Letter from the Editor: What to Forecast?
Welcome to the latest, and the third consecutive issue of The Current Express, dedicated this time to Weather and Sports — content which often is considered as the lighter and more popular side of des affaires courantes. But might these rather docile topics also have critical, societal, controversial, aesthetic or personal dimensions worth considering? How do the ideas of nature and landscape, representations of the environment or our physical selves in the world (whether in a team or in the society) manifest themselves in the contemporary Iranian context, or in general?
While the original connection between the two topics comes from their everyday presence on the global news platforms, it is perhaps both interesting and fruitfully problematic to further try and think of them as a pairing, with all their various connections and conflicting qualities. Because what is special about all things mundane and popular, is the fact that they are truly familiar to all, but for an artistic inquiry, engaging with mass culture on an eye-to-eye level, is actually a rarity.
Speaking of Weather
We couldn’t ask for a better day for the first day of Spring. Right now it’s fifteen degrees and clear. We’re expecting blue skies throughout the day. Though there is only a ten percent chance of showers, this good weather can’t last forever. It’s raining cats and dogs up north, so we should see rain by morning. Don’t forget your umbrella tomorrow. Now, stay tuned for local news. (source)
Everyone has an opinion about weather. Our ancient existence of living in and with nature is still deeply coded into our uninhibited, empirical and oddly scientific interest in weather and the expressions and proverbs around it. Today, as we also consume weather, the visual format for receiving weather reports has become so standardized that it looks almost identical around the world. There is also the casual banter, the talk around preppy presentations that is engaging but can also seem infinitely repetitive. There seems to exist both visual and oral forms of weather iconography?
Watching a weather forecast video clip posted online from an Iranian TV channel, made me wonder if the technologically flawless but perhaps Wittgensteinian performance of the weather anchor perfectly exemplifies the strange tension of professional neutrality and visibility that we place on the seeming benevolence of meek topics, such as weather or nature. How should we view a performance or a production that we know will keep within predetermined limits? What happens when, occasionally, the weather turns extreme? And as if to disrupt the continuous reports, what about the looming changes in the global climate? Perhaps these are lightweight metaphors, but I can’t help but thinking if there is something about our daily obsession with weather that comforts us by telling us only what we want to hear — and maybe the same mechanism is sometimes found at work in artistic expression too?
On the other hand, even though predictable by its format, the weather forecast is nevertheless based on meteorological science, computer models, calculation methods, all trying to figure out highly chaotic systems — representing in a way, a scientific visualization of nature. There is also a clear discontinuance between the popularity of weather or nature and the science behind it. What is perhaps an interesting avenue of thought, is to consider the scientific performance and research interest as a producer also in the cultural sense. Whereas artists often more freely get to describe and determine their relationship with their subjects, it is equally interesting to think how a scientist really sees or at times obsesses about the objects of their study. (Hydrologist Ali Nazemi describes his personal relationship with nature among other thoughts later in the issue.) Ultimately, there is still something similar in the focused, deep quality of observation in gazing at the sky and describing it either as an atmosphere, or as a color.
The Pleasant Landscape
Landscape painting, also known as landscape art, is the depiction in art of landscapes – natural scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, and forests, especially where the main subject is a wide view – with its elements arranged into a coherent composition. In other works landscape backgrounds for figures can still form an important part of the work. Sky is almost always included in the view, and weather is often an element of the composition. Detailed landscapes as a distinct subject are not found in all artistic traditions, and develop when there is already a sophisticated tradition of representing other subjects. (source)
It feels like among questions that have become almost extinct in arts today, is: Do you like landscapes? Similar to the pleasantries exchanged regarding the weather, the traditional viewing of landscapes is that they are predetermined as beautiful to look at, while containing very little conceptual criticality to make them current enough for the contemporary viewer. Yet, amidst the changing environment and globally growing cities, the landscape has recently re-emerged as a topic. And certainly, some works chosen for this issue (seen further below) depict exactly these observations in the contemporary Iranian context, suggesting also alternative viewings of changes in nature, such as our position in the man-made vs. the natural world, while using also more contemporary forms media in the representation. But regarding the above description of landscape painting, what also becomes of interest, is the very idea and the historical perception of landscape and nature of Iran. Or, as the text suggests: Is it found only within the Iranian modernity?
