Mimi Amini and Mamali Shafahi
Text by Mahan Moalemi
Dastan’s Basement, Tehran, May 2016
There was a hole right into the underworld, but you just preferred to take the stairs and have now walked down to the basement. Welcome! The underworld, whether as the realm of what can move beyond the lawful and is hence considered criminally capable, or as the abode of the dead, where they are said to be still living on, is ultimately where both the potentials and the actuals share the same presence and effect the same force. Rules of the underground are almost that of a shadow play; they let for the diffusion of contours, the melting of concrete shapes and an enlightenment of another kind. Yet this world never gains form — at least that is how it is wished for.
The underworld has cast a shadow over the entire space of the basement. This exhibition, a duo presentation by Mimi Amini and Mamali Shafahi, doesn’t bring individual works of the two into a bipolar setting of balanced display. As a point where the two practices clash and, therefore, a privileged moment for distancing from one’s own practice and approaching another’s, for appropriating skills for the inappropriate and practicing the impractical, this exhibition is based on blended formation. Not only the modes of display but the very integrities of all that is on display are rooted in a collective spirit that revises previous individual works while reflecting on the becoming of shared atmospheres. This exhibition is not about figuring out the right way of making certain things or non-things appear; it’s an attempt to craft a nature of appearances, where nothing neither exceeds nor falls short of this very order of appearance.
The three of us first met him on the shore. We had gone on a trip and he joined us thereafter for the rest of our days in the island. Now, few months later, we are all meeting him again in the underworld, where our steps land on the sand, again, but only virtually and via transparent sheets of plastic. His presence, though, is fenced off and his appearance is that of silhouettes. He’s more of an image than flesh and energy. Yet he doesn’t attain an iconic state as he keeps on living a life of anonymity. His body is mirroring that of the audience, not only under the lights that change in sequence and let us temporarily take on exotic looks, but also in light of the perceptive legacies of the white cube where, as Brian O’Doherty once put it, “while eyes and minds are welcome, space-occupying bodies are not.” Sat inside a cage, he is surrounded by neons and abstract shapes, those of the shaky shadows that moving bodies and still objects cast, of crumpled glowing gauzy fabrics left here and there, and of forms that derive, again, from the past: leftover cutouts from Amini’s previous works and a wall piece of hers lying on the ground are incorporated into Shafahi’s system of lighting that arranges the single space of exhibition into various time strata. Each interim period activates certain forms and makes others disappear. Almost everything is in transition, transgressing — forms and figures appear as much having faded into specters dispatched to the depths of the earth as are excited to emerge in an afterlife and transcend. This picturesque landscape of crafted appearances presents an abrupt account of the studio drama, where the actant (artist-protagonist) is simultaneously caught in the midst of the frozen ruins of past practice and aspiring to spires to be built on top of them.
Do you hear it, the sound that rushes in and soon fades out? Could it be an echo of the Seven Trumpets? Should we imagine so, it might be then possible to draw further associations: The figure that is lying on the ground, having gained a specifically reworked appearance due to its present placement, could serve as the shadow of the Angel of History, which was once being blown into the future while fixedly staring at the past and us, the onlookers. The bulked up geometry of this silhouette pertains to the profile of a blank plateau, oriented as a stage for projecting free associations that hauntingly come back from the past or hurriedly arrive from the future.