- Manal Abu-Shaheen
- Vahap Avşar
- Jesus Benavente and Felipe Castelblanco
- Brian Caverly
- Kerry Downey
- Magali Duzant
- Golnaz Esmaili
- Mohammed Fayaz
- Kate Gilmore
- Jonah Groeneboer
- Bang Geul Han and Minna Pöllänen
- Dave Hardy
- Sylvia Hardy
- Shadi Harouni
- Janks Archive
- Robin Kang
- Kristin Lucas
- Carl Marin
- Eileen Maxson
- Melanie McLain
- Shane Mecklenburger
- Lawrence Mesich
- Freya Powell
- Xiaoshi Vivian Vivian Qin
- Alan Ruiz
- Samita Sinha and Brian Chase
- Barb Smith
- Monika Sziladi
- Alina Tenser
- Trans-Pecos with 8 Ball Community, E.S.P. TV, and Chillin Island
- Mark Tribe
- Sam Vernon
- Max Warsh
- Jennifer Williams
- An Itinerary with Notes
- Exhibition Views
- A Distant Memory Being Recalled (Queens Teens Respond)
- Overhead: A Response to Kerry Downey’s Fishing with Angela
- Sweat, Leaks, Holes: Crossing the Threshold
- PULSE: On Jonah Groeneboer’s The Potential in Waves Colliding
- Interview: Melanie McLain and Alina Tenser
- Personal Space
- Data, the Social Being, and the Social Network
- Responses from Mechanical Turk
- MAPS, DNA, AND SPAM
- Queens Internacional 2016
- Uneven Development: On Beirut and Plein Air
- A Crisis of Context
- Return to Sender
- Interview: Vahap Avşar and Shadi Harouni
- Mining Through History: The Contemporary Practices of Vahap Avşar and Shadi Harouni
- A Conversation with Shadi Harouni's The Lightest of Stones
- Directions to a Gravel Quarry
- Walk This Way
- Interview: Brian Caverly and Barb Smith
- "I drew the one that has the teeth marks..."
- BEAT IT! (Queens Teens respond)
- Lawn Furniture
- In Between Difference, Repetition, and Original Use
- Interview: Dave Hardy and Max Warsh
- Again—and again: on the recent work of Alan Ruiz
- City of Tomorrow
- Noticing This Space
- NO PLACE FOR A MAP
- The History of the World Was with Me That Night
- What You Don't See (Queens Teens Respond)
- Interview: Allison Davis and Sam Vernon
- When You’re Smiling…The Many Faces Behind the Mask
- Interview: Jesus Benavente and Carl Marin
- The Eternal Insult
- Janking Off
- Queens Theatricality
Excerpted from a conversation between Vahap Avşar and Shadi Harouni, participating artists in Queens International 2016
Can you tell me about your childhood in Hamedan, Iran? Can you help me visualize the cultural setting of your school years?
I went to an all-girls school, named after a cleric politician. He had the title Shahid, martyr. I don’t recall the teachers ever speaking of him or explaining who he was. It was a familiar name and no one would dare to ask more since one was supposed to know the great figures of the Revolution. The war had just ended and we were all quite familiar with the term shahid. I assumed Shahid Beheshti had been killed in the war, though it turns out he was assassinated along with many others by a bomb.
I was envious of my brother who went to an all-boys school named after an 11th-century poet and scholar. He would pass through the main town square, which was built around the tomb of the same luminary, every day on his way to school. Ibn Sina wasn’t just a name. I knew him. Everyone spoke of him and the monument erected over his body was the symbol of our small city. He belonged to the city, though it turns out he wasn’t from there, nor did he have any love for it.
Growing up in Malatya, an ancient city by the Euphrates, in eastern Turkey, not far from Iran, I remember the age of innocence vanishing in front of my eyes rapidly in third grade, in the mid-1970's. Neither the traditional family values of Anatolia nor the republican ideals imposed upon by Ataturk's vision for a modern, state, could keep the country together under the violent pressure of Cold War forces.
Your memories and your work seem to be demarcated by the culture of Shahid, a culture of martyrdom which often uses exaggerated displays of suffering to promote sympathy. How much of this culture do you think is created to keep the modern Iranian nation together? How much of it is the result of trying to survive as the other, i.e. Shia or Kurdish? Or is it something altogether different?
