Letter from the Editor: About Objects
Welcome to the second issue of The Current Express. After the first issue’s all-around pondering on the wider topic of the archive, the second issue Opinion Pieces dives into the first singular thematic introduced by the project, inspired and freshly collected from the MOP CAP archives. So let’s talk about objects and pieces.
Most items in terms of their existence remain ambivalent in our daily observation. Everyday objects and masterful pieces of handicraft function the same in this aspect. Whatever meaning or symbolic value they might hold, is only bestowed upon them by our special viewing, evaluation or the framing, often suggested by the representation. A can of soup on the supermarket shelf has an entirely different ring to it than, let’s say, Campbell’s Soup Can, 1965 (Pink and Red). So what happens when actual objects or pieces become devices for expressing opinions? Or, what do objects – whether stored in archives, selected for display or manufactured for consumption – actually have to say?
In the newspaper lingo, an opinion piece is an article that reflects the author’s personal opinion about a subject. The pieces may come from regular columnists who voice out their take on current events or developments in the society, or from readers sending their letters to the ‘Opinions’ section. An alternate, though not commonly used meaning for the term could also be derived from the word piece, which can equally well mean an object of art, or even a pièce de résistance.
For Iranian artists, especially practicing or exhibiting in Iran, the object has often become a means for inexplicit or non-definite expression. While often pretty obvious with their intention, it is technically left up to interpretation, whether the objects in question carry a message. While in the past, this silent communication has remained a strong medium, today, it seems things are changing. In many ways, we are surrounded by more and more objects and being bombarded by the globalization of goods and things. In an essay “Art as Device” (1917), Russian theorist Viktor Shklovsky coined the term defamiliarization (ostranenie) as a way to describe the method for artists (or perhaps sometimes accidental viewings) to present familiar subjects and common things in an unfamiliar way. Carrying all the way to the internet culture of today, the object or its image, is today often appearing at times in strangest of contexts. Representations turn easily viral, negating the actual viewing of the original object. In this climate of constant shifting of familiarity and unfamiliarity, does the existence and real-life quality of objects remain as strong as intended, or does their momentary portrayal or virtual status become the ruling medium?
Whether or not, the display of solemn objects is facing a crisis, perhaps an alternative line of thinking about pieces and objects can simply be found related to the sphere of material and visual culture they are part of. From opinion pieces, objects and their outlets are turning into territories of things. It is perhaps a banal question to ask: Is there such a thing as an Iranian object today? But the question further points to others, innocent but revealing ones: Where can they be found? Where are they made? Where are they seen? What is the most common object? What is the most expensive? Why do want them? Why are they made? Why are they put on display? What do they enable? The continuously proliferating displays of objects in the contemporary world set new parameters. It is up to us, how to define the object today, to curate and share its presence – both on and offline.
As displayed further down in this issue, there are signs of a shift that is taking place. Artists and other actors of contemporary cultural practices are definitely finding their ways into these new territories and the new depositories of objects. From blunt installations of ready-made objects, to hacking of iconic or wildly generic pieces, the currents seem to flow towards a cultural reading of intersecting spheres of the material dreams, memories and plural realities.
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. From candid questions to reflections, the aims is to discover thoughts and insights beyond the visible archive.
Born and raised in Tehran and currently residing in London, Bijan Moosavi is an Iranian musician and sound artist. His art practice usually takes shape in form of digital audio-visual projections, performances and sculptural sound installations in an attempt to develop a discourse around aural cultures of the post-revolutionary Iran, and in response to contemporary local and global socio-political situations.
1. Your works often includes video and sound. How important is the physical installation in your work?
I believe that the manifestation of the sound and video in form of physical installations in my work becomes important due to the possibilities that a physicality as such provide in order for a curious examination of space, in terms (and against the immateriality) of sound. Coming from a musical background, (visual) arts ushered me through with a rejective strategy of surpassing the (legal and political) impossibilities of sound and music (in Iran), providing me with a sanctuary extensively open to be occupied sonically. What becomes an asylum at first, soon expands up to (almost) infinite possibilities of adventurous investigations within a hyper-dimensional space, enabling discourses around the aurality in response to the Contemporary. This has since made the physical aspect an integral part of my research and practice, hence worthwhile.
2. Can objects, their combinations, or recordings carry opinions? Or are they neutral, simply existing?
The approach towards objects in my work has been initially of a necessitive nature. Transitioning through and beyond the economy of sound, objects in my work are in a constant struggle to appropriate and re-define themselves against the progressive (hyper-)space. This I believe automatically cancels their neutrality, turning them into agentive entities.
