The Way of the World: Three Iranian Artists at Callicoon
Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian: I won’t wait for grey hairs and worldly cares to soften my views at Callicoon Fine Arts
April 12 to June 7, 2015
49 Delancey Street (at Eldridge Street)
New York, 212 219 0326
Walking into “I won’t wait for grey hairs and worldly cares to soften my views,” recently at Callicoon Fine Arts, was like walking into a kids’ art studio where the adults have lost control — but much stranger. Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian, the three artists responsible for the visual cacophony, filled the gallery from floor to ceiling with a schizophrenic amalgam of sculptures, videos, and two-dimensional pieces that fluctuate between fantasy and nightmare. Despite the frequently bright and graphic nature of the works, the artists successfully maintain enough editorial restraint to hold the installation on the precipice of dizzying inundation, without ever falling over.
The Haerizadeh brothers originally met Rahmanian in Tehran, and then moved to Dubai to escape artistic censorship in Iran. In light of the recent controversy involving the United Arab Emirates prohibiting members of the Gulf Labor Artist Coalition and NYU professor Andrew Ross from entering the country, it might seem ineffective for artists to defect from one area of creative oppression to another. The act reveals the omnipresence of political manipulation that artists in the Middle East have faced for decades, which forces artists to find ways to challenge the highly congested political systems both locally and abroad.
The exhibition at first appears to be a playful free-for-all of image and text, and then reveals itself to be a darkly comical and deeply satirical critique of power, identity, sexuality, and culture. Long-stemmed amaryllis — flowers whose common name is Naked Ladies — grow out of a black-and-white, geometric path that snakes around the gallery floors and walls, and leads to a row of collages by Ramin Haerizadeh, hung low on the back wall. Each titled Rib Room (2015), the works feature fractions of images of women from fashion advertisements or art historical paintings with their bodies partially drawn back in with ink and pencil, and stamped labels that read phrases such as “PORK ROAST” and “SKIRT STEAK.” What could be interpreted as an objectification of female identity becomes part of a broader narrative critique of dehumanization by power structures. In two of Rokni Haerizadeh’s series, he paints on printed stills from YouTube videos and makes Rotoscope-like animations over top, adding animal heads and body parts to humans in protests and demonstrations.
Rokni pairs fable-like images, which melt in and out of clarity and painterly abstraction, with titles such as But a storm is blowing from paradise (2014–2015) and Subversive Salami in a Ragged Briefcase (2013–2014) that further enhance the works’ ominous tone. Rahmanian’s paintings and collages continue the thematic removal of identity through images ranging from tragically funny puns to celebrity defacements. In his series Rearview Portraits (2012), we see the backs of the heads of elderly white men in suits and a white-haired woman wearing a crown and pearls (bearing an unmistakable resemblance to Queen Elizabeth II, though none of their identities is openly revealed). The portraits hang close to the ground or shoved into corners, as though they were put on a time-out for bad behavior.
The show’s installation occurred over a period of several weeks, during which time the three artists brought their own artworks, works by Etel Adnan, Hannah Barrett, A.K. Burns, Martha Wilson, and Rose Wylie, and a variety of readymade objects into the gallery space. Through the process of extending their shared work and living spaces into the confines of a commercial gallery, the artists present a good-natured dismantling of the conventions surrounding artistic autonomy; everything is presented as one holistic idea, as opposed to a group show of many separate but related artists. The collaboration has resulted in an immersive experience that is further heightened by the show’s many three-dimensional objects: sculptures inhabit the space as both autonomous objects and interventions with the gallery’s bureaucratic operations. In the back office, where the exhibition continues, the gallerists sit on pieces from Untitled (2015): white plastic lawn chairs with blue painter’s tape partially covering the form or extending it in strange, decidedly nonfunctional protuberances. Break Free II (2015), a fuzzy cat tower decorated with bizarre hoardings both analog and digital stands like an absurd sentry near the entrance. An iPad and an iPhone playing videos of the artists, the devices’ chargers, wind-up teeth, bungee cords, a plastic ear, and various other bits of everyday life make up just one of the installation’s several readymade compositions.
Saturated with layered cultural and art historical references that have been turned on their head through the artists’ contemporary reexamination, “I won’t wait for grey hairs and worldly cares to soften my views” creates new language through familiar signs. Imagine a car that has been crushed for disposal at an impound lot, and then expanded back to some semblance of its original form. All the initial information is there, but it has been translated into something entirely new. The collaborative, reconstructed visual lexicon enables the artists to use satire to criticize a humorless system.