VISIONS OF ETERNITY
Curated by Sanaz Mazinani
Abbas Akhavan, Reza Derakshani, Parastou Forouhar, Oldouz Moslemian, Taimaz Moslemian, Nasser Ovissi, Hamed Sahihi, Soody Sharifi, and Ali Soltani
July 21 - 24th, 2011
Tirgan Biennial, Harbourfront Center, Toronto
Throughout history artists, philosophers and poets have known luxury and burden as a vanguard of changing times. Visions of Eternity is an exhibition that explores the existential question of being in a time when complex narratives challenge us to reconcile historical contexts with our modern existence. Visions of Eternity brings together a selection of contemporary Iranian artists at the forefront of social change working in media as diverse as painting, drawing, photography, animation, new media, textiles and installation.
The artists included in Tirgan 2011 challenge our definitions of art and culture as they push against boundaries imposed on imagination. Their works draw upon time-honoured motifs in Iranian art to engage with the contemporary international art community and deliver an entirely new message that reflects upon the nature of modern existence in our globalized world. These cultural producers have drawn from the language and material of ancient history into a present conversation. In doing so, they activate and bring to life eternal questions of being.
Nasser Ovissi’s colourful canvases draw their inspiration from classical Persian paintings, often combining calligraphy with illustrations of human figures and horses. His works speak to a common past, a long history shared amongst Iranians who simultaneously lament and celebrate relics of a bygone society. Addressing a universal human longing for the past, a type of forever nostalgia, Ovissi’s paintings open the exhibition with a nod to a phenomenon common to the diaspora - the glorification of Persian arts and culture from the Sassanid to the Qajar periods (226 – 1925 CE).
Toronto-based textile designer and artist Oldouz Moslemian incorporates traditional practices of fibre arts with modern technologies, such as light emitting diodes, thermo-chromic dyes, various sensors and other electronics. The unique fabrics that she creates react to the surrounding environment, repositioning a traditional art form within a contemporary discourse on existence in the digital era. Talk to Me is an interactive piece made from hand-woven fibre-optic cables that responds to the ambient sound, engaging the viewer in conversation. In her practice, Moslemian collapses the boundaries of science, engineering and craft to create artworks that turn textiles into a platform for transmitting information while shedding light on their transformative value as artifacts that carry within them an archive of societal knowledge.
The painter, poet and musician, Reza Derakshani, paints with a Sufi’s touch. His exquisite canvases integrate a minimalist vocabulary with figuration to produce works that evoke the mythologies of early cave paintings. In his distinctively powerful use of the medium, Derakshani utilizes the cypress tree as symbol for wisdom and justice, highlighting our desire to perceive the eternal as beauty.
Houston-based multidisciplinary artist, Soody Sharifi puts a new twist on the Persian miniature. Since obtaining her Master of Fine Arts degree in photography, Sharifi has built a body of work that combines illuminated manuscript from the 15th and 16th century with her own subjects to create allegorical scenes where contemporary Iranian life unfolds. These collaged photographic works eloquently reveal the entrapments of a modern society caught in the allure of a traditional life.
Toronto-based artist, Taimaz Moslemian explores his relationship to Islam through his photographic practice. In an effort to understand his own connection to the Twelve Imams, the artist uses calculation and his body as a means to establish a pure and physical link. By documenting the simple act of counting the Imams on his fingers with his finely tuned lens, the artist examines the correlation between the physical and the metaphysical.
The subjects of Ali Soltani’s haunting surrealist drawings are spawned from the artist’s imagination, often referencing events from his past. These mysterious drawings carry with them a transcendent quality. Portraying the metaphysical, their compositions present the viewer with questions about existential beliefs.
Working in Iran, emerging artist Hamed Sahihi creates surreal, dreamlike vistas that are poetic metaphors for how oblivious the individual is of the forces acting upon him or her. The set of twelve short video animations, But in your head baby, I’m afraid you don’t know where it is, is named for a psychedelic Jefferson Airplane lyric. In each incredible and sublimely rendered scene, microscopic figures are routinely moving about dystopic landscapes, unaware of the imminent calamity revealed only to the viewer.
Through her photographs, installations and multimedia presentations, Parastou Forouhar recounts the dissonance between beauty and violence. Her projects delve into the mind’s eye by displacing familiar ethnic and gender signifiers. In these works, Oriental visual references, familiar to the West, are transferred to a new context. In Forouhar’s installation, the lightness of hundreds of helium filled
balloons is seen as playful at first, drawing the audience in to take a closer look. Pulling the cords draws each balloon closer to reveal illustrated groups of figures in various positions subjected to torture. Forouhar’s installation shows us that meaning is often concealed and takes effort to be arrived at.
Internationally exhibiting Toronto based artist, Abbas Akhavan creates a thoughtful installation for Tirgan, framing the relationship between music, memory and travel. At the center of the installation, titled Greener Pastures, is a contemporary photograph taken from inside a car of a historical image. The original photo depicts acclaimed singer Hayedeh, reunited with fellow exiled musicians for an Iranian style picnic in 1980s Los Angeles. The photograph is displayed here amongst wine bottles on the gallery floor. The artist associates alcohol with a way of becoming absent from present time, emphasizing a degree of separation from (and simultaneous longing for) a romantic past in the wake of geographical displacement.
Visions of Eternity is a timely exhibition that showcases works by Iranian artists spanning four generations who live and work in all corners of the globe. These exemplary artists punctuate the anxieties and complexities of modern existence while concurrently celebrating the wonderful nuances of life.