HORMOZ HEMATIAN & ASHKAN ZAHRAEI, Electric Room, art under high tension

HORMOZ HEMATIAN & ASHKAN ZAHRAEI, Electric Room, art under high tension

Tehran has a rich and vibrating art scene with highly talented artists, many of them were born after the Islamic Revolution.

Hormoz Hematian, founder and director of Dastan Gallery, one of the edgiest art spaces in the Iranian capital focusing on contemporary art, and his friend Ashkan Zahraei, Dastan’s curator and communication manager, travel constantly between Tehran and the most important art fairs around the world to promote the work of their artists and to develop international collaborations.

These two workaholics and unconditional art lovers have a thousand creative ideas in mind, are not afraid of any challenge and have launched “Electric Room” in 2017, which is certainly one of the craziest, most intense and ambitious art projects that makes Tehran a true reservoir of creativity and one of the most interesting and dynamic spots for contemporary art.

‘Electric Room’ is a very interesting and challenging art project that you have both developed and introduced to the Iranian art scene. How did this idea start?

AZ: Tehran has a very small art community. So through my work as a writer as well as a curator, both through working at Dastan and independently, I met a lot of artists who wanted to do art installations but there was no space in Tehran for experimental projects.

So that’s why Hormoz and I had the idea to launch the art concept ‘Electric Room’.

The concept was to showcase 50 experimental art projects in 50 weeks, introducing each week a new project and usually a lesser-known artist. So, it has a precisely defined beginning and end.

That’s a very ambitious and crazy project! 

HH: Yes, the challenge was enormous! It’s more than some galleries show in five years.

Having three other galleries in Tehran, I was missing the spontaneity of doing a show. So Electric Room allowed us to give back and find again the romance of art.

So, in June 2017 we opened this temporary exhibition space, not bigger than 30m2, in downtown Tehran, right next to the Faculty of Art and Architecture, and within minutes of walking to the Faculty of Fine Arts and many of the city’s other cultural or artistic institutions.
There are a lot of students, so the vibe of this area is really good and dynamic.

We called the project Electric Room because one wall is almost entirely covered with electric switchboards and control units. It’s a very cool and unusual place.

AZ: Luckily we’re both workaholics!

The project was amazing and so intense for so many months. We wanted to offer people a unique experience.

We had only one day to take down an exhibition, repaint the walls and install the new show. And this every week, for 14 months. It was such a crazy rhythm!

And how did the Iranian audience react on this concept?

HH: The reaction was fantastic!

At each opening the ambiance was so vibrant, and literally « electric ».

We had so many people coming, that there was not even enough space inside the gallery for all the visitors.

And what kind of audience came to the openings?

HH: The right people. Young people, art lovers, potential clients, people who weren’t normally into going to galleries but loved the vibe and were intrigued by the space.
Each opening took 4 to 5 hours.

AZ: We were also inviting other galleries to show them the artists.

The fundamental idea of Electric Room was to be spontaneous, open, accessible and generous.

Showcasing 50 art projects of 50 different artists in 50 weeks is quite a challenge. How did you constantly find new artists?

AZ: We were focusing on several different types of projects:

Installation projects, single-piece exhibitions, photo, video or multimedia projects, and also archival projects, like the « Tehran UFO Project ».

I’m a UFO enthusiast, so this show was an archival presentation of documents, articles and films relating to the historical incident from 1976 when UFOs have been seen over Tehran. I really like the idea that a non-art project becomes art.

HH: At the beginning some artists were quite skeptic because it’s a very unusual way of presenting art, they didn’t want to take a risk. So we had to start with the ones who trusted us.

AZ: That’s why we did our first few shows with artists that we already worked with at Dastan, including Sina Choopani, Mohammad Hossein Gholamzadeh, Meghdad Lorpour, and others.
These artists already had their followings and showing their work created more trust for other artists we wanted to work with.

We were able to work with extremely talented people in Iran, some of which normally don’t want to collaborate with galleries.

Among those artists that you were showing some are Iranians who live and work abroad. Why is it still important to them to show their work in Tehran at your gallery?

AZ: Electric Room created an opportunity to exhibit one’s work among a much wider scope and a more detailed program.

