Curatorial Statement

Elham Puriya Mehr
Independent Curator


Occasionally one feels like reading old newspapers and magazines. Their publication date is irrelevant. They may have been published only yesterday yet we know that they have lost their urgency, finding a new place between recollection and remembrance. Reading them assures us that their reality has no validity in our present. Time diminishes the accuracy of events and narratives, rendering them interpretable. In other words, their reality is neither that which is in the present nor that which is absent from it, but something that merges the past and present into one. They intertwine and the answers for the future must be sought in this union. The present is never simple nor definable; within it, there is a consistent, hollow slice of time that cannot be filled and which keeps time current.

The Club 29 project exists within this slice of time: a position that places us simultaneously in both the past and the present. The subject of the project has roots in the Rasht 29 Club, which was founded and run by architect Kamran Diba, sculptor Parviz Tanavoli and musician Roxana Saba from 1967 to 1970. This club, which took its name from its address on Rasht Street in Tehran, had not been established to generate income and is thus considered to be the first private and non-profit art space in Iran. The programs and events which took place at Rasht 29 turned it into one of the most unique places of its time: a permanent exhibition space and dining hall where artists, poets, writers, architects, filmmakers and other intellectuals could gather, dine, socialize and engage with those who frequented the club.

Many trends and developments began at Rasht 29. Tanavoli and Diba ran the club and permitted the use of part of the premises for an artist studio and theater rehearsal room. Inspired by a convent that he had visited in Italy, Tanavoli decided to issue memberships to artists in exchange for their artworks. Diba drafted the initial plans for the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art under the influence of the events and programs at the club. The first Iranian fashion label was founded by Keyvan Khosravani in the garage of the building. Simultaneous to the operation of the club, the Shiraz Arts Festival attracted many internationally acclaimed artists and performers to the country, many of whom visited the club.

Tehran in the 1960s was host to a few art galleries which exhibited art in white cube spaces. This Modernist method is still in practice today; limiting the art object to be exhibited and seen, scrutinized in an optical sense. Rasht 29 differed from them in that it invited viewers to join and become a part of the exhibition by meeting with the artists and dining with them. Another result of this space was the dialog it created between artists and visitors. According to Dave Beech and Gavin Wade in the introduction to Curating in the 21st Century, “Even talking is doing something, especially if you are saying something worthwhile. Doing and saying, then, are forms of acting on the world.

The activities that took place at Rasht 29 encompassed a large range of artistic events that questioned the norms and social contracts of the time. It exposed visitors to a very creative and alternative interpretation of institutions. The space was a gathering place for an intellectual and cultural minority. According to Deleuze, “A minority, on the other hand, has no model, it's a becoming, a process. One might say the majority is nobody. Everybody's caught, one way or another, in a minority becoming that would lead them into unknown paths if they opted to follow it through. When a 'minority creates models for itself, it's because it wants to become a majority, and probably has to, to survive or prosper (to have a state, be recognized, establish its rights, for example) […] Artists can only invoke a people, their need for one goes to the very heart of what they're doing, it's not their job to create one, and they can't.”

The historical distance between now and “Rasht” has drawn a curtain of time over the club and we intend to neither pull it back nor do we wish to examine its value or faults. We do not intend to recreate it and instead, by breaking the hierarchy of organizations (between institute, curators, artists and viewers), we wish to restage a creative group structure which unifies exhibition spaces through the production of art. We do not wish to become involved in the issues of power, hegemony, hierarchy, control, value and order within exhibition spaces but instead want to accept that we live in the present. We wish to recreate the relationship between the visitors and events of the space with the help of active participants. We want to be placed in the midst of an experiment just as the artists and visitors of Rasht 29 Club sought to do.

The most important achievement of the Club 29 project is creating a social setting within which participants can play a part in creating art alongside artists and curators. Our initial idea was to create an open space, a café and other projects, so that people from various fields could attend. However, considering the situation and understanding “concealment” which is an undeniable part of the Iranian culture, we decided that we would welcome a limited number of participants to the performance phase.