Martyrdom, remembrance, and forgetting have political practicality in all contemporary nation states, although in Iran the ways in which people and power erect and erase monuments and memories are particularly excessive and noteworthy. This also has roots in an ancient tradition of performing suffering and lamentation. There is the mourning for the death of Siyavash, the innocent prince of Iranian mythology. There is the figure of Farhad, an architect/sculptor who carves a mountain for the love of a woman married to the king. In The Lightest of Stones one of the workers watching me remove stones by hand from the mountain compares me to him. Another explains “Farhad had his chisel, she doesn’t even have that.”
The notion of sympathy which you bring up is at the heart of this work. I’m engrossed in a kind of futile labor, which in fact does involve “suffering”. The stones are sharp, they fall on my head from above, the men are worried for me. This helps align our labors. They empathize with what I do, they try to dissect it, to make sense of it, as they assume the potential audience of the film would with them. They also complete the action in the kinds of narratives they build around it.
Art that deals with politics often does one of two things: assumes the viewer has no sympathy for the subject, so it attempts to force sympathy, which may already be there. Or it assumes the viewer, being a good liberal subject, already fully empathizes so there is no need to generate empathy. I’m trying to carve out a space in between the two.
Your video made me think of a video installation I made in 1994, called Growing Watermelons in Gordion which consists of two video monitors showing a river running fast into a waterfall and a whirlpool. In the monitor on the left I’m picking a watermelon from a pile and throwing it into the mouth of the waterfall. In the monitor on the right, I reach into the water, pick a watermelon and stack it up on a pile. The looped videos create an endless and a complete cycle of production which creates and consumes itself.
Funny, I’ve also worked with watermelons. It’s the fruit of life and sustenance, of Eastern dreams.
When I dreamed I could magically "grow" watermelons in that river near Gordion, where king Midas is believed to be buried, I went with a truck load of watermelons and tried it. When it actually worked, I wanted to share this "magic" with the world, putting myself in front of the audience, exposed, almost naked even though I wore pants.
Your video also made me think of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis. I feel like there is a degree of alienation between you and the five men behind you, who watch you carve into the mountain. It is as if you are transformed into an alien and these folks watch you crawling with a mix of sympathy and pity. You are also exposed even though you are fully dressed. Do you feel exposed acting in front of your immediate audience or the video’s potential viewers?
There is a lot of ease present between the workers and myself. We’re linked by our physical and intellectual labor. By the time we appear in front of the camera together, we’ve already developed an attachment to each other’s work. I didn’t feel exposed in front of the men, but like them, I did feel vulnerable before the film’s potential audience:
"-What I’d like is to watch this film in America.
-Forget it! They’ll take one look at these mountains we live in and think we’re the ISIS. Wait and see: they’ll assassinate us all. We’re lucky if they don’t take us down by tomorrow morning."
I want to talk about the photographs you work with in Lost Shadows, [AND Museum]. A coastline, a mountain, a soldier, athletes piled up on one another. I’m drawn to them as ghosts. They don’t beckon nostalgia. They don’t invite tourists. They don’t sensationalize and they’re hardly mundane. Each one records and now functions as a monument. I want to know more of this rapidly changing world that they encapsulate.
It is interesting you see the characters in that work both as ghosts and monuments. They are representations of a failed attempt at building myths. Those photos are the labor of photographers hired by the postcard company, who were dispatched to the Eastern, Kurdish parts, of Turkey. The photographers came back with rolls of films that the company printed from but the ones I made use of were photographs never printed before. They were the labor of the photographers who had dreamed up a scene, a moment of magic, probably knowing that they had no use value when censored by the company. The company became so powerful, it acted as a semi-official government agency that worked like a propaganda machine who carefully decided which images to print and immortalize and which not to. So the photographer's attempt at creating their own myths were halted until I saved the images from extinction. Those aspired artists made the work not knowing if they would ever be published but produced them anyway. This is exactly where I am interested in making art; not working for a commission but making art based on the magic or making the purposely hidden visible again.
Farhad made a hole through the mountain to reach Shirin, the love of his life, the question is whom do we do it for and why?