Many of these artists chose to exhibit at Electric Room because they wanted to be part of the experience and the program.

You’re working on such high-level art projects with Electric Room and Dastan Gallery and have gained a great reputation in the international art scene. But where does this love for art  initially come from?

AZ: For me, visual art is a combination of my academic background (writing, critical theory) and a practical touch.

As much as theory and literature can give insights into the world, art gives me greater opportunities for communication and dialogue.

HH: My grandfather was a general before the revolution; after the Shah was overthrown, he left the army, turned towards painting and became a self-taught, amateur artist.

Whenever I went to visit him in his house in Khorasan, there was one room for his paintings, another one for his calligraphies and one for his instruments.
There was a certain magic to it. And I saw how art saved his life.

Did Trumps’s policy put an end to the Iranian art boom?

AZ: No, serious artists will always find a way to express their ideas. If there is no high-quality paint or paper in the stores anymore, they will use cheaper one but this won’t stop them from being creative, being an artist.

Living such an intense experience for 50 weeks, how did you feel during the last show of Electric Room?

HH: Very emotional.

AZ: I was unsure how to feel in the beginning, but the last day was indeed quite sad. As much as I was sure we needed to end what we had started, letting go felt very difficult.

Credits:
All photos of Hormoz Hematian and Ashkan Zahraei:  Roxana Fazeli
(with Atefeh Majidi Nezhad’s work “Revision: Zero-G”)
All photos of exhibition at Electric Room courtesy of Dastan Gallery:
Photo exhibition 1: “Unsafe zone/domestic production” by Amin Akbari
Photo exhibition 2: “The champion” by Mohammad Hossein Gholamzade
Photo exhibition 3: “We are” by Sina Choopani
Photo exhibition 4:  “Memebrain” by Taba Fajrak & Shokoufeh Khoramroodi
Photo exhibition 5: “Inevitably inescapable” by Siavash Naghshbandi
Photo exhibition 6:  “Tehran UFO project”
Photo exhibition 7:  “Tangab” by Meghdad Lorpour
Photo exhibition 8: “Mutual tongue” by Milad Nemati
Photo exhibition 9: “The shaving” by Farrokh Mahdavi
Photo exhibition 10: “Interview” by Sepideh Zamani
https://dastan.gallery
Electric Room
Text: Anahita Vessier

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CHRISTELLE TÉA, The mystery of clearly defined reality

CHRISTELLE TÉA, The mystery of clearly defined reality

The first time I met Christelle Tea, I was intrigued by this person who looked like a chinese girl from 30s with this pale skin and with this eccentric hat on her head wearing a little black dress. She reminded me of the main character in Marguerite Duras’ s « The Lovers ». It’s this contrast between her extravagant look mixed with this juvenile behavior and naive sincerity, that surprised me.

Shy and discret by nature, I discovered the other side of Christelle during our shooting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris when she was posing in front of the camera. This body that seemed so fragile one second ago showed all of a sudden strength and confidence.

Christelle knows how to play with her image. Brought to art by destiny driven by her extraordinary talent, Christelle Tea reveals in her work with virtuosity the truth of an instant with all its details and invites the spectator to look and to look over again at this very specific moment.

Where does your passion for drawing comes from?

I’ve been drawing since I’m a little girl. My parents had a Chinese restaurant and I’ve spent all my afternoons there with my sister. We were so bored. One day I told my mum  and so she gave me a notebook and a pen that she was using to take the clients’ orders. From that moment on I was drawing all the time.

It was not only an occupation but also a way of expressing myself because I was extremely shy. I was a very quiet and discret child.

Until I was six, I didn’t speak french at all even though I was born in France and lived in France all my life.

At home we only spoke Teochew, a Chinese dialect from Guangdong, a province in the south-east of China.

So when I started to go to school I felt like an alien, I didn’t understand any word the teachers and the children were saying.

Drawing helped me to escape, to express myself, to be understood. For me drawing was a means of expression and communication.

So it was from that moment on that you’ve decided to become an artist?

My mother always said if she knew she would have given me a calculator rather than the notebook and the pen; and for my father being an artist was not at all an option to earn your money.

I’ve discovered Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Picasso when I was in high school during art classes.

