Magazine article Artforum International

Reza Aramesh

Magazine article Artforum International

Reza Aramesh

Article excerpt

LEILA HELLER GALLERY

Although Reza Aramesh draws on an extensive archive of media images of wartime atrocities for representations of male bodies in moments of pain, suffering, and forced submission, his performances, large-scale black-and-white photographs, and, most recently, sculptures (all of which he refers to as "actions") are never strictly mimetic. The London-based Iranian artist extracts victims' poses, gestures, and expressions from documentary images and then enlists amateurs--young, fit, and dressed in everyday street wear--to reenact them. These reenactments, carefully choreographed tableaux that include numerous actors and poses derived from multiple sources and are staged in stately mansions and art-filled museums--induce an extreme tension between abjection and opulence, fact and artifice. The polychrome limewood sculptures, which isolate single figures, achieve a similar tension by uncannily assimilating specific expressions of pain and suffering portrayed in the media with important precedents from the history of Western, and specifically Christian, art.

Produced through the translation and distillation of an existing image, the sculptures feel refined and dense with reference. Aramesh has displayed them in different contexts, experimenting with the specific viewing conditions of each venue to emphasize, in ways that are provocative and problematic, distinct modes and ethics of looking--aesthetic, religious, or even erotic, as the case may be. In addition to a gallery in Dubai in 2011, the sculptures have been exhibited in a church in London in 2011, and in five nightclubs scattered across New York City in 2013; notably, in the last instance, direct visual access to the works was limited by their presentation in various types of enclosures. The shifting displays and the types of audiences they enable, from art-world insiders to unsuspecting clubgoers, suggest a growing interest in investigating how these sculptures might signify in increasingly public spaces--as civic memorials or monuments--where viewers largely lack any prior knowledge of Ara mesh's ongoing aesthetic and political concerns.

Aramesh's latest exhibition, "The Whistle of Souls, a Play That Never Starts"--conceived of as a "proposal for a public sculpture" and presented in Dubai's industrial Al Quoz neighborhood in a nondescript warehouse that had been rented for the occasion by Leila Heller Gal-lery--seemed to follow this trajectory. …

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