“Yet the Story Goes On.”
On Mohsen Gallery’s Project in Art Dubai
Wooden columns and metal scaffoldings hold up a roof made of skin, making an arch that upon entrance creates the first hitch through its captivating form and the material with which it is made. The second hitch is an encounter with a long, shabby metal chandelier, lowered to 50 cm above the ground. Its angular form resembles a medieval instrument of torture. Finally, we see installations with flat surfaces bearing images of tile- and brickwork of domes from Persian- Islamic architecture, whose sharp, angular disruptions bring about a sense of nostalgic beauty and the violence of destruction.
This is the ambience of Mohsen Gallery’s booth in Art Dubai. Commissioned by the gallery, the two artists have gone to visit each other’s hometown, cultivating their ideas, after which they designed and executed their installations. In Mehdi Abdolkarimi’s photo installations, pictures of ornamentations from Iran’s historical buildings are printed on wooden sheets, and by fragmenting and assembling them, he has made the volume of his work: flat images on regular volumes that are reminiscent of a collapsed whole that is reduced to a shell over a frail body, which is not what is ought to be, but a representation of it. The distortion of the aesthetics of tile- and brickworks’ embellishments are significant, while the disrupting and distorting forms and proportions serve to undermine Iran’s glorious history. Through it all, the artist has endeavored to magnify a nostalgic narrative. Formal vehemence which is supposed to eradicate that ancient beauty has turned into the very aesthetic feature of the installation on the one hand, showing the aesthetic evolution of the history of the land from Abdolkarimi’s perspective on the other hand. Even though these images and installations are rooted in the artist’s personal approach to the historical decaying buildings, they are loaded with implications. As mentioned earlier, the visual objects of the printed images on the wood in these installations are the view of the dome from below. While domes can be found in bazaars and palaces, they are primarily used in places of worship, signifying heaven, hence we associate a dome with a temple or a mosque. Thus, in Abdolkarimi’s installations, a different definition of the divine and the aesthetics is presented, pertaining to its violent and destructive strands in the systems of power.
The same violence that leads to destruction, turns into a nostalgic, decaying factor in the work of Amini. It is the inheritance of the bestial powers changing to each other, and what ultimately remains is a monument for a humanity that is never realized. In Amini’s recent works, there is a hint to a long lost past, its ritual slogans, and its historical parables and narratives. He often links a historical or mythical story to the social events of today’s world, through which he obtains the theme of his work. These works are bitter reminders of how objects can be a source of violence: like traumas that are handed down from one generation to the next, accumulated in the flesh. Amini’s columnar installation entitled “Jeld” is acerbically bestial as well; animal glue, sheep skin, and camel wool that are generally reduced to a hierarchical society, refer to ruins of the past. “Jeld” has several implications, including sheep or cow skin, hiding or concealing. Moreover, the work stems from the artist’s memory and personal experience: it is an account of Amini’s childhood in his ancestral village, whose people mainly bred sheep, and children of the village used to play with their lambs. The village is now abandoned and in ruins. This installation is also a monument that forces the audience to act in a symbolic and semi-ritualistic way; passing from under it in order to enter another space, in which fragile, sacred installations invite the greatest destructions. In another work called “Halab, Halab!” Amini points out more emphatically to the concept of violence and its consequent devastation. According to an apocryphal story, the Prophet Abraham used to milk his sheep and give it to the poor people of a region, in which the city of Aleppo (Arabic: Halab) is now located. The people would cry “Milk, Milk!” One of the meanings of the word halab is milk, hence the name of the city. Amini implicitly refers to the violence perpetrated in this land, which has led to its destruction. The grim appearance of the half-burnt, unlit chandelier and its materials, a combination of metal, sheep skin, and camel wool, appertains to historical violence always present in the systems of power.
The entirety of the works strike as a challenge to historical values that are ascribed to a civilization, of which there is not much left but a few tokens: its foundations are obliterated. But, as a whole, its legacy has been growing, as if it is reflecting the thoughts, sentiments, dreams, and desires of people of the past. Bearing the sufferings and pains, cruelties, intolerances, infringements, and the assaults on the sacred, make what has remained even more dreadful.
Thus, Mohsen Gallery’s booth is singing a dirge to the past civilizations and the violent intentions coming from intolerance. Instead of trying to find beauty in ruins, the artists represent the same symbolic violence that led to the destruction of Palmyra and the Buddhas of Bamiyan. There is nothing left: neither the judge nor the guilty; neither the sacrifice nor the altar; neither those who do not have a roof above their head, nor people whose walls and roofs would endure. There are only traces of a past that arrives at their unwelcoming future, namely today, connecting moments of our memories to scenes from narrations. It is like reading random pages of a book to figure out a part of its story.
”Of all those who have tread upon this long road,
Which one has returned to tell us the mystery?
So at this crossroad of greed and need,
Do not leave anything, for you shall never return!”
In the Middle of Eden is a short documentary that narrates the story of how the works for Mohsen Gallery’s booth at Art Dubai were developed.
For this project, Mojtaba Amini and Mehdi Abdolkarimi travelled to each other’s home-town to share their concerns and world views, as well as their lived experiences.