The House Is Black presents a digitally hacked photograph of the Shah of Iran Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s lavish bedroom. Various literary and other cultural texts have been directly entered into the photograph’s underlying code in order to produce a second image that replaces all visible traces of the original. Most prominent among these intervening texts is the translated script of Forough Farrokhzad’s 1962 experimental documentary, The House Is Black, an important work in film history that celebrates the residents of the Bababaghi Hospice leper colony in the East Azerbaijan Province of Iran.
Digital print mounted between acrylic glass and aluminum Year: 2017 Size: 21” x 17”
See Lost Gridsfor a description of the larger forthcoming project which this conceptual print initiated.
Enter the Shah
The Enter the Shah series is based on the artistic conception of a “digital tomb.” Each work presents a visible surface-level image extracted and transformed from a film documenting the debut of the young Mohammed Reza Pahlavi as the new Shah of Iran. Each surface image functions as the visual capstone beneath which a number of image and textual elements remain buried in the digital file used to produce the printed image. Accessible only through the original digital file, these contents of the digital tomb range from excluded frames in the film sequence, textual excerpts from the memoirs of the Shah and ousted prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh, a photograph of the young Khadijeh Mossadegh (the prime minister’s daughter), the pleading words of the Shah at the sight of Mossadegh’s failing health, the image of Mossadegh’s will in which he specifies his wishes for burial, the thumb prints of the artist’s deceased father masquerading as city maps, and other salient materials.
Digital prints mounted between acrylic glass and aluminum Year: 2017 Size: 15” x 25”
Farman ("Royal Decree" in Farsi) presents a modified rendition of the decree transferring power to General Fazlollah Zahedi as new Iranian prime minister after the 1953 U.S.-orchestrated coup d’état. The handwritten proclamation has been digitally expunged, leaving traces of only the royal emblem and a crease in the middle of the sheet.
Digital print Year: 2017 Size: 12” x 9.5”
The End of an Error
The 1954 Army-McCarthy Hearings marked the unmistakable beginning of the end of the “Red Scare” period in the United States. Produced for the sixtieth anniversary of the televised hearings, The End of an Error refashions the archival record to take a side-ways look at this important historical event. By fictionalizing the story as a history lesson narrated from contemporary Iran (voice in Farsi with English subtitles), this three-projection video installation re-positions the expected narrative center and reports the demise of the “communist threat” from the vantage point of what has since emerged in the American imagination as the “terrorist state.” Ultimately, the piece asks: From what position do we remember a triumph in history?
Format: three-channel video installation with sound Language: Farsi with English subtitles Year: 2014 Duration: 10 min
The End of an Error (excerpt)
This “subtractive commemoration” of the 1953 U.S.-orchestrated coup d'état in Iran utilizes false testimony as a medium to explore the nature of historical memory. Ousted Premier Mohammed Mossadegh, played by Nasser Rahmaninejad, alternately delivers three inconsistent accounts of the coup drawn directly from the language of the Shah’s memoirs, the CIA planning documents for the coup, and a celebrated leftist’s harangue against U.S. imperialism. Not a single word of Mossadegh’s is deployed. Woven together as a single testimonial given by the wandering protagonist, the texts decisively fail to add up. In light of today’s historical revisionism, the failure begins to reflect on the uses of testimony and documentation to cover over not only the factual record but also, more radically, the inescapably fictive dimension of historical memory.
Format: single-channel video Language: Farsi with English subtitles Year: 2015 Duration: 10 min
A long take of a U.S. flag blowing in the wind is met with the story of a scene unfolding beneath what the image reveals. A narrative voiceover (in Farsi with English subtitles) describes in oblique degrees a picnic, a parade, a riot, a rally, an orgy, an execution (a lynching?), a victory, and remorse. The problematic relationship between image, voice, and subtitle itself poses a metaphor for the question of "translating the other."
Format: single-channel video Language: Farsi with English subtitles Year: 2012 Duration: 10 min
Blankets, umbrellas, and bodies spread across the green lowland. Bread, wine, and brew beneath children’s laughter in a cloudless sky. Wit, rhyme, and review, the readers casually read, while the breeze blew gently through the pages of magazines, newspapers, books.
