Friday, November 14, 2008

Sideways in tehran reaction

Sidways in Tehran

Sideways in Tehran was for me a big step putting my work in a context which I thought was familiar to me and the viewers.
And being professionally active in a country that I left 20 years ago,
I knew somewhere that it is impossible to explain to the Sideways group how it would be to be in Iran. The media has shaped the image of Iran in such a way that even I who travels to Iran a lot have to be careful not to believe that Image.
Let alone to explain how it functions to the others who haven’t been there.
As Nickel mentioned in his text what we were really eager to hear were the reactions on the works, do they function or communicate?
What happens with my works specially because the Exotic elements didn’t play a role anymore, would they be understood different will there be any recognition or the drawings become uninteresting because they are not exotic anymore?
I have to say that these questions stayed unanswered; as it works often in the exhibition you don’t get any direct reaction on the works.
The interest to see the show was there defiantly 4 hours long people came in and out.

I felt a bit lost there not to be sure what is my position I wasn’t a stranger anymore but it felt like it. The reactions towards me was different from the other western members of the group, there was a misunderstanding of my position. I felt more at home with the group and in speaking Dutch than communicating with the Iranian audience. So there it was I was a stranger from inside this time.
During the discussions I was asked mainly the questions which I asked myself in the Netherlands. How can you work when your work will be categorized as exotic?
This was the most interesting question I heard and as I talked to couple of other artist I heard the same concerns.
I knew that Iran is a country full of young people I knew that these young population are working and surviving creatively in a tough situations and I knew of their energy and eagerness to learn more and have more open interaction with the rest of world. But with Iran being a relatively close country in communication I didn’t expect this much western influence on them. By this I don’t mean the popular culture the way young dress and listen to the music or even talk but how they look at themselves through the western eye. To be concerned how they are jugged by west in art or anything else spoke of a certain kind of insecurity that I guess many people have towards west. Of course this insecurity has an important economical root.
But economics plays an important role in art as in any other field.
So I start to see my questions in another context,
It seemed that my questioning my work’s context doesn’t have to do with the space or even knowledge of the context of my works at this moment but more an insecurity and inability to identifying my position imposed on me by another culture, as it happens with the Iranian artists.
I found out that there is a bigger and more rooted problem that we are dealing with than the misunderstanding of the context, that is the cultural, economical and political root in the meaning of the word Exotic.
The word Exotic is an external factor imposed on a certain subjects. I think because It doesn’t have any roots in an individual non western culture there should be a way out. By just trying to find more certainty of ones position.
So this was in a sense an eye-opener for me which gave me again another perspective to see through.

Our experience

Any artist knows: it rarely happens at an opening that a stranger comes up to you and tells you what he thinks of your works. Tehran is no exception. But Tehran is exceptional in everything else.

The Amsterdam-Tehran connection: Ali, Atousa, Katrin, Gwenneth, Lilet, Amirali G, Lise, Amirali M, Aida and Makan.
Uploaded by nickelvd

For us Sidewayers, the biggest question of all was how our works were perceived. Three out of six group members were present: Atousa, Katrin and myself, Nickel. Lilet and Gwenneth had come with us, both out of curiosity and profession — so our group comprised five westerners, and we sure felt like that.

Imagine coming from a safe and self-contained country like the Netherlands, where applying for arts funding is considered a self-evident cause, where you could continue making art endlessly without any big worries besides having a writer’s block occasionally, where you didn’t learn anything in school about the history of the Middle East, let alone Iran — and picture yourself contemplating whether the works you want to show will function in Iran, or that it will even be possible to show them without any form of self-censorship. As little as I could form an image of Tehran before I went, constituted how clueless I was about what I would show. So at the four-hour long opening all I kept thinking was: reactions please.

Part of the reaction we received was an unspoken one: it struck me to see how many visitors actually paid close attention to the works: far more than I’m used to in Europe. It might have had something to do with the absence of alcohol, but still: I observed people watching both videos entirely, reading entire texts, studying the catalogue, and watching the artworks from many angles, close and far. To me this was part of the satisfaction of the opening.

The spoken part of the reaction came the night after the opening, when four of our group held a little presentation, and we were lucky to find curator and driving force Amirali Ghasemi willing to translate everything we said into Persian. Once we had done our little say, something which was more or less scripted, there was a very much unscripted discussion which turned out very nice.

The thing that stood out for me, was that we did not really get comments on the works, but were much rather asked questions about our perception of Iran and the way the prospect of this exhibition had influenced us in our process. It was a little like us asking the audience: so? And in turn, the audience asking us: so? There was a general understanding that both parties depended on each other to reach a conclusion — it didn’t come from one side. The talking session was all about getting informal (that is, very personal) information out of everybody.

However difficult to summarise it, the conclusion I drew is that the works were all very much functioning in this context, and that it was somehow very important to the people in the room that we as group members had influenced each other and that we had made different works than we would have shown anywhere else but in Iran.

Indeed, the image we had of Iran has played a large role in our processes, and we have certainly adapted our works for this context. For me personally, it has been very important to be able to work in Tehran, with the people and the means available there, to finalise one of my works (however sketchy it remained): Re-enaction, an audio piece with English and Persian texts.

I really felt that, with 70% of the population under 30, there is a large group of people roughly the same age I have, who are eager to meet, help, and even leave Iran, in order to reach out and have an artistic interaction with people from abroad. I found this energy truly inspiring and would like to thank everybody who visited the exhibition and was involved in it. It goes for all of us that we would not have wanted to miss one bit of this. Now, not only the image we had of Iran has influenced us, but also Iran itself.

Nickel van Duijvenboden