I do want to do something.

October 15, 2010, 1:55 pm
Filed under: Blogroll











Here is a text I wrote  on the occasion of Setareh Shahbazi’s  show at 98weeks Project Space. To see more images, http://www.98weeks.blogspot.com

The Steps in Between an Image
A series of close considerations on Setareh Shahbazi’s work
By Mirene Arsanios

I am writing this text in the capacity of your friend and neighbor. It’s a role that comes with insights and entry points (aside from the door’s peephole) into your life and practice that replaces the artist/ critic relation with a door-to-door or a through-the-wall one.  I first met you in 2005, when you came to Beirut for a residency at the Arab Image Foundation and produced your book “O. no no The Crystal Series….”.
I came to know you in 2009 when you moved back to the very same neighborhood.

Something was still to be done. To come back is to reverse paved trajectories, implode familiar images and dismantle known processes as well as their inherent logic. Setareh Shahbazi’s work results from a process of condensation, digestion and re-composition, sometimes performed in reverse or out-of-order. Clichés, popular imaginations, cultural stereotypes, iconic gestures – these get processed and returned under new conditions, in estranged and somewhat unfit forms, as if coming back from a shared time or a place we might have visited before. (The historical period of the pyramids is that of a summer vacation).

The window on the left hand side of your Beirut studio looks onto an industrial bus depot and, further into the horizon line, onto the harbor. The objects in the room converge toward a large blue table placed at its center. A bearded man portrayed on a woven rug, stickers with rainbowed political mottos, family albums, vintage notebooks, geology and home care booklets — these are hung on the wall, carefully disposed on a table, piled or politely leaning against each other.

Setareh’s drawings are immediate, unequivocal, appearing all at once and right now. Their gradations are rendered digitally, becoming flat surfaces and plain colors. She illustrates stories that remain abstract. The gestures of a hand can be assigned multiple meanings (the hand in a horror movie, the charitable hand) but is also simply a hand hovering over a plane of signifiers.
Closer to a force field, her drawing’s surfaces are in fact threatened by the resistance or dissonance at play between the singular elements within the image. Conflict, or rather tension, is at work behind consensus. These images question the very meaning of coming together, which paradoxically results from a process of cutting, taking apart or extracting, a figure literally taken from a photograph. It’s destroying a given set of found relations to recreate new ones.

While viewing together the pictures you had brought back from Teheran, you insisted on the house your father had build and on how the children were very often photographed next to bare or blossoming trees. I was aware that these photographs were material for a future work, and for the first time they were being treated as a subject per se, defying the uneasiness that accompanies personal and biographical work by giving these photographs their own autonomy. Your desire was also to move away from a strictly digital production by showing the intervals and the steps in between the creation of an image, uncovering the photograph from its digital layers as if it were a nude. On one of the pictures, you had carved out a shape according to a figure taken from another photograph.

The act of cutting up, peeling out, extracting is bound to an act of re-composition in scale and relations. When translated spatially, as she has done in the present show at 98weeks with her wood-mounted cut out images, one can see both the surface and the object, literally walking through a drawing and acknowledging the devices necessary to uphold a surface. Sometimes leftovers from sawing out her wood cutouts lean against the wall as a reminder of what it takes to make these sculptural images.

“So what I do is that I first print the image in scale so I can do the cut-out according to the figure. I also print the image on a white foil. Then I primer the cut out and cover the surface with the foil. (By the way, the different body parts are already cut out in the foil, I just need to peel them off to paint the different colors). Once the foil is on the wood, I start taking out the parts corresponding to different colors and I paint them… I wait until it’s dry. I the put back the foil and proceed to the next color. The last stage is when I paint everything in black to mark the contours, before peeling off the foil entirely. In between each step, there are spooky moments…!”

The resulting work, with no intended mystification, doesn’t account for the acts that are less tangible and hardly visible in the art object itself. Setareh once said, as did André Breton, that she envisioned her work in dreams. During the day, however, she creates connections – between people, locations and contexts – that generate distinctive atmospheres. It’s a scenography of the everyday that consists in arranging a table, dimming the lights or asking if everything is ok.