Because, the idea of pure landscape does not independently appear in the Persian artistic tradition. Instead, nature is more often described in poetry and depicted as ornaments and illustrations for manuscripts, in paradise-like contained gardens and as distant mountain views, filled with colorful flora and fauna. Prior to the subsequent Western influences, the natural world would appear as miniatures, as if to downplay its status in line with the taboo on figurative depictions. Still, as shown in the image above, the epic Persian hero Rustam would be pictured sleeping on his mattress, fully surrounded by lush trees and precisely painted vegetation. This “being in nature” (similar to what artist Behnam Sadighi mentions further down in his interview for this issue), the total submersion in the forest, and its ornate, perfected richness suggests an idealistic relationship with nature and the traditional representation. Once again, it might be a naive question to ask, but against this kind of imagery where the landscape remains as a scenic element for other forms of storytelling, is the idea of landscape also somewhat different seen from the Iranian contemporaneity because of the historical “scarcity” of landscape as a genre? What does going into nature mean in the Iranian context, and does the history of landscape lie elsewhere than in visual arts, and if so, where? Or, does this really matter anymore, as we might simply be approaching a global idea of landscape — a far more brutal form of scenography?
Everybody Loves Sports
“IF you go to Iran, you will see football in the DNA of the people,” Iran’s coach Carlos Queiroz tells The Weekend Australian, January 03, 2015. (source)
If art is considered as something high brow, sports is often seen as the opposite. Yet, precisely the mass appeal of sports generates the social and physical manifestations that often turn up as the subjects of contemporary cultural practices. Recently, it seems that film has became a current medium in this aspect. In San Siro (2014), Yuri Ancarani depicts the eponymous Milanese football stadium with scientific and even forensic precision, turning the gaze away from the spectacle itself, towards the metabolism of the game site and the surrounding culture and its imposing and machinist architecture. Similarly, rather than the sport itself, Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi’s Offside (2006) tackles the social and spatial exclusion of women spectators in attempts to follow and attend a World Cup football match between Iran and Bahrain.
While perhaps as generic as the weather report, news of sports and the broadcasting style of sporting events seem happily capable of hiding other aspects of their innate qualities. For, naturally, sports has a connection to the athletic body, the individual mind as well as our position in a team of other players and games. On the other hand, our bodies too are natural, yet they still define us as individuals, as well as gendered and sexual beings. But much of what constitutes the world of sports, seems to circle around very different kinds of cultural echelons than arts. In sports, the depictions of the human body happens in the epic and heroic context, rather than as objects of desire. Similarly, otherwise almost ancient behavioral rules of honor and non-rational fanaticism over victory seem normalized in sports, whereas similar behavior outside of the spectacle would seem out of place.
On one hand, like the art world, the current culture of sports and its visuals is extremely transnational, where — unlike in cultural practices — questions of the Western-centric and globalized world view of mega events and their visual and financial details are almost non-existent. In this aspect, there certainly is something comical about saying that football is a genetic quality of a nation, thus part of nature. On the other hand, Iran too aims to export its culture of sports to other regions, generating equally “strange” hybridities of traditions and contemporaneity, spreading the athletic pahlevani and zoorkhaneh rituals, along with their specific facilities, sites and cultural aspects. In the end, it could be asked if sports (or the results, representation and performance of sports) counts as a form of cultural operation? And if it does, should we view it also differently?
The Express Interviews
With each issue, The Current Express aims to reach out to artists, curators, writers, thinkers and other individuals with questions in line of the theme of the issue, to discover their thoughts and insights beyond the visible archive.
