A pink taxi

A pink taxi

July 27, 2012

The Happy Exile of the Haerizadeh Brothers

This article was written by Christophe Ayad in LeMonde (July 25,2012). I took the liberty to translate it, as I have done with other articles of Le Monde, in the past. However, this time, the subject is very close to the heart as the artists are friends that I cherish and respect, those I have described on my blog before. To have found their portrait in my favourite newspaper was a wonderful surprise.

"When one begins a sentence, the other one finishes it. And vice versa. The Haerizadeh brothers, Ramin, round and bearded with specs, and Rokni, without a beard and his messed-up hair, are funny blokes: Iranian artists settled in Dubai since 2009. They landed here by chance. "We were coming back from London where Ramin was participating in an exhibition, recalls Rokni. We decided to transit in Dubai for a week when friends called us from Tehran telling us that the police was looking for us." Ramin continues: "the articles in the British press on my work, Men of Allah, had exasperated the authorities. They confiscated our works and they summoned the gallerist that had them to interrogate him about us." The electoral campaign that would end with the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was full swing. The Haerizadeh brothers saw the demonstrators in the streets of the "green revolution" on television.

Upon arrival, Ramin and Rokni just had two suitcases and a visa that was valid for two weeks. They needed the intervention of Sheikh Nahyane, Minister of Higher Education and enlightened collector, to obtain a permit of two years renewable. They considered returning back to the homeland till they found out that their names were blacklisted for arrest. Here, in Dubai, they are guests, not refugees. The shadow of the Iranian regime is never far. "One day, we received a call of a man threatening us in Farsi, remembers Ramin. He was referring to a work that we had only shown to close people and he seemed to know our schedule."

The Haerizadeh brothers live in a paradoxical state today. They have never enjoyed so much freedom to create while the society they live in is even more conservative than Iran's. Accustomed to live and work in Tehran underground, they now have a large home-studio flooded with light and decorated with objects and art pieces that they love and have received from Iran. Or that they have acquired here or at exhibits in Europe. "Its a rule we have made: the money we have earned from art, we reinvest in art."

The sense of provocation that the Haerizadeh brothers have doesn't always correspond well to the local standards. One of their works, in which ayatollah Khomeiny and Khamenei were represented was removed from Art Dubai Fair, the large annual fair. A drawing of Ramin's on the back cover of the fair programme had been partially darkened by the pen of the censor: it represented veiled men as if women. "In Iran, its very different, explains Rokni. I received a prize for the Biennale of Tehran for an old man holding his p***s. In fact, the authorities don't care about what you do. But if they start talking about you, your work, hell awaits you. All fear a police entry."

In Dubai, the Haerizadeh brothers work in conditions they would have never dreamed of. Their villa is situated in a new neighbourhood that has just sprung. Unlike the Iranian intellegentsia who mix with the riff raff but hold the place and its citizens in low esteem, the Haerizadeh brothers are glad to be here. "These people have done something with their money. Can we claim the same? asks Ramin. Dubai has been built like an aquarium, then they put people in it. This urban experiment fascinates me. The shopping malls aren't commercial centres, they are the city. There is a fever here, history is being written." Rokni adds: "we don't want to end up like all these Iranian artists in exile that live in the nostalgia of a lost Iran and have nothing else to say. My energy, I get it from where I live and where I am happy."

Their last exhibit is called "I put it there you name it". A hilarious installation where they have recreated (and moved)their interior, piece by piece, to an art gallery. A way of questioning the taste of Dubai dwellers for impersonal pret-a-porter decoration, be it Ikea or Armani-Casa. "People loved it, the next day they brought their parents" the two brothers rejoiced.

When they exhibit in Dubai, the Haerizadeh brothers do it at Isabelle van den Eynde, the Belgian gallerist that accompanied them from their beginnings, to the great displeasure of the Iranian gallerists that have settled in Dubai in the last five years. "Its as if we owe them something, cries out Rokni. They didn't exhibit us when we worked in the caves of Tehran." By now recognised in Europe, the Haerizadeh brothers are not in a hurry to exhibit in the United States, where they feel they have to constantly justify that they are Iranian and have a political discourse. It caps it all for those that regularly treated as "henchmen of imperialism" in the ultra conservative press.

July 23, 2012

Celebrating Life with Mark Quinn

An oversized red orchid sculpture ornates the lawns of Monaco's tropical manicured garden, facing the casino. It blends in with the surrounding foliage and invites the art-curious to visit the Mark Quinn exhibit at the Musee Oceanographique.

I had heard that the exhibit was controversial, what not for the self portrait sculpture made in the artist's own blood. Today's artists can be scandalous and I had seen two prior controversial exhibits, of which the Damien Hirst which was brilliantly curated at this same majestic marine-museum on the top of the Monaco rock.