The Third Mind (me reading)
October 4, 2010, 6:43 am
Filed under: Learn me how to read, New York Notes

I have read and recorded some of the exhibited pages of the Third Mind manuscript at Brion Gysin’s show at the New Museum. I usually indicate the page of the book before the reading.

intro burroughs

A series of correspondences
October 3, 2010, 8:39 pm
Filed under: New York Notes

A series of correspondences, resonances and associations that I wouldn’t ascribe to chance, occurred in NY this summer.  I wouldn’t attribute the following connections to chance but to the over systematization of desire at work in the ultimate stage of the capitalistic machine. A stage where its very motor, desire, is on the verge of extinction as each hearth of fire, or sparkle of interrogation is tamed by an immediate response in the real. One could also reverse this hypothesis and read the relation between these different events as an act of desire, where the mind creates a series of associations and connect things that would otherwise have no link.

Some time back in Beirut, I read a passage in one of Kathy Acker’s interviews where she declared that she taught herself to write (a notion that I find very appealing) with William Burroughs’s book ” The Third Mind” (which I was convinced to find in NY). After visiting a number of independent bookshops, a curious librarian informs me that the book is out of print. I wonder why.

SEPT 8 -PhDs

I meet with Barrack to upload “How to make (nice) things happen” on ArteEast’s website. While discussing the reasons of my visit, I mention that I am also looking at some PhD programs and that I am considering the one at Tish. Barrack tells me that he was himself a former student in performance studies (MA) and that he will put me in touch with some friends, but that I might not receive an immediate answer because they are all thoroughly affected by the recent death of one of the students.


R. Ganahl-Austrian artist living in NY, whose work I really like and who is notorious for riding his bike at all times- gives me an appointment at David Zwirner gallery for the opening of Al Taylor’s show. Soon after, we need to get to another opening in Soho and, to reach our destination more quickly, he takes me on a bike ride with him. Seeing NY from his handlebar made the city feel very much alive… (on this encounter I have written something).


Zeynep and I were vehemently defending our views on what it meant to occupy a position. I argued that I didn’t want to apply for a curator’s residency but for a writer’s residency. She argued that her choice would not be determined by these categorizations  but by the nature of the project itself. Although I agreed with her, I also had the desire to identify with something and fully embrace it, taking responsibility for what it meant to be a writer. It would also alleviate the burden of not knowing always, where I stand. I also added that if I did a writer’s residency, I would meet other people with the same inclinations, which was closer to what I wanted, that basically I wanted to find a family with names and books and that references where characters I lived with. Hence, pertaining to a family with a tradition, that could and should be subverted certainly, but in order to do so, had first to be acknowledged.


I have an appointment at NYU with Noel Rodriguez to know more about the PhD in performance studies at Tish. I arrive 30 min before our scheduled appointment. While I was waiting in the lounge, I noticed a picture of a young man and a vase with white flowers placed next to it. I ignore it.
While Noel is describing the program’s excellence and the type of learning environment I will be studying in if I was ever accepted, he refers to the department as a family. He adds that the picture in the lounge is a former international Greek student that had very recently died in a bicycle accident. Students and faculty were very afflicted by the loss, but, he also added that there was also something beautiful in realizing that the department acted like a family.
By the end of our meeting-that had somewhere left me speechless and undecided as whether I wanted to be an academic- I asked Noel if he himself had pursued a PhD here. He answered that you know, he had a family and that… you know.

(I linger on these events it is because they somehow exemplify my dilemma between life and academia. If the Greek student had died in academia it meant that life was also there. A life and a family however different from other lives like Noel’s life and his family.  The differences between these two lives might seem self evident but that is worth considering.)


I  visit the New Museum to see the Bidoun Library. On the second floor is a show by Brion Gysin, where I see exposed the “Third Mind” a manuscript he has developed with Burroughs using the Cut- Up methods. The book was never integrally published because the printing would have resulted too expensive. A shorter version of the book was published in France in the 70s. It is now out of print.

burroughs third mind present tense

I noticed at different times, the time in the metro, 3: 45 pm, and later. I remember that today is her birthday.