Behnam Sadighi is an artist working predominantly with photography. His casual yet meticulous image series often look into social phenomena, issues of modern society and changing urban, rural and cultural places and conditions, as well as our relationship with nature. He lives and works in Tehran.
1. How do you view nature, or the landscape in your practice?
In general, I see nature as an important part of human existence, not just because of its effects on living conditions, but also for thinking about how we can become closer to the notion of self. I think we all like to be in nature, to explore and find new positions within our lives, conceptually. Currently, it seems we may need to redefine what we want and what we don’t want as individuals. In my work, however, we do go out to nature for relaxation, but I still see nature as a place we can’t really touch, and instead only feel it.
2. In your opinion, what is the relationship between people and nature like in your current city, or where you’re from?
Well, I was born at the heart of a green region in Sari which is a small city in the north of Iran. When I moved to Tehran two years ago, I found myself in the middle of bustle and chaos. Traffic and pollution doesn’t really invite people to spend their leisure time outdoors. Of course Tehran has many parks, but those are very different from London, for example. They are not big and flat, the trees and the greensward are surrounded by fences or chains, like barriers. So because of these kind of reasons, some people go off to the mountains every weekend or to the north of the country, to be near the Caspian Sea, or jungles during vacations and holidays. But how many people can really do that? And how many of them go to the north to see themselves in the nature?
3. In the currently changing world, do you think nature as a subject is regaining its relevance? Or is it too late?
I don’t think it’s too late for regaining nature’s relevance. Persians have a proverb: “whenever you catch the fish, it’s fresh”.
Dr. Ali Nazemi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Concordia University in Montreal. He also works as a Senior Hydrologist at the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency, and served as a Research Associate at the Global Institute for Water Security and the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
1. How do you view nature or the landscape, as a scientist vs. as an individual?
I guess I see the nature in both ways, as a scientist and as an individual. I cannot make a clear-cut distinction between these two features as I am both. I guess these two perspectives are completely twisted in me and make a hybrid standpoint, which is perhaps quite personal. However, I can recall a strong feedback between my scientific research and how I perceived nature as an individual, particularly in earlier years. I think I became interested in hydrology and hydroclimate science, because I really liked going out to nature in my late teens and early 20s. I was grabbing my backpack, tuning some music and going to mountains for days on my own or with close friends. I really felt free and happy by doing this; and when you are happy, you start looking around with more admiration. I started “seeing” the blue sky, fluffy clouds, rolling rivers and the diversity of vegetation over various landscapes. I wanted to know more about them, why they are formed in such specific ways and how they are connected to one another. That was the main reason I studied hydrology; because water is the most fundamental part of the environment that glues natural components over a landscape. Going to a graduate school, I learned how to describe hydrologic phenomena like groundwater, soil moisture, precipitation, cloud formation and river flows using scientific methodologies. After some time, and during my PhD and postdoctoral years, I started asking new questions about what I have observed out in nature, for instance, how rainfall converts to streamflow, how climate variability can result into flooding and/or drought, or how we can efficiently describe the mechanisms that form the global cycles of water and energy in nature. I have been doing this for more than 10 years now and I still love to go out to the nature, “observe” my surrounding landscape and feel free and happy. However, now I see the forests, rivers and clouds more as a unified and fully integrated system rather than individual and standalone objects. I can “see” now the relationships between these natural components and can represent some of their interactions with the laws of physics and mathematical expressions. So I think I got to a kind of deeper level of understanding of nature and landscape; and that makes me feel even freer and happier. Nonetheless, I have become also more concerned about the consequences of human interventions in natural landscape as well as global climate and water cycles. Exploring the interactions between human and environment is currently my main research avenue and this has both science and human components into it, like myself, and my view to nature. So you can say I am also exploring myself through my scientific research.
