V.O Curations is pleased to present ‘Mr. Majidi and the Electricity Box’, a collaborative exhibition from Iranian filmmaker Mania Akbari and British sculptor Douglas White. The show features a series of new photographic and sculptural works, in which the artists interrogate the relationship between instances of censorship, surveillance, and the aesthetics of authoritarian power, inviting the audience to contemplate the complex and often invisible connections between the state, the body, and objecthood.
‘Geometric Resistance’ is a contemporary example of how an ordinary urban object transforms into a political volume, a powerful symbol of resistance with a dense memory carrying sociological history. Assembled by the artists, ‘Geometric Resistance’ is the sculptural replica of the electricity box located on Enghelab Street, Tehran, that the activist Vida Movahed infamously stood upon to protest the obligatory wearing of the hijab in Iran in December 2017. Movahed’s action motivated other activists to do the same, and so the government decided to weld angled metal covers onto the boxes in response to prevent standing. Following this occurrence, an underground artist group responded by designing wooden platforms to cover these constructions and released the designs online, titling the resource ‘Geometric Resistance’. Initiated in the virtual world, these plywood constructions quickly began appearing in the real world. The protests atop common electrical boxes immediately elevated these simple forms into discreet symbols of revolt, entering the political realm. The resulting architectural designs became an inadvertent collaboration between authority and rebellion. Jane Bennett highlights that objects that go beyond their objecthood and become independent from human interaction are the genuine creators of history. The assembled electricity box becomes a trace, the presence of an absence. The peculiarity of its assemblage, in comparison to common electricity boxes, allude directly to the bodies standing upon them, giving them political significance.
Through the lens of rusted architectural elements, one can notice the photographic series ‘House of Sin’, which also emerge through the interplay of authority and rebellion. The photographs comprise images taken from mobile phones seized by the Iranian police, and used as evidence at government trials to make a case for supposed morally corrupt behaviour. Doctored and blurred by authorities, they transition from private space to public, rendering intimate settings, everybodys’. Blurring the photographs generalises the agents they contain, and further the blurred bodies become a trace. They transform into symbols, used as examples and threats. Akbari and White re-present these affects as a way of leaning into their visual peculiarity, exaggerating the unsettling, idiosyncratic aesthetic of authoritarian power. They are displayed as transparencies on makeshift lightboxes held on rusted steel structures, alluding to their original provenance on mobile phones. The artists’ subversive and imaginative recycling and reuse signifies how they can also represent the site of potential rupture and protest. The works become indicative of artistic gestures that can counter these notions of political and personal subjection through expressions of resistance and activism.
Standing in the middle of the exhibition space, the ‘Mr Majidi’ series of sculptures derives from the manipulation of a single found object, a discarded water butt, found near the artists’ current home in London. In this object the artists’ felt they recognised a figure that was familiar to them. Mr. Majidi relates to Akbari’s direct experience of the Iranian operative of the Revolutionary Guard, who is responsible for the surveillance and control of the nation’s filmmakers and, ultimately, responsible for her own exile. Operating under this mysterious name, this authoritative figure was invasively present in Akbari’s life and career, and took on perverse roles of a charming confidant, as well as an abusive commander. The staggered and serial presentation of the sculptures suggests the character’s multiplicity of facets. Free of his control, yet still affected by his memory, Akbari and White explore the ongoing psychological shadow cast over their lives by presenting the sculptures as animated marionettes, dismantled, inside out, standstill and upside down. The scene communicates violence with the playfulness of a cartoon, which the exhibition title further alludes to through reference to the ‘Mr. Men’ series of children books.
Playing in loop, the artists’ latest film ‘Lubion’ (2019) rises through the form of a hallucinatory landscape, a vivid response to the psychological and corporeal effects caused by Akbari’s IVF hormone treatment. As the ‘Lubion’ drug is delivered by injection, reality mixes with a chimeric techno-natural vision of inner and outer worlds. As traces of the body inhabit the entire exhibition, this piece concurrently introduces the body directly in its most honest and visceral form. The psychological and physical manipulation of the body that each piece of the exhibition explores, is met with a consenting scientific manipulation that Akbari agonisingly puts herself through. The traces of this brutal experience remain in a box opposite the projection, where all the syringes of previous Lubion treatments, rest in peace.
Saturday 7th December to coincide with the exhibition, Mania Akbari and Douglas White have curated the cultural event Body and Borders featuring 10 screenings from contemporary artists whose works explore the physical, political, emotional and sensual borders of the modern corporeal experience. Screenings will include the work of Johann Arens, Mania Akbari, Lucy Clout, A K Dolven, Barbara Hammer, Carlos Mott, Lynne Sachs, Margaret Salmon, Mark Street, Jessica Sarah Rinland, Miranda Pennel and Douglas White. A panel discussion, moderated by art critic Nick Hackworth will follow the screenings, featuring Mania Akbari, Johann Arens, Lucy Clout, Miranda Pennell, Margaret Salmon and Douglas White to discuss the Body and its entangled power structures.
Supported by Outset Contemporary Art Fund.