Humanity’s dark side on exhibition at the OGR in Turin

Immigration, wars, protests: an awareness of a dramatic present and allusions to the disasters of current events permeate the work of three Iranian artists.

“Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home”, exhibition view, OGR – Officine Grandi Riparazioni, Torino, 2018

There are three of them: the Haerizadeh brothers, Ramin and Rokni, and Hesam Rahmanian. They were born between 1975 and 1980 and all three studied painting in Tehran. In 2009, impelled by a level of political control that bordered on censorship, they decided to leave Iran for Dubai, where they now live and work together. Why Dubai? Perhaps, they say, it’s because it’s a city with no roots – and they feel they don’t want to put down too many of those. Once they had chosen the path of exile, it was people that counted, rather than places. Their house-cum-studio has become a place to make connections, a hub for the cultural scene in their area and an active space for artists, writers and intellectuals – and for anyone interested in working collaboratively and in sharing techniques and ideas. As they say, all their work is based on hybridisation: the idea of impurity is the touchstone. Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian have fine-tuned a working method that pairs individual projects with intense collaborative work, which in many cases include contributions from other artists.

Their exhibitions are moments of aggregation too. They tend to take the form of installations that are inclusive and anything but definitive – once dismantled, these are reused later, in completely different forms and situations. This method is at the heart of their exhibition at the OGR, Turin’s Officine Grandi Riparazioni. Entitled "Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home", it began as a site-specific project and focuses on this procedural and inclusive approach, developing this partly behind the scenes – indeed, the first sensation you have on entering this cavernous space is one of fluidity. A procession of different installations scaled to fit the space follow one another, without any real break in continuity. Setting up the exhibition took a week and saw the three artists at work in a temporary studio, staging together their varied and paradoxical universe.

On a wall near the exhibition space is a group of works by artists such as Annette Messager, Ewa Partum, Sonia Boyce, George Maciunas and Nicole Eisenman, who are points of reference for the three. It is a statement of intent about the contribution of other figures in the art world to their work. Immediately afterwards, you find yourself walking a composite floor, the parts of which were created at different times and in different places, reflecting different moods – or immersed in a sort of engaging and enigmatic film set populated by huge masked figures, or by mysterious presences, such as the long lock of black hair suspended from the ceiling which gives its name to the whole work, Black Hair.  

Img.30 “Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home”, exhibition view, OGR – Officine Grandi Riparazioni, Torino, 2018
“Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home”, exhibition view, OGR – Officine Grandi Riparazioni, Torino, 2018

An integral part of the collaborative practice of the Haerizadeh brothers and Hesam Rahmanian is the creation of dastgah. This is a Persian word that for the three artists means a series of alter egos standing in for their individual identities. These figures, resembling humans, plants and animals, are created from disguises combining elements of every possible type. The ensemble is always awkward and ungainly – these are improbable figures, half-blind, with animal features or lettuce heads, layers of clothing and odd shoes, moving as well as they can. These “creatures” exist in a series of performances and videos in which, hindered by their impossible costumes, they try to complete everyday actions, producing shaky and unpredictable gestures. According to the artists, the dastgah are above all a way of distancing themselves from themselves. Here irony helps. A demystifying sense of humour and its possibilities permeates their work. It links together the ideas of the obstacles, interruptions and interferences that disrupt the linear progression of any activity, whether that is physical, mental or relational. The overall result is a sense of instability, of estrangement and alienation. This is no accident: the awareness of a dramatic present runs through their work; there are constant allusions to the disasters of current events. You see them in the animation Distruction-Creation, in which half-blind figures help to pull down statues and monuments – the reference to Mosul and the devastating situation in the Middle East is clear. They are there too in the outstanding works created by painting onto photos taken from news reports on immigration, wars, protests and other political events.

“Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home”, exhibition view, OGR – Officine Grandi Riparazioni, Torino, 2018
“Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home”, exhibition view, OGR – Officine Grandi Riparazioni, Torino, 2018

The exhibition deliberately concludes with From Sea To Dawn, a powerful visual story based on mass media images. The artists collected thousands of stills from YouTube, newspapers and TV on the migrant crisis and the Syrian conflict and then used pictorial techniques to transform the figures in them into hybrid creatures, half-human and half-animal. It is the kind of technique that artists have always used to reveal humanity’s dark side. Reportage images are turned into a critique of the mass communication that makes any atrocity digestible, an allegory of the violence that dwells within humanity and that permeates the modern world.

Exhibition title:
“Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home”
Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, Hesam Rahmanian
Curated by:
Abaseh Mirvali, Constanza Medina
Opening dates:
2 July – 30 September 2018
OGR – Officine Grandi Riparazioni
corso Castelfidardo 22, Torino

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