Additionally, for its second issue, the Express has gathered a small selection of ‘quotes and opinions’ from the surrounding media, aiming to reflect the change of generations, and the methods and cultures of expression for Iranian artists.
Parviz Tanavoli on the creation of heeches on The Huffington Post (link)
Not only was it the attraction of this word – the word and meaning of Heech is so beautiful – but it was also the elegance of the figure of Heech. The slope and elasticity of Heech – the way it can smoothly turn around and associate with chairs and tables and walls and cases and any surrounding objects or space is something I like. And besides that, of course, Heech has a rich story and a long history in our poetry and in our Sufism. It is not simple nothingness. It is a nothingness that voices the wholeness of being. This figure – Heech – makes you think about all of this: of being and not being. Heech, to me, is one word that alone tells the whole story of humanity.
Mamali Shafahi’s comment on the nature of the sphere of objects in his video Broken SD (link):
Visually, the video reflects my current interest in new media, the 3D aesthetic, ready-made images, animated gifs, etc. It evokes the world of my parents, in which I grew up, in Iran, though a variety of objects, architectural elements and script. The images I selected are “coded” – stereotypical, clichéd and familiar to the point of banality. But – almost like a decoy or trap – I use this banality to draw the viewer into an unfamiliar, surreal world. Conceived like a collage, the soundtrack plays a key role in marking the different stages in the journey and underlining changes in atmosphere and feeling.
Passage from Mahsa Mergenthaler-Shamsaei’s catalog statement for Young Persian Artists exhibition, March 2015. (link)
If you look at Iranian art history prior to this new generation, the referencing has been very Persian, reflective and inward-looking. I believe this new generation, the artists I call YPA, are the opposite: Polyglot and very much outward-looking. You will be hard-pressed to find any Middle Eastern references in the aesthetics of their work at all. They are the members of a globalised internet generation whose vocabulary and visuals are energised and current.
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 world, loosely or even randomly related to the theme of the issue.
Everyday objects from the “Ashrafi family collection” at the Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran archive, hosted by The Harvard University Library (HUL).
“Portraits Of Women As Everyday Objects Question Gender Roles” with Shadi Ghadirian‘s photos by Danny Olda at Beautiful/Decay (August 26, 2013).
The website of the Iran Tractor Manufacturing Company “On the grounds of economic co-operation between Iran and Romania an agreement was reached in 1966 to establish a tractor manufacturing company in the country.”
Omid (امید “Hope”), dimensions: 40 cm * 40 cm * 40 cm, weight: 27 kg, was Iran’s first domestically made satellite launched 2nd of Feb 2009. “According to U.S. Strategic Command, the Omid satellite reentered Earth’s atmosphere on April 25, 2009, during an 8-hour window centered on 0342 UT. The most likely reentry location was over the south Atlantic Ocean approximately east of Buenos Aires, Argentina. No sightings were reported” (Article in Wikipedia)
Concept pictures gallery for Isfahan City Center, Iran’s largest shopping mall.
Even at a superficial glance, it is easy to see that political and societal issues represent one of the major themes for Iranian contemporary artists and cultural practitioners. The resulting imagery is soaked with heavy metaphors and indirect meanings. And instead of using words or manifestos, at times perhaps too direct or accountable nature, one approach to expressing one’s opinion has developed around pieces – objects, items, sculpture, installations and assemblages. Thus, Opinion Pieces showcases work where objects, items and things take the lead in multiple ways. While displayed both virtually or physically, the objects themselves arise from the material sphere of things, or literal representations, turning into conversation pieces with both subtlety and confrontation.
But at the same time the works operate in different ways. Some represent objects or assemblages as reactions to events, “staged” or “put on display to be viewed”, some turn objects into artistic replicas, distanced from their actual physicality. Perhaps the question to be proposed, is which forms of seeing the objects seems most current. The works exhibit a movement from items as sculptures, to sculpture as items, to items as media, in a contemporary territory of things Iranian.
The issue features work from Homayoun Askari Sirizi, Farzaneh Hosseini, Bijan Moosavi, Houman Mortazavi, Mamali Shafahi and Negar Tahsili.
Next Issue: Weather and Sports – 1 June
The next issue Weather and Sports of The Current Express is coming out on 1 June 2015.