Beside the picnic, the parade dragged past the scattering throng. Out of the groups gagging, one wag nagging, four hags bragging, two nags tagging, six stags shagging, another sagging, adding four foraging for more, one more but from a flea bag came. From flash to slag, thinking of Betsy, one shagging stag of a man wigwagged long up the nearby crag until his unflabbed flesh snagged on his shagged bag tagged with a filthy dag.
Flat flad, half-mast the ill-clad lad opened his blue peter and torn free ran in a jag the acorus calamus into the soil creep beyond, knowing full well that his gesturing jack could take no flak, but plug and flack, without zig or zag, through bogue with gag, through whim, sham and flimflam, through such dire quagmire.
Holding this sweet spear he stood wet from storm of sweat, steady slightly shaking, then spoke:
Like to a vagabond one upon the stream, This token serveth for a two of truce And death's pale three is not advanced there. Mummers; set up the bloody four against all Of their white fives display'd, they bring us peace, Stand for your own; unwind your bloody six, Who, with their drowsy, slow and seven wings, I must show out an eight and sign of love, A sign of dignity, a garish nine.
Gradually the flock slowed, lagged, and finally stood looking, now neither flogging nor flailing, all done fragging and wailing, but in unison they sang “fa la la la la fa la la la la la fala fal la la la la la” up to the stag beyond the slippery crag, glad from having raised up by twine the neckbound body flagging, but regretting the setting forth of bets and conflagrations, the flaming of infamous persiflage, the spreading of contagious and flagitious, flagrant and fictitious clack of self-flagellation, counting one to nine, two to garner time, three to retreat, four to forage, five to fiddle, six to saddle, seven to meddle, eight and nine to boot.
At once then ten soldiers shouted up: “I ran after a stone.”
-- Text: Peter Freund Farsi translation and recitation: Nasser Rahmaninejad Wall-mounted excerpt in Farsi: Saint Mary's College Museum of Art
Crossing the traditions of collage film and film essay, Camp presents unexpected convergences between the figure of the concentration camp and campy aesthetics. Camp assembles a framework out of documentary material used in the Nuremberg Trials and choice excerpts from Busby Berkeley’s campy masterpiece, The Gang’s All Here, both produced at the same historical moment. Beneath the visual track, two narrators, one in Arabic and the other in Mandarin, reflect on the political and theatrical meanings of “camp” in exploring the role of fantasy in traumatic historical memory and the ethical root of flamboyant enjoyment.
Format: single-channel video Language: Arabic and Mandarin with English subtitles Year: 2011 Duration: 7 min 15 sec
Lacan in Hong Kong
Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, wielding his nonorientable stogie, is accompanied by the recitation of a Louis Aragon's "Contre chant" (Le Fou D'Elsa),split between Mandarin and Cantonese. (Video loop produced for the Trauma Desire Otherness symposium, City University of Hong Kong, 2012. Chinese translations and recitation by Cyril Su.)
Format: single-channel video loop Language: Mandarin and Cantonese Year: 2012 Duration: 1 min 15 sec
Vainement ton image arrive à ma rencontre Et ne m'entre où je suis qui seulement la montre Toi te tournant vers moi tu ne saurais trouver Au mur de mon regard que ton ombre rêvée
Je suis ce malheureux comparable aux miroirs Qui peuvent réfléchir mais ne peuvent pas voir Comme eux mon oeil est vide et comme eux habité De l’absence de toi qui fait sa cécité.
Le Fou D'Elsa – Louis Aragon (1963)
In vain your image comes to meet me And enters me where I am only the one who shows it You, turning towards me, you would like to find On the wall of my gaze, only your dreamt of shadow
I am the miserable one comparable to mirrors That can reflect but cannot see Like them my eye is empty and like them inhabited By your absence which makes it blind
Is Paris Burning?
On a tour of the Tuol Sleng S-21 Genocide Museum and the area known as "the Killing Fields" of Cambodia, visitors may rent guns purportedly used in the genocide under Pol Pot at nearby shooting ranges. “Is Paris Burning?” documents a visitor at such a firing range, near Phnom Penh.
Format: single-channel video Year: 2010 Duration: 2 min 15 sec