2. In your opinion, what is the relationship between people and nature like in your current city, or where you’re from?
Generally speaking, I think people take nature for granted; some people more, some people less. Relatively, I think Canadians have much better understanding of nature and their surrounding environment due to their educational system, having more than a century of environmental conservation act, as well as the existence of a deep indigenous culture that considers unity between man and the surrounding nature. For Iran, scientific data speaks the truth quite loudly: Iranians are the 6th nation in the list with highest greenhouse gas emission; they are the largest consumer of water per capita, and provide the highest amount of deforestation and soil erosion on the planet earth. I, like many of my colleagues, foresee several environmental catastrophes in Iran in near future, if we do not take immediate actions.
3. Do you think art can describe nature in ways science can’t, or vice versa?
Absolutely; and I think this stems from the fundamental difference between art and science. In science, we focus on tractability and validation to describe the rules of nature, surrounding us. In art, in contrast, we deal with man’s response (or reaction) to the information perceived from the surrounding nature. From a broader perspective, however, I think science and art are more complimenting rather than conflicting; and together, they can provide a very powerful form of cognition. I think combination of art and science is the next big step in human’s intellectual evolution. We are seeing already some evidences: Recently, I became aware of a project that uses music to describe climate change information (link). Although, we are in a very early stage, I personally think this trend will grow and become, perhaps in few decades, an important platform for communicating scientific findings with elites and general public. Moreover, I strongly believe that art can bring public awareness much better than what science can do; simply because art triggers human emotion and we only change, if we really “feel” the need for change. Scientific understanding by itself is not enough to save our planet; we need the passion and deep feeling that artistic expression can offer.
Telegraphy is defined as the long-distance transmission of textual or symbolic messages. Each issue of the The Current Express features Instant Telegraphy, a collection of items found in the instantaneous contemporary media, loosely or even randomly related to the theme of the issue.
The IranOpen RoboCup Facebook page.
“I see the mannerism and the aesthetics of the wrestler almost as the embodiment of the various facets of the Iranian identity draped in its past.” Iran’s Sportin Dreamers – a short film of Iranian wrestlers by Nima Shayeghi (Witness series, Al Jazeera, 21 Mar 2013).
Road 59, also known as the Chalous Road جاده چالوس is the main road for people of Tehran to drive up to the north of Iran, into Sea and nature over weekends and holidays. An 8-Minute video drivethrough by YouTube user Ehsan EH.
A piece on yoga’s popularity in the early 2000s Tehran in Yoga Journal, November 2005.
The “Iran headband” at Team Melli sportswear online shopping.
Images of the contemporary “alpine” landscape of the Barin Ski Resort in Shemshak.
Weather and Sports
The third issue of The Current Express gathers in exhibition both works that survey the idea of the “natural” and our existence as physical beings, as well as winners and losers, players, fans and enthusiasts. Handling the popular topics of weather and sports the current affairs, the selection combines works that come from very different kind of observations and practices. Their common ground is found in the topical representation of experiences and visual observations that usually are of interest to the mass culture — which in some ways is very human — and conditions where nature, landscape, crowds or audiences become sites of artistic observation. In this context, irregardless of the potentially suggestive critical stances of such works, both the natural landscape and the contextual landscape become comparable, irregardless whether the subject matter actually concerns of ecological issues, the state of photo journalism, the artificial and the authentic experiences of nature, social norms, or self-reflection. On the other hand, the works, seen together raise the question of neutrality of pleasing topics such as the landscape, or enthusiastic topics, such as games and sports and whether the gaze we readily place on them is merely a convenient habit.
The selection features works from Abbas Kowsari, Amir Mobed, Babak Kazemi, Behnam Sadighi, Rodin Hamidi, Shahrzad Changalvaee, Hesam Rahmanian and Shohreh Mehran.
Next Issue: Breaking News – 15 June
The next issue Breaking News of The Current Express is coming out on 15 June 2015.