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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IMAN RAAD, Disturbance to reality

IMAN RAAD,
Disturbance to reality

Drawing from Persian miniature painting, South Asian truck ornaments and digital glitch imagery, Iman Raad’s work has immediately impressed me because of its intensity, its explosive mix of colours and the contradictory combination of beauty and fear, pleasure and pain. Looking at his paintings the viewer witnesses a moment of rupture, a frozen moment of reality when something is about to happen.

In this interview this Iranian born Brooklyn based artist guides us through his latest work that has been recently shown at the Sargent’s Daughters Gallery in New York.

Observing your work, you’re using elements of folklore Persian mythology such as typographic details and allusions to Persian miniature. Is this Iranian culture and folklore an important source of inspiration for you?

Yes, It has always been sort of like that. But it’s actually beyond a source of inspiration. It’s a basis of my thinking structure, either subconscious or brought on consciously.

I attempt not to indicate “iconically” to Persian culture in my work, so you could hardly recognize elements of folklore. Iconic indication to “other ” cultures is a Western approach to art because it’s an obvious representation of other cultures and is available to be taken out of its context and is easy to communicate and so to consume.

“But my work constantly refers to Persian culture “indexically”, since this is rooted in my thoughts. I have lived with this culture, I breath it, I learn from it and I construct my language to dialogue with art history through it.”

This is, I believe, the contemporary approach to ethnicity and cultural identity.

You’ve recently had a solo show “Tongue Tied” at the Sargent’s Daughters Gallery in New York. Could you explain a little bit more your latest work for this show.

In the exhibition there was a variety of works that I have made in 2016, all under the umbrella of one single title: ”Tongue Tied’.

“To me paintings represent a moment of disturbance to reality.”

I create this disturbance through wrong perspective, disordering physical rules, image replication inspired by digital glitch on screens as well as representing momentary events as threshold of a crisis. Objects and fruits appear to be self-conscious animate things.

In the ‘Tongue Tied” show there is a series of 9×12 inch egg-tempera paintings that were lying down on their individual narrow shelves. I recently started painting with egg-tempera on panels. The process is slow and tiring which I hate, though I seriously need this sort of meditative time. I enjoy the way egg’s yolk flows on smooth surface of claybord panels, and so the texture that unmixed pigments make. The colors are bright and I like the way it looks like painted tiles.

I also showed a large marker painting on paper that I’ve created earlier. This drawing represent a complex interplay of ornamental tablecloth, wallpaper and carpet interrupted by long rows of overlapping birds move across the painting. It took me a month to finish this 5-foot-by-7-foot drawing.

The Hero of the exhibition, I sometimes call it Don Quixote, is a flat figure kneeling down with a flag in his hand and a self-portrait of me on his chest imitating Barbara Kruger’s work “Your Body is a Battleground”.

The show also includes a site-specific large-scale mural painting on the walls of Sargent’s Daughters Gallery’s office. This was made in four days with two assistants and lasted for the exhibition time.

You’ve done also a lecture performance called “Two-headed Imagomancy” with Shahrzad Changalvaee, another Iranian artist and your wife: What does the title mean and what is this performance about?

Shahrzad and I both come from a graphic design background. We were members of the Dabireh Collective before we left Iran. The Dabireh Collective was founded by Reza Abiding in 2008. It was a collective of graphic designers, type designers and linguists researching with a focus on Persian language, alphabet, calligraphy and typography.
Since we’ve been moving to the US we got offers to talk about our graphic works and we decided to turn our talk to a collaborative lecture-performance in form of storytelling.

“Its form is inspired by Pardeh-khani, a form of storytelling tradition common in coffee-houses in Iran.”

Our narrative comes with stories within stories, some historicals, some personals, some myths or fictions. But all stories deal with language and script, mainly Persian-Arabic script history. Each performance has an exclusive unique backdrop painting, containing illustrations for the story and a significant image referring to the venue that it’s happening in.

“Two-headed” in the title refers to us as the storyteller couple and “imagomancy”, we made it by combination of imago + mancy. “Imago” is the Latin word for “Image” and “-mancy” refers to the divination of a particular kind, like bibliomancy, geomancy or palmomancy. So “Imagomancy” means the divination by means of images.

The poems of Hafiz or Rumi are very present in everyday life in Iran. Is there a poem that guides you through life?

Not really any specific I could remember. Maybe generally as you say it’s present in Iranians everyday-life, it has affected my thoughts subconsciously like almost all Iranians.

Any future projects?

To keep working.

Credits:
All works by Iman Raad
Text: Anahita Vessier
 http://www.imanraad.com/

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AMIN MONTAZERI, Tales and myths of melancholy

AMIN MONTAZERI,
Tales and myths of melancholy

The Iranian art scene has extraordinary artists who find a way to bridge their rich Persian traditional cultural heritage with modern western art.
Amin Montazeri is definitely one of those new talents we need to keep an eye on.

When I discovered the work of this young Iranian artist from Tehran I was impressed by the rich, mysterious, apocalyptic atmosphere of his paintings and touched by their melancholy.
His work is as intense and obscure as Pieter Brueghel’s or Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings.

Amin Montazeri’s main subject is history and the role of tales, legends and myths in history. Everyone encounters in life theses tales but sometimes people try to flee from their destiny, change it and write a new story. What are the consequences, and which kind of tale would ensue out of this change?

He also questions in his work the recurrence of history caused by an observable forgetfulness of man even if it was linked to painful or terrifying experiences.

Amin Montazeri was born in 1992 and is doing currently an MA in Painting at the College of Fine Arts in Tehran.
His upcoming exhibition will be at the Dastan Gallery in Tehran in October and he might also show his work at this year’s Art Dubai.

Credits:
All works by Amin Montazeri
Text: Anahita Vessier
http://www.instagram.com/aminmontazery/

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