Our perceptions are the product of complex interactions among various stimuli. Gestalt psychology, which attempts to understand how we acquire and maintain meaningful perceptions in an apparently chaotic world, suggests that in a split second, our brain amalgamates the parts of an object or form (gestalt) to perceive a whole that is different and more than its individual parts.
The Third Line Gallery’s summer show, I Will See It, When I Believe It, attempts to disrupt this process by presenting works that possess a form of dissonance between the expected and the real and prevent us from seeing the whole at once, thus playing with our perception. The show reminds us that whether it is an artwork, a person or a political situation things are not what they appear to be and it is important to think about every component while forming our perception of the whole.
The show includes artworks by various artists from the gallery’s roster whose practices, themes and choice of materials are different, but they have all used the liminal state of perception as a means of questioning something that is familiar and known.
Farhad Moshiri’s work from his 2018 series, First Snow plays with perception on many levels. At first glance it looks like an abstract black and white pixelated painting or a contemporary calligraphic composition. But a closer look reveals that it has been created with hundreds of tiny beads embroidered by hand onto the canvas by skilled Iranian craftsmen. When viewed from a distance, the work suddenly changes with the abstract lines and luminous pixels coming together to form a dreamy winter scene of snow-covered trees.
This piece is based on a photograph Moshiri took of the heavily snowed-in landscape outside his studio in Lavasan near Teheran. It speaks about the beauty and tranquillity of nature, as well as the solitude and loneliness of modern urban life. If one delves deeper, the bare branches laden with snow could be read as a comment on contemporary politics and the desire for rejuvenation and regeneration of a society that has been frozen in time.
London-based British Bangladeshi artist Rana Begum’s work titled, No. 806, is equally deceptive. It looks like a piece of paper that has been folded and mounted on the wall and seems to be as light and fragile as paper, but it is actually made from stainless steel. Begum has put a lot of thought into the folds and angles and painted different facets of the piece with different colours. When viewers move around the work, it keeps changing because of the way light falls on it, the way the different colours reflect and interact, and the position and angle of viewing.
The artist has drawn inspiration from the repetitive geometric patterns of Islamic art and architecture as well as from optical art and minimalism to capture her experience of the vibrant collage of the urban environment through this abstract representation of fleeting moments of aesthetic wonder.
“What I hope to create with my work is movement, an experience of walking through the city and seeing random sights such as the constantly changing play of light and shade on the buildings. The initial illusion you see in the work then becomes a reality as you move around the space and experience the work as a whole,” Begum says.
Slavs and Tatars
Art collective, Slavs and Tatars, focuses on the area east of the Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China known as Eurasia. Their work often reflects their research on language as a socio-political tool for disruption, humour and unexpected meaning. The collective’s work in the show is an embroidered textile banner from their Friendship of Nations series of 2011 bearing the words Long Live Long Live transliterated in Farsi script. The familiar yet strange banner draws attention to the unlikely shared heritage between the Solidarity movement in Poland and the Iranian Revolution of 1979 as well as the unexpected resonance between Catholic and Islamic craft traditions.
Hayv Kahraman’s oil on linen painting features fragile, floating, seemingly tranquil feminine figures, but the title, Search: Ask One Prisoner to Come Close to Translate to Others, indicates the gravity of the theme and the weight of her concerns. The work draws on the Los Angeles-based artist’s memories of the sonic violence she experienced as a child in Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq War and the First Gulf War; and the deliberate punctures on the canvas reflect the scars inflicted by the trauma of blaring sirens and other sounds of war that terrified her then and still do.
The figures in this series, titled Audible Inaudible, are inspired by the Smart Cards devised by the US military to help its soldiers communicate through pictures with non-English speakers in conflict zones. In her paintings, the artist has substituted the male figures on the Smart Cards with a stylised, almost ethereal version of her own body, but the poses are all based on the illustrations on the cards, and the titles of the paintings are derived from the phrases on the cards thus creating a dissonance between the beautiful figures and the psychological brutality and pain of displacement they depict.
“This is my body, but these are not self-portraits. The bodies represent the collective voice of survivors of extreme violence; of immigrants like me who struggle to be accepted and to belong; and of women who stoically bear every wound inflicted on them to emerge stronger,” Kahraman says.
Sophia Al Maria
Sophia Al Maria has also combined seemingly opposing elements in her work. The London-based artist, writer and film maker’s digital collages from the series, Everything Must Go, feature a blend of military jargon and marketing terms used in cosmetic ads to create hybrid phrases that are ironic yet meaningful slogans for our modern consumerist culture. The collages feature a mix of images of junk food, war footage, exploding gadgets, destroyed landscapes, glossy advertisements and shopaholics fighting over bargain offers, suggesting different facets of consumer culture and collapsing systems.
“These images and words may seem unrelated, but they are connected by the fact that consumerism, capitalism and war can all be traced back to the desire to control resources; and that consumerism is actually war against ourselves and our planet,” Al Maria says.
Other works in the show include a monotype and mixed media on propylene work by New York-based Laleh Khorramian and an untitled work by Abbas Akhavan. Khorramian’s, Landscape Scroll 3 is an abstract mystical work that explores the human condition, emotional states of consciousness, and transformation leaving it open to myriad interpretations depending on individual perceptions. Akhavan’s work is simply a pile of concrete blocks placed on the floor of the gallery. The work is from a recent show where the Toronto based artist displayed various materials related to his ongoing research and concerns about the environment, animals, saints, weapons, property and other elements. By placing this familiar building material in a gallery setting the artist compels us to question our perception of its meaning and role in our lives and our environment.
Jyoti Kalsi is a Dubai-based arts enthusiast.
I Will See It, When I Believe It will run at The Third Line gallery, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz until July 27.