 2017 – “The Creative Act: Performance, Process, Presence” brings together over 18 artists from the 1960s until now
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