2015 - 'Wakefulness at Contemporary Landscapes of Tehran', Exhibition Catalogue (Publisher: Mohsen Gallery)
Wakefulness at Contemporary Landscapes of Tehran
“Tehran is a big city vaster than Kashan but its population is low and its houses not many. Instead, the city has very large gardens scattered all around […] streams of water run through all alleys and creep into gardens after running through many turns and curves. Water is indeed the source of rich agricultural products in this city. Alleys are filled with plane trees, some of which are so thick that two or three people are needed to reach around the trunk.” Pietro Della Valle, the renowned European traveler's description of Tehran, however far from modern day Tehran we are acquainted with and apparently a fully reversed picture of contemporary capital, is a reality about the past history of this megalopolis in the 17th century A.D.Inhabitants of Tehran tell the story of the past in a nostalgic way: “A city with nice climate, many gardens of colorful fruits and beautiful trees.” The inhabitants of Tehran live in the traffic of streets and labyrinth of expressways and highways, under an overcast azure gray sky, inside the few-meter steel matchboxes and easily review their past memories and endless nostalgia of this kind.Today, they strive to take pictures out of city lights and passing cars on the expressways and highways, of dirt forest parks, artificial ponds resembling lakes, spots of snows on mountains in a rare bright day of limpid sky, of carbon monoxide stuffed tunnels at the few hours before the end of the night, of the ski resort and fashion center along with mountaineering on the asphalt and stone pavement, of the two-way routes over and under the ground, and finally of the high-rise symbol of the city in the absence of virgin and natural attractions. These pictures,generally vast and panoramic, perfect “hyper-reality” of the landscape of a nice city of figs and pomegranates, are appropriate for postal cards, tourist advertisements, and highly flashy virtual pages. Mohsen Shahmardi in his previous exhibition has shown that he is deeply interested in the myths of mysterious misty nature. In his new exhibition he has embarked on “new topographic” genre to find his past interests in the current living environment. He has managed well to depict changing landscapes and search the past plundered glory in new environment without yielding himself to the vain and glossy “hyper-reality” of commonplace photos of the megalopolises. It is a critical genre in reaction to the unbridled development of urbanization and human interference in nature, and according to Andy Grundberg, confined to style in an otherwise social consciousness. This is how the history of photography and social consciousness help Shahmardi to reflect contemporary landscapes of Tehran in a critical and deliberate manner in his new experience.Although the style he has applied in this collection is quite known in the world of photography, and although it has been experienced by a few Iranian artists, the strong point in his works is an attention to minimum requirements for attaining a personal approach within a general style as well as paying attention to its critical and cultural delicacies. In all his pictures the two-dimensional surface of the paper has been divided into the two plans of background and foreground. The foreground includes natural phenomena and the background contains artificial phenomena waiting in ambush like a space resultant.The horizontal line of the landscape has become the topside-down meeting point of the nature’s extension engulfed in cultural elements. These elements confirm well the identity of the geography displayed in his works, sometimes distinctively and explicitly and sometimes implicitly and indirectly. Flag,dome and minaret, Milad tower, high-rise cranes, concrete walls of the highways, guardrails, vehicles, multi-story houses in mishmash styles from the gable roof to the Roman-style, brick, concrete and glass facade are placed in a coordinated paradox and with the plundered virginity of the natural phenomena of the foreground. These natural phenomena carry the scar of this plunder like a cauterization mark on the forehead, from the garbage here and there, from the footprints and heavily trodden dirt paths extending on and on to the enclosure of the trees in the walled yards, brick fences and the surrounding walls. It is an approach fully critical in context but visually masochistically pleasurable of the natural glory of polluted Tehran. In his photos, Shahmardi summons the nostalgia of “Tehran with a nice climate, with many gardens of colorful fruits and beautiful trees”, but without its common hilarity. In the meeting point of yesterday and today, Shahmardi is seeking a morning draught to set himself free from the headache of the wakefulness at contemporary landscapes of Tehran; the sort of headache that shall never soothe in his strategy of using expired negatives or even after intensification by presenting an stray dog in the middle of the frame, taken from the poetic perspectives of Andrei Tarkovsky. “Tehran is a beautiful place! But …” These “but”s beyond the beauty of the city, find contemporary aesthetic denotations and play a key role in producing a work of art worthy of attention. Shahmardi’s frames in this collection are full of these“but”s, the sort of “but”s for stopping, observing, and contemplating on thenatural-urban landscapes of modern-day.