This exhibit is also perfectly curated. It begins with the white orchid at the bottom of the staircase that blends into the facade as if it were a corsage. The large bronze shell in the entrance reminds us of where we are, as do three exquisitely realistic canvases, namely the one of a little boy examining an iguana on the beach and the other of a group of children jumping together in a green water whose pressured bubbles rise suddenly.

While the theme may sometimes touch upon the oceanographic and the works find their niche amongst the boats and the fish scales so that the non-artsy curious visitors can walk them by without a second look, what Mark Quinn celebrates here is life!

Nine large slabs of marble in which he has carved and chiselled nine foetus. My child pointed to their extra-terrestrial aspect. This very large work culminates at the exterior of the museum with a bouncing beautiful baby, pounced in the air, as if in celebratory delivery.

The regal red staircase showcases his fetish delicate flowers, the orchids in their exuberant colours. I loved the numerous fingerprints which he displays in all white or in multicolor. He calls them Chromatic labyrinths. I see them as eggs, symbols of life.

Beyond the wall of circular ocular retinas in shades that resemble the planets and earth, pass his sanguine self portrait and enter a chamber of skeletons and fire. The live flames emanating behind and from within the skeletons give life to an otherwise symbol of death. If you want to represent life, perhaps you need to show its opposition! A skeleton sits in prayer: entitled Waiting for Godot!

Once again, Monaco curates a splendidly artistic summer. These two shows, Extra Large and Mark Quinn make it an art destination.

July 18, 2012

Extraordinary and Extra Large

In art, I believe and try to justify that size doesn't mean anything, I visited a show that celebrated monumentality.

I rushed to Extra Large, Centre Pompidou at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco with extra large expectations considering the venue and the scale of the art pieces they were promising to exhibit. My expectations were met and this show fits at the same level as the wide array of shows preceding it: Andy Warhol, Grace Kelly, Princesses of Egypt, Manga etc.

The only criticism may be that such a large forum can welcome a large number of works while we have here a mere 35 works. But critics must realize that the large majority of works are of high end artists, namely Miro, Francis, Mitchell, Long and Judd. Extraordinary to view a cocktail of modern and contemporary artists under one large roof, in a white cube, under one theme: scale!

While I appreciate small dimensions, while I understand preciousness and detail in art, I also embrace the expansiveness of expression in large scale works. As I entered, I felt enveloped in the huge canvas by Frank Stella or confronted to a three dimensional sculpture of a red laquered rhino by Xavier Veilhan.

Most important is that Extra Large art can only mean institutional or public art. I am a vanguard of public art: I appreciate art in a setting, be it on a street corner, near a building, in a park. I watch people react to it or walk by it and I always stare at its monumentality. These extra large canvases that hit you when you walk into a bank, an airport or a museum appear to have been hung there for my own private enjoyment, yet they are meant for crowds.

I can tell you of the enormous three palette Jean Dubuffet that is composed of some thirty smaller canvases but appear as a beautifully integrated scribble, or the vermillion concave Anish Kapoor work that draws me in to its attractive blood drop shape and color. I can explain that the Andreas Gursky photograph is special to my heart because the subject is Madonna in concert surrounded by hords and hords of fans, numerous to the point of abstraction.

I marvelled at the stained glass effect of Gilbert and George's work, I finally saw a Jeff Wall in person and had just read about David Burren and was now initiated to his interactive project.

The James Coleman installation is entertaining because it takes you into a white cube where you are filmed and the surrounding screens project your animated figure in delayed and superimposed mode, something hilarious when you start making faces!

Then there is the Bill Viola installation, with its interminable room of black yarn on which u can walk onto, to feel caught in its web, as the yarn spills over onto other rooms, following you, as it represents the Witch of Tyranny. Funny at first, perhaps spooky, but deeply political.

The Extra Large exhibit was nothing less than Extra Ordinary!

When I write in French

My sister tells me I write better in French than in English. I just think I write differently. With a different voice.

I speak both languages fluently and have studied them both formally. I spent half of my education learning the French language and mixing with French kids in the playground and spent the other half of my academic life perfecting an English I considered to be my mother tongue.

But somewhat, the culture and my approach to the English language, which I know as American, is more casual. I believe I write more spontaneously, with little construction, with more liberty.

When I choose to write in French, the language, in all its richness, constrains me. I will convey a narrative, not as I lived it, but as the words express it. The grammatical complexity of the language persuades me to think longer, to linger on the moment, to extract the feeling. The choice of verbal tense makes me wonder about the time lapse: do I feel it irrevocably spent in the past tense or can I relive that time with the present tense? By appending circumstantial complements at the beginning of the sentence I am highlighting that detail.

I recently wrote a narrative in French. The writing experience was a trip of its own. I was regurgitating time. I am certain that others experience the same when writing in other languages than French, namely English.

This doesn't happen to me in English. It is my personal approach to both languages. And now I wonder, why the urge to write in language and not the other?

One thing is for sure. I cannot easily translate my own writings in another language. Certainly the ending would have been very different.