Editorial, Pages 6- Eventual Spaces
During our research for this issue we came across an ambiguous clipping from the art section of an Iranian newspaper from 1977. The headline reads: “Artistic Fantasy! / Shah-Reza Avenue is Art...! / On the conditions of an exhibition with a tour through it.” The text, supposedly an exhibition review, is an imaginary account of a walk up and down Shah-Reza Avenue with various art and artistically associated encounters. Next to the text is the poster of the exhibition announcing K. Shishegaran’s [art] works [as] the Shah-Reza Avenue. itself. In smaller fonts the Avenue is assigned all artistic media from painting to theatre, to architecture and music etc. In this way the exhibition constituted the everyday life and affairs of Shah-Reza Avenue, all claimed by the artist as his readymade artwork. A purely conceptual piece consisting of a single poster hung along the length of Shah-Reza Avenue for a certain period.
What is striking about this newspaper clipping is the editorial note preceding the review, a sardonicism quite difficult to pinpoint:
“While our writers from the art section were trying to make sense of the poster Kourosh Shishegaran’s works: Shah-Reza Avenue itself, we received a letter from Shishegaran that coincided with the imaginary writing that one of our colleagues had prepared about this «exhibition». We print here both the letter and the writing – which is quite befitting in the upcoming New Year’s holidays.”
What exactly do the editors mean by “…befitting in the upcoming New Year’s holidays”? Is it because during holidays readers will have more time to visit the exhibition – when most people have left the city and the activities on Avenues like Shah-Reza are at their minimum? In this case these holidays are not the best time for visiting the exhibition. Or is it that the holidays are in fact the best times to (re-) interpret – imaginarily – Shah-Reza Avenue? Shishegaran’s letter to the editors of the newspaper clearly indicates that the work (the poster) was suffering a general misunderstanding; some had gone down Shah-Reza Avenue actually looking for his exhibited work. Shishegaran’s request from the editors is to clarify the issue. However, they decide to print his letter next to the imaginary review of Shah-Reza Avenue. But the review itself is the peak of this misunderstanding. The narrator’s voice, presumably reporting on his visit to the exhibition has an ironic tone to it, accompanied with a cynicism that writes off Shishegaran’s work as absurd and misplaced.
A recognisable tendency among the established art society, who were advocating modern art in Iran at the time, was of disavowing their contemporary relevance against any local issues. Modern art was seen by them as the extension of the practice of modernity in other fields that was introduced often from above during the 1950s to late the 70s. It was about the allure of the new art (especially painting) that could accompany the emerging bourgeoisie rather than a true critique of the political order or tradition – except of course for a few artists and some incidental occasions which were often left unnoticed or discontinued. Instead, at the centre of the discussion were issues of historical and national identity in the face of the importation of Western art. These discussions were often detached from what was going on at street level. The huge gap between what concerned the art society and what was at stake on the social and political level created a backlash, characterised by an excessive disavowal of everything Western – and modern for that matter – in art production and art education in the first years following the 1979 revolution. The question that remained unaddressed however, even until today, was the place of artistic practice on the social level. What makes Shishegaran’s poster an interesting intervention, as it was hung along the Avenue, is its disclosure of an extra layer on to the fabric of Shah-Reza Avenue, an imaginary space for reinterpreting the city based on its everyday practice.
Shah-Reza Avenue – the axis of which was laid in the late 30s connecting the east of the city to the west – has in fact been one of the main locations for the introduction/imposition of modernity on an urban scale into the city of Tehran. This Avenue, along with many other main roads, became the ground for executing the project of modernisation in architecture, society, culture and education. However, in 1978, at the very peak of this long-term project, Shah-Reza Avenue became the place for political negotiations and demonstration, and soon one of the significant urban cores of the Islamic revolution of 1979. Thereafter it was re-named the Enghelab (revolution) Avenue.
This issue of Pages is in general about space and practice, spaces of events and productions, of disclosures and enclosures. Some of the questions that went through our minds, which may remain unanswered but undoubtedly are unfolded in this issue of Pages were:
What is an art space when art and its practice – in circumstances like those of Iran – art is continuously overwhelmed by discontinuity, spatial closure and by its own historical rift? Can an art space constitute interludes of presence and practice? Are these interludes, discontinuous as they may be, capable of introducing a rift into the spatial closure? When does a space become a discursive space? To what extent did – and does – modernity provide the paradigm for the production of space for art?
In looking into the issues raised in these questions we could not escape the echoing of the historical dilemmas that have haunted cultural production in Iran, and continue to affect contemporary practitioners. What follows are on the one hand re-prints of past magazines and newspaper clippings that reflect conflicts of architecture design, predicaments of the social engagement of art, ideological convictions and displacements in art, and the discontinuities in modernist paradigms and their practices. These reprints coincide with a series of dialogues that we have conducted with practitioners in art and culture, architecture and urban planning. What these dialogues have in common is the contemporaneity of their discussions with a historical postponement of a certain modernity. Yet the practices and experiences that are talked about in these dialogues are all affected with the possibility of an eventual gain.
As with past issues, this is a continuation of Pages’ previous concerns and an unfolding of an ongoing discussion that will be further developed in upcoming editions and projects.