Gita Hashemi, Ephemeral Monument (2013). Image courtesy of the artist.
A Space Gallery, Toronto
1–30 March 2013
Review by Haleh Niazmand
This FUSE review from issue 36-4 is available full-text online for your reading pleasure.
Gita Hashemi’s Time Lapsed analyzes principal historic events in Iran and channels them into insights that are as personal as they are political. In this exhibition, Hashemi’s mindful strategies engage the audience in an inclusive experience. Consisting of three substantial artworks, Time Lapsed situates current Iran-US relations in the context of a history of violence and trauma, and its cascading effect on individual and collective psyches.
A site-specific installation, Headquarters: Pathology of an Ouster (2013), was completed during the course of its exhibition. The project draws on recently declassified CIA documents which chronicle the masterminding of Iran’s 1953 coup d’état and the overthrow of Mosadegh’s populist government. In an immersive installation, on sixty sheets of paper, Hashemi painstakingly debossed the CIA text by hand, and revealed it through the application of drawing material. In doing so, she not only embodied the text, but also editorialized it through the selective application of colour, facilitating a new reading of the narrative. The piece also included a live reading performance of the CIA text, interwoven with revisionist analyses and eyewitness accounts from a volunteer cast whose personal histories have been tarnished by the traumas of colonialism. Thus, while the intensely lit installation invited visitors to become immersed in reading the shimmering text, the voices coming from the nearby video disturbed this process. In effect, the performance innovated a form of revisionist history, first by contesting the singularity of the CIA account, and then by interjecting an emotional dimension rarely felt through historical analysis or in written text.
This performance, which took place on the opening night, was webcast live and later incorporated into the exhibition as a video entitled Ouster Remixed (2013). Hence, with nuanced attention to historical revelations, Headquarters as a whole examined the events of the past with retrospective reflections. The cast of performers connected with the audience by revealing their scars and post-traumatic reflections, paving the way for the audience to engage as witnesses in the process of decolonizing and healing.
Ephemeral Monument (2008) is a video and perfor- mance installation using a selection of underground dissident literature from the Iranian Student Association of Northern California (1964– 1984) as well as pre-1979 Iranian resistance poetry. For this installation, Hashemi created a performance ritual on two adjoining walls — writing, erasing and rewriting selections of the archival texts with chalk. The process was captured on camera and projected on the third adjoining wall, and a dedicated website collected contributions in English and Farsi, which were then incorporated in Hashemi’s performance. Dimly lit and colourless, Ephemeral Monument stood in stark contrast to the brightness of Headquarters in the adjacent space. This installation had an immersive quality as well, enhanced by the ambient sound of the artist’s footsteps entering and exiting the frame, and the sounds of writing and erasing. The selected texts, which ranged from political to personal and poetic, were significant in the Iranian dissident movement against the Pahlavi regime, both in their origination and influence. Recording the ritual on video, a medium of documentation and evidence, spotlighted the forgotten texts in new, dynamic contexts. In this way, Ephemeral Monument was not a mere tribute to once-influential writings; instead, it opened up a space to reflect on the ideals that emerged from and influenced a history of turmoil.
The lowbrow medium of chalk not only allowed the artist to informally lead into weighty philosophical implications, it also carried a plethora of psychological associations. These associations began in our youth, where chalk was the authoritarian medium in schools, delivering what was deemed important to educate or indoctrinate. Chalk also allowed the young a public voice, as a mischievous vehicle of self-assertion. For Hashemi, the ritual of writing, erasing and rewriting with chalk pays homage to her personal involvement with the dissident movement and the collective uprising that profoundly influenced her generation.
Ephemeral Monument invited the audience to write about friends and family who were killed for their acts of dissent, which resulted in contributions from many parts of the world. The website remains open for participation, collecting and expanding a living oral history, while embodying a monument for reflection and recovery.
Of Shifting Shadows: Returning to the 1979 Iranian Revolution through an Exilic Journey in Memory and History (2001), is a multichannel narrative that interweaves animated text, video, audio, graphic frames and archival and reconstructed stills. Of Shifting Shadows narrates the story of the Iranian Revolution through the voices of four fictional female characters, connecting actual events with their subjective, psychological and sensory impressions. The semi-private viewing arrangement of this work creates a relationship between the observer and the characters, where the viewer becomes a listener and a witness to their experiences and traumas. Thanks to this intimacy, the observer is provided with the opportunity to understand the events of the Iranian Revolution—a movement for democracy and independence—through the perspective of secular women, whose voices have since been largely silenced. Of Shifting Shadows also highlights the singularity of its characters’ copings, and the varying lives they created in exile. By doing so, it illuminates a complex narrative that is contrary to the West’s stereotypical rendition of the revolution as an Islamist uprising. As a work of art, Of Shifting Shadows emphasizes the subservience of technology to content and the marriage of intellectual awareness and emotional imprints while innovating a mode of storytelling that defies the masculine linear process that has dominated the narration of history and the history of narration.
Each coherent on its own, the artworks in Time Lapsed not only reflect upon traumatic oppressions and resistances in Iran, but also tie these events to other lives similarly injured around the world. Hashemi’s seminal artworks in Time Lapsed create a venue for collective remembrance, understanding and solidarity. They chart new, inclusive, mindful and empowering territories in (hi)story telling, revealing the shared humanity that connects us regardless of locality, national identity or geopolitical struggles.
Finally, to fulfill her intentions for the project, Hashemi facilitated a discus- sion circle that engaged artists and activists in a conversation about decolonizing—subverting the gallery space to one of collective reflection and empathy, further connecting her art with the communities that she is invested in.
Haleh Niazmand is an artist and curator who has exhibited widely in venues including the San Diego Museum of Art, the Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe and Des Moines Art Center. She has published in ART PAPERS, US Art, X-TRA, Radical History Review, FUSE Magazine, the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle. During a 1998–2000 residency at Des Moines Art Center, Niazmand designed and implemented numerous collaborative projects and workshops with marginalized communities, including residents at a state mental hospital and children’s homes. She founded Gallery Subversive in 2003 and from 2005 to 2011 directed Modesto Junior College’s art gallery.