Monday, July 15, 2013


During the last week of the installation, Feminist And..., we detailed our intern Matthew Liner to document some of the works for our blog. Matthew dug deep and spent time in each of the spaces to share them in his own words. Below are his interpretations of works by Parastou Forouhar, Loraine Leeson and Carrie Mae Weems.

Feminist And…Orientalism: 
The Work Of Parastou Forouhar

Parastou Forouhar’s Written Room defies traditional boundaries of architecture. The walls and floor are covered in an ornamental Farsi that branches and sweeps over the white of the room. The writing does not obey the “up-down direction” that Forouhar attributes to architecture. Instead, she reimages the space as a place where her language fails in everyday life, separating her from both the Western culture that sees her home as an “alien society” and the native Iran that rejects her beliefs.

Through her illustration, animation, painting, and sculpture, Forouhar observes how we, as Westerners, observe “Oriental-Islamic” culture. To the average Western viewer, the writing on the walls of Written Room is indecipherable. The Persian language becomes pure ornamentation: a beautiful script that simultaneously alienates and contains its audience. The cultural gulf created by the disparity between languages separates the audience from what surrounds them. They can find no beginning, no end, and no words for interpretation. The effect is that of expatriates in a foreign country: thrust into a new culture and forced to give up an authoritative standpoint, isolated by what surrounds them.

However, Forouhar complicates her work. The Farsi on the walls only offers snippets of phrases and words, leaving the piece broken and obfuscated to even those who can read her writing. The choice to further the distance between the audience and the artwork hints at the beginnings of the project as it relates to the identity of an expatriate, distanced from both the culture she’s in and the culture she’s from.

Forouhar’s parents were assassinated on November 21, 1998. Her parents, Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, were the first of the “Chain Murders”—political murders of the Iranian government’s opposition. A year later, Forouhar began her Written Room project, building a body of work that explores national identity from a country known for political prosecution of women and activists.

Since the deaths of her parents, the Iranian government has challenged Forouhar at every attempt to memorialize her parents’ deaths. Most recently, in November of 2012, she was stopped and had her passport confiscated upon entering the Iranian airport. Her precarious situation makes obvious the dilemma of the expat existing between a cultures that misunderstands and a culture that rejects.

You can view more of Forouhar’s work, as well as read her essays on her website.

Feminist And…Community Perspectives: 
Loraine Leeson’s Active Energy

“If there were any technology that could be developed that you feel would best support yourselves or your communities, what would that be?”

Loraine Leeson's art practice revolves around the above question. Through her work, she’s helped raise awareness for a variety of issues, bringing communities together around a single cause. Her community-centered art has worked to benefit communities for the past 30 years. In the 80s, Leeson co-founded the Docklands Community Poster Project, which ran during the ten-year re-development of the London Docklands. In 2002, she founded cSPACE, a website dedicated to the exploration of collective creative practice.

In 2008, Leeson began Active Energy, a series of interviews with the Geezers Club in London’s East End. This project has Leeson directly asking her subjects what technology they thought would support their community, and the group banded together in answering the question with a concern about alternative energy in the Thames. Since, the group has made a proposal to install turbines in the river.

Bringing the project to Pittsburgh with the Mattress Factory, Leeson posed the same question to a group of senior North Side women, and they answered with their concerns about Alzheimer’s. The videos of the interviews, exploring their concerns about dementia and aging, are paired with those of the Geezers in London. Outside the viewing room, a small table and video station offer an interactive segment of the piece, where viewers can watch more in-depth interviews, as well as find out more about the project. The effect of the piece is a cacophony of voices, blending concerns of mental and environmental health from both sides of the Atlantic, and connecting with Betsy Damon’s addition to the exhibition.

Find out more about Loraine Leeson’s work at the Active Energy website and join in on the conversation in the comments below. What technology do you feel would best help the local community?

Feminist And…Pepper’s Ghost: 
Carrie Mae Weems’ Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me

What do Carrie Mae Weems and Tupac Shakur have in common?

They’ve both taken the form of Pepper’s Ghost.

Carrie Mae Weems’ installation at Mattress Factory (which recently traveled to the Look3 festival) builds on an already diverse body of work that examines the legacies of racism, sexism, and classism in American culture through far ranging media. For her piece at the Mattress Factory—Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me – A Story in Five Parts—Weems skews the use of film in a way only she can, by conjuring up Pepper’s Ghost., a technique with roots in the 16th-century that still wows audiences today.

In the late 16th-century, Neapolitan scientist Giambattista della Porta set down instructions for an illusion titled “How we may see in a Chamber things that are not.” The instructions, which describe using a polished glass pane to reflect objects completely outside the audience’s field of vision, are (according to Wikipedia) the first description of Pepper’s Ghost.

Fast-forward to 1862, and the inventor Henry Dirks has developed a theatre spectacle known as the Dirksian Phantasmagoria, an update to the illusion that fills an entire stage.  Dirks’ technique proved too costly for theater owners to support, since the entire stage needed to be rebuilt for his effect to work. So, John Henry Pepper, a scientist and inventor with The Royal Polytechnic Institute in London, popularized a modification of Dirks’ technique that was cheaper. Pepper’s name was permanently tied to the technique, although he did try to give Dirks credit.

Since its popularization, the technique has been used by everyone including amateur haunted house builders to the team that brought Tupac Shakur back to life at Coachella 2012.

Weems uses the illusion to great effect, capitalizing on the ethereal quality of Pepper’s Ghost to show how the history of race, gender, and class in America still haunts our culture today.

-Posted by Matthew, marketing intern

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