Years after, I was lucky enough to be accepted at the Beaux-Arts de Paris. It’s a real paradise to study art there. You can choose any class you want and experiment in this breathtakingly beautiful location.

So it’s finally destiny that brought me to becoming an artist.

You went to China during your studies for an exchange program with the Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Did this experience help you to reconnect with your Chinese origins?

Absolutely!

These six months helped me to renew my ties with my Chinese origins and I’ve discovered also the differences between the Chinese and French way of teaching.

While studying in Beijing, I was allowed to study only one technique, no way to choose more than one. However this helped me to have a real expertise. So I’ve decided to learn wood engraving with Master Xu.

And when I had some time off, I was walking around the city with my drawing tools. I felt free like a bird!

I was drawing in the streets, at the market, at the museum, in the hutongs of Beijing.

So you’ve got always a drawing board, a sheet of paper and an ink pen with you. That’s a real mobile studio ! Would you like to have a real artist’s studio to go there and work every day?

During my artist residency  at the Museum Jean-Jacques Henner in Paris, I have had actually a studio for 6 six months but I was never there.

For my work, I need life, I need mouvement.

This life, this mouvement that you mention you capture them on the spot and without doing any sketches before in your portrays. Real life drawings of people at home, at work where you don’t miss any detail. Is it important for you that people are pleased with the outcome of their portray?

No.
I don’t try at all to praise the person that I’m drawing.

What I’m interested in those drawings and portrays drawn on the spot is to capture the world around those people, the immediate reality with all its details that should not be seen but that exist, like the pile of messy cables underneath a Louis XV inlaid marquetry desk or a piano unable to hide the tube of a vacuum cleaner.

It’s in those details that you’re face to face with reality. 

Regarding this, I’ve always liked Garry Winograd’s quote:

« There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described ».

I don’t try at all to neither flatter the person that I draw nor to do a photographic reproduction of her and of the familiar environment around her. She rather becomes an element among others in this composition where every object, every book, every musical instrument, every painting on the wall is illustrated precisely and meticulously.

And when you don’t draw?

When I don’t draw I study opera singing at the conservatoire of the 16th district in Paris with Alexandra Papadijakou.

Music and drawing are very important and complementary to me. Both are a haven of creativity and artistic expression.

By the way it’s the passion for music that gave me the idea to create the huge mural drawings inspired by the opera « The Tales of Hoffmann » of Offenbach or « Faust » of Gounod. I’m also showing myself in those two frescos.

Being a music and art lover, which artists are you fond of?

In music, Bernstein, Mozart, Puccini.

In art, Hockney, Dürer and Sam Szafran who gave in his work a lot of importance to details and he never went to his own opening shows.

And you, do you like to attend your own opening shows?

Yes.
It’s important to go and see who is interested in my work.
And also in respect for the people who made the effort to come and discover my drawings.
Above all that, it’s a great moment to spend with friends.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran?

I think of the photographer Ali Mahdavi. I made his portray and I love his work.

Credits:
All photos of Christelle Téa:  Marion Leflour
All drawings: Christelle Téa
Drawing 1: Jean Michel Frouin, artist painter and carpenter, 2015, ink on paper, 65 x 50 cm
Drawing 2: Morphology gallery at Beaux-Arts in Paris, 2012, ink on paper, 50 x 65 cm
Drawing 3: 2 for 1 at Xiyuan market, 2014, ink on paper, 301 x 412 mm
Drawing 4: Cécile Guilbert, writer, 2015, ink on paper, 65 x 50 cm
Drawing 5: Concert of Christophe Chassol, composer-musician, at the Silencio Paris 2018, ink on paper
Drawing 6: The Last Judgement and the Colleone, Chapel of Petits-Augustins at the Beaux-Arts de Paris, 2012, ink on paper, 50 x 65 cm
Drawing 7: Ali Mahdavi, plastic artist, director and art director of the review “Désirs” at the Crazy Horse, 2015, ink on paper
Special thanks to Valérie Sonnier et Philippe Comar of the Beaux-Arts de Paris to give us the permission to do the shooting of Christelle Téa at the  gallery of morphology.
https://christelletea.com
Text: Anahita Vessier
Translation: Anahita Vessier

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