The first part of the Club 29 project began in 2016 with the discovery of an interview which had been conducted with two of Club Rasht 29’s members. There were no other documents, therefore the majority of the time spent on the project was allocated to research, interviews and gathering documents. In the second phase, installation artist and concept creator Kelly Lycan was interviewed and the project was launched with a fundraising exhibition at Kaaf Nonprofit Art Institute in the fall of 2017. The third phase consists of an exhibition, performances and interviews with the artist and will be held at Ag Galerie’s new location on Aban Street.

The Club 29 project in Tehran creates a setting for Lycan and five other artists to join participants in a group setting and collaboratively create art. The curator will deliver a speech and introduce the project during two performances. In the selection process of the artists for this project, their nationality, level of recognition and other considerations which normally creates a hierarchy within the art world have been ignored. Instead, their abilities and interests have brought them together to begin the dialog of Club 29.

Kelly Lycan has presented acclaimed exhibitions in relation to recreating exhibition spaces of the 20th century. In this project, she will install and create using visual documentation, narratives and interviews from the visitors of Rasht 29 Club. The installation titled Approximation, Rasht 29 will examine and translate the arrangement of objects and their value from original photos of Rasht 29. Using contemporary exhibition strategies, Lycan’s program concept enables the other five artists to use her installation and conduct their own performances. She has been assisting with the development of the project since its inception.

Vedad FamourZadeh has conducted valuable research in the field of Iranian roohozi (on the pool) music of the sixties, its paradoxes and cultural perceptions. His musical performance titled Intermezzos in Memory of Zaven Hakopian is a three-act piece inspired by Hakopian, the Iranian musician whose different theories of Modern music examine its relationship to society and his contemporaries. The three acts are inspired by a slowed down shirinkari technique of roohozi music, creating a light, relaxed and cathartic atmosphere.

Natalie Purschwitz will be participating in this project through an installation and performance titled Portal and Baby Odyssey. The first consists of costume-sculptures, which reference special historical moments and cultural amalgamations. Purschwitz will examine the use of clothing as an artistic medium. The second piece is a performance which examines the relationship between costumes and the body. It is made up of instructions which invite participants to engage in a performance so that similarities between the host and guest are revealed. The artist has used the shahr-e farang as inspiration, a machine which has - through history - exhibited the exotic nature of western countries.

Sohrab Kashani will present Lifting Workshop with Super Sohrab which has already been presented internationally. Super Sohrab will invite visitors of Club 29 to participate in performing physical exercises in the exhibition space; a practice of resistance in the face of powerful institutional control (i.e. exhibition spaces).

Reza Haeri’s Pass and Pause: Iranian Architecture Revisited introduces Ali Akbar Saremi, the renowned Iranian Modernist architect whose fondness and deep understanding of space in Iranian architecture is shared by his contemporaries. This typical of architects who experienced the study of modern architecture of the 1960s, by living and visiting historical architecture. Through sketching and drawing, Saremi presents an emotional understanding of past Iranian architecture within a mindset brimming with beauty, far from repetition and imitation. In this program, in addition to a video interview conducted with Ali Akbar Saremi, three contemporary architects will hold a conversation about the mentality of the late 1960s and its relationship to the art of that period.

Lastly is Derya Akay’s Finger and Food and Flowers, a performance which engages a group in cooking and presenting food. Akay often redefines non-artistic projects or non-art objects. In this performance, he introduces food as an artistic medium and asks participants to engage in preparing and consuming foods which have been designed by the artist.

It has been announced that the program surrounding Club 29 requires participants to pre-register for events so they know which performances they will be attending. On days when there are no performances, visitors will experience the installation and the aftermath: the displacement of an inactive situation to one of activity and vise versa. This displacement consists of a change in constant definitions and routine experiences, creating instability and disarray within the exhibition. Using this logic, it will be expected of the viewers and participants of the Club 29 project to consider both the conditions of the exhibition space and the way in which it is experienced.