Forgive me, distant wars for bringing flowers home, aims to unveil the artistic practice of Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian by focusing on their methodology, communication, and construction of their works. Over the past few decades, Ramin, Rokni, and Hesam have shared a life philosophy that has allowed for mutual creation, during which their individual practices interact with their collaborative ones and which is informed by the understanding and technical skills of other people. From the dialogues they build among themselves and with other artists, friends, and collaborators—including stage director Joan Baixas, robotic engineer John Cole, community artist Niyaz Azadikhah, film producer Mandana Mohit, and writer Nazli Ghassemi—these artists have established a personal language that has enabled them to present different layers of content and texture in their work.
Aware that their practice does not only encompass what they do but also the contributions of other individuals, from other artists, carpenters, technicians, thinkers and caretakers to everyone else who is involved in the making of a project, these artists refuse the concept of the genius Artist. They prefer to acknowledge everyone who becomes part of their working process, as they believe that through their individual participation, everyone, collaboratively, creates a shared environment and a unique sensibility that enables them to coexist while contributing to the making of something new. Thus, a main element of their practice is human labor, including theirs, as well as a working process that involves the inclusion of different opinions, discussing and considering opposing perspectives and approaches, and mainly, experimenting with a wide range of possibilities.
Drawing on the American philosopher Dan Dennett's approach to Darwin's evolutionary theory, which is based on the notion of reverse engineering and processes of research and development, one might see the collaborative practice of these artists as a repetitive process in which every act represents another step in maturity. In other words, every new achievement—but also every new failure—that has been put forth by them or by their collaborators contributes to the latest interpretation of a work, a performance, an installation, or the presentation of an exhibition. Extrapolating from some of Dennett’s terms, we could describe the artists’ output as cyclical algorithmic processes that, over time, begin to accumulate certain information, allowing them to change their state and, perhaps, generate something completely new. Fully prepared to work on multiple iterations and embracing all past findings, they seek to rearrange, reorganize, and reconsider their work, producing new meanings and lines of exploration in narrative, aesthetic, and technical terms that may offer starting points for future arrangements, organizations, and considerations. In this line of thought, the artists conceive of themselves as debuggers of their own practice who revise it over and over again, test-drive different alternatives, and incentivize themselves to continue to change over time.
Therefore, they regard every exhibition as a form of disruption in their process, which becomes a new ground for further development, and not as a final result.
Following this methodology, a vital part of every new activity performed by the artists is the emergence of various dastgah, which in Farsi means "device" or "machine," and in traditional Iranian music refers to the technical term of "melodic matrix." Thus, by becoming a dastgah, the artists carry out a continuous, repetitive act as if they were "painting machines," whose body has been covered by an assemblage of objects. Reinterpreting the practice of the objet trouvé, each dastgah selects a series of well-used objects from the artists' daily lives, which have organically come together during the time the artists have self-inflicted a discipline as a trio. While each dastgah presents some kind of sensory or motor limitation that allows it to hone other senses, moving towards a more repetitive robotic act by becoming the object, worn, battered, or forgotten items are reinvented in a parallel world where they acquire new meanings and become the primary subject. Thus, the objects that cover each dastgah become protagonists in a fictitious world that enters the realm of the viewer via a live performance or the physical presentation of an artwork made by them, while providing subtle, sometimes opaque readings of our contemporary societies.
Crossing Dissipating boundaries
The artists have always been clear about the fact that, although they want to bring attention to societal concerns (some with devastating human consequences) that affect us, they are not trying to convey a moral message to the viewer. In order to achieve the latter, the artists make use of quotation to present specific content detached from its original context as a gesture, a fragment that has been deprived of its traditional medium and has thus stopped communicating its initial meaning. The series of works on paper Where is Waldo? and the 'moving paintings' —rotoscopes of video news broadcasts— From Sea To Dawn and Big Rock Candy Mountain are conceptual experiments where the artists have appropriated images that provide information about real events as documented and broadcast by news channels, which are subsequently manipulated by them. These works feature pictorial alterations of the original characters and landscapes in which human faces and bodies are dehumanized by their substitution with those of animals.
By taking an image from the real world with its own set of conventions and placing it out of context through artistic manipulation, the artists seek to create a sensation of estrangement in the audience.
The lack of a voice and subtitles, as well as the juxtaposition of different images featuring anthropomorphic zoomorphs and phytomorphs instead of human figures, disrupt conventional means of communication, in this case, a news broadcast, removing its referential value and depreciating the content of the news. Therefore, although the images come from an empirical event, once they have been manipulated they convey new meanings that are unconnected to their origins while presenting new layers of signification.
Something similar occurs in the video performance Black Hair, which is a collaboration with the artists Nargess Hashemi, and Laleh Khorramian, and caretakers Edward St., and Indrani Sirisena that reflects on notions of time, life, and death and is inspired by the combination of particular literature from Kwaidanand Slaughterhouse-Five to The Indian Never Had a Horse. Its main characters are fictional androgynous creatures who wear animal masks, come face to face at different stages, and change of role in between from being the artist to the curator, the collector and the viewer. Their enemy is a mysterious lock of black hair that wants them all dead. Although this may sound strange, the true estrangement of the artwork shocks the viewers not through its narrative structure or its content but in an installation that allows them to interact with the video’s scenography, thus transferring the fictitious world into the real one of the exhibition space. Thus, by stepping into the film set, the viewer becomes part of the experience and aids in the blurring of the existing boundaries within the art world even further: no one is the artist, the curator, the collector nor the viewer, yet everyone is all of them, and the question that remains is "who is the black hair?"
In another attempt to bring the viewer into the world of the artwork and generate a rupture with the conventions of the art institution, the artists have created the work Break Free, which is a still life painting composed of a table, the Fluxkits and a series of Fluxus objects from their personal collection, where the viewer is invited to be an active participant. The objects are historic pieces made by artists from the Fluxus group, who sought to resist the transformation of art into a commodity, inviting viewers to become a part of the artwork while transcending institutional limits. Thus, works by artists such as George Brecht, Alison Knowles, Robert Watts, Ay-O, Mieko Shiomi, and Yoko Ono are brought back to life, emphasizing their historical importance as well as providing a comment on the status quo of the art world and its relationship with artists, the production of artworks, and the audience at large. In a similar gesture to the members of the Fluxus group, Ramin, Rokni, and Hesam do not regard their works as pieces of art, leaving that determination to a curator, collector, head of an art institution, or others. For them, their true artistry is not perceived in the final result of their work, be it an object, a drawing, or a video performance, but in the entire process of exploration. In this sense, their artistic practice, although it manipulates the material, is not the physical outcome but the evanescent.
The current exhibition does not seek to be a retrospective or a survey of the artists' oeuvre, but rather a demonstration of how they embrace their practice and heterogeneous sense of creation. Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home is an attempt to show the work of Ramin, Rokni, and Hesam from a perspective that observes the mechanisms through which their collaborative practice is conveyed but also how it is formed during a creative process that exalts a working philosophy based on a shared reality and the inclusion of others.
Photos by Andrea Rossetti