Negotiating Aesthetics: an Interview with Kimia Maleki

For the last few months, Kimia Maleki has been working as a Curatorial Fellow, developing Toranj, an exhibition and publication where she studies the ways in which Persian carpets shape Western conceptions of the East. In her statement about the prospective show, Maleki writes: “Oriental rugs, mostly Persian ones, have been one of the East’s main forms of representation in the West…The Toranj exhibition brings together artists those whose work has been influenced by not only the aesthetic features of the Oriental carpet, but also the concept and story of the warp and weft behind the completed rug.” In the following interview, we talk more about her work on this project.

Caroline Picard: You have been a GLP Curatorial Fellow this fall 2018, working at Sector 2337 on your exhibition and publication, Toranj. Can you talk a little bit about the project?

Kimia Maleki: I was so lucky to be offered a fellowship by the Green Lantern Press to work extensively on the Toranj proposal and its publication. Being at the Sector 2337 was a unique chance that helped me to familiarize myself with an array of independent and creative-written books and publications by artists and experimental writers. Toranj is about the concept of Oriental carpets’ emanation in the field of Western Contemporary Art. Though, this permeation does not merely mean to explicitly and visually represent carpets. I am interested in the works of artists whose works has been influenced not only by the aesthetic features of the Oriental carpet, but also the concept and story of the warp and weft behind the completed rug. One of the important aspects of my research through the last few months was to read and write from the perspective of a creative writer. This was indeed an opportunity that would have not come through without being at the Green Lantern Press. Looking at my project through the lens of experimental writing provided me an opportunity to intuitively discover more reasons about why this project is important to me. Consequently, the process and conversations that were shaped at the Sector 2337 motivated me to continue the project and accomplish it. 

CP: How did you get the idea for Toranj?

KM: For a long time I was interested in the works of contemporary artists who were bringing Oriental rugs into their works. With my background studying and designing carpets in Iran, I wanted to understand what would compel artists in a different geography than mine, to incorporate oriental rugs and motifs into their works. However, I have to be prudent throughout my research since I am not interested in artists who use these conventional patterns to be “exotic.” I always track the traces of carpets in the contemporary artworks and I wanted to understand the reasons artists use them. Is the artist excited to bring those materials into the work? If so, then why? Is their interest because of an internal and thrilling process during which they realize the aesthetic power of those objects? Or does the artist truly try to articulate a set of arguments by bringing specific oriental motifs into the work? These are all the questions that I hope to answer through a potential exhibition. I understand the presumption is that the “the [Persian] carpet is beautiful,” but I am more interested in challenging this presumption and understanding who defines this beauty or what factors negotiate this aesthetic. 

CP: How do you conceive a curator’s job?

KM: Many have talked about what a curator’s job is and I do not think that I want add to anything. However, to me the curator’s job involves working on something that the person really believes in it. I think this is very important to acknowledge. If we accept honesty as one of the most important aspects of artworks through history, meaning that the artwork was created by inner revelation from the mind of an artist, curatorial practice would not be so different thing. To me, I see curating as challenging and fruitful. I pick topics that indeed “matter” to me and I want to explore questions to which I have never found answers elsewhere and am not sure anybody else cares about. The Toranj is also entangled with my other projects both at the Art Institute of Chicago, where I had a chance to curate rotations of Islamic Art gallery cases, and also my previous exhibition Sedentary Fragmentation that I researched about the role of Iranian art students in Chicago since 1960. I accept that working with contemporary artists has its own challenges in terms of logistics, dialogues, and issues that come up through the human interactions. Though, I see the reciprocal conversations that happen through the way, very rewarding and productive. For Toranj, I intend to weave the history part by brining two artists from 20th century and juxtapose their works with more recent ones.

CP: What is it like to work on a project about Iranian culture, material production, and history from the American Midwest?

KM: I am glad that you are asking this question since I myself also think so often about my current geography. I would say that everyday while I am in a street and encounter the flatness of the city, I am reminded that I am in the Midwest. This flatness is a thing that keeps recurring to me since I grew up in mountainous Tehran and I heavily feel the absence of mountains in Chicago. However, if I were not in the Midwest, I might have not asked these questions since all my interests about the collection and representation of Islamic and Iranian art began by asking how these collections came to the U.S and specifically the Midwest? Who were the figures behind these transferring and why they did so?  Shaping my knowledge of sources on this topic, I felt that nowhere could be better than Chicago to offer me such understanding by providing me access to archives, libraries and more importantly individuals that could help me along the way (like you).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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between the sheet protectors, there is no hierarchy

During the final week of Sector 2337 activities, we are publishing a series of responses to the Green Lantern Press’s 15 year old archive. The following text was produced by claire arlen linn. claire arlen linn is a writer and artist from NYC. She completed her undergraduate degree at SAIC in 2018 and is currently working on projects and figuring out what’s next.

between the sheet protectors, there is no hierarchy: 

about the archive of the Green Lantern Gallery/Press, approximately 2006-2011

by claire arlen linn

“The materials used in this show are removed from their intended purpose, implicating original sources just as they transcend them and grow into independent art objects that map out a particular recollection.”

The archive is presented to me, held within five large three-ring binders and one thinner portfolio book. I do not know where it was originally being stored, I never saw the binders before being asked to write about them. But now they are here, keeping me company while I work. Each morning when I come in, they have been moved to a new spot because they are taking up a lot of space and, I assume, don’t have a permanent home for if/when they need to be looked through.

So, I move them back next me first thing, for the duration of time I am looking through them; a couple weeks in which, I like to think, the archive and I grow rather fond of each other.

The binders are numbered but, I will come to realize, not exactly in chronological order, and they are comprehensive but only in that they contain a wide range of types of things; there are remnants of exhibits, zines, photographs, small pieces of art, newspaper clippings, press releases, invitations, interviews, all of it pertaining to the promotion and operation of the gallery, both long-term (to historicize) and short-term (to do the day-to-day). Every piece of paper in every binder is a different size, color, layout, typeface, and I have no way of knowing how each came to be; what was necessity and what was choice? Was each document merely the outcome of cost-benefit analysis — the price of paper or ink or a photocopy versus the aesthetic desires of an artist or a space or a curator?

I will also come to realize that, in many cases, without seeing the physical artwork or having the tangible experience that the documents describe or advertise(d) or were made specifically for, there are firm limits to what can be communicated to me presently, by their present form. In general, no postcard or flyer or announcement for an exhibit will ever include photographs of every work in it. If there are any, the image will rarely be of a work in the actual space, because the postcard invitation is (obviously) made to invite someone to a space.

Now, I feel like I’m being invited to a time.

These binders are comprised, mostly, of objects peripheral to their subjects: the exhibit, the performance, the screening, the reading, etc. This ephemera elucidates more about context than content, less about what and more about why or when.

For example, an artist statement will outline the idea(s) or intention(s) of the artwork but rarely will it fully explain how that is translated into its physical appearance. For example, I read a press release for a 2009 show[1] describing an artist’s work as “…characterized by an intimacy and quiet involvement with the subjects and places she selects. While there is an innate awareness of the historical, aesthetic paradigms of portraiture native to her work, she subverts many of the expectations of the form by inserting intentional transgressions in her process. In her new work, she has chosen to construct and show images that capture the truth of unique moments as opposed to presenting a homogenous study over time.” I am unsure of what to imagine—I (somewhat inexplicably) think of the photo work of John Baldessari, quickly realizing that is an odd (probably incorrect) association to make—there are only a few words that point to the work’s corporeal structure, this is much more about conceptual structure. I guess I could google each artist or writer or contributor and maybe get a sense of what their work is like, imagine with a little more accuracy what it might have been like, but somehow that feels like cheating.

The impact and passing of time is acutely evident; certain types of documentation age well and others do not. For example, reading a press release from 2005 is, fundamentally, a very similar (if not identical) experience to reading one from 2018, but a 700 megabyte CD with a Myspace link written on it feels kind of archaic; looking through zines filled with more handwritten, rather than typed, text feels oddly refreshing—doing all this work by hand, with so much less reliance on the computer and its schematic defaults.

This archive highlights a contradiction of any archive:

created, in theory, to resist (or stand) the test of time, enact a kind of futurity upon its subject matter, but eventually, its container(s) becomes so decidedly of a time, there is always something left behind, slightly stuck.

But I digress, because it’s not all stuck and it’s not all “dated.”

There is no expiration date for the “tone” or “character” of a text (whether casual, serious, informational, humorous) and there is something (urgently) intimate about the publications that contain each—stapled together zines, little books with short stories and poetry inside, many of them containing drawings that don’t seem to always correlate so directly—because they don’t feel precious or inaccessible, it is all part of an authentic (lived, living) narrative, no matter how incongruent it may appear. As if you must get to know each piece of writing very quickly and very deeply, because you are being given the language to do so, because you cannot “bookmark” it to read later; if you agree to interrogate it as an author/artist might have (ideally) wanted you to, you are encouraged to do so.

The (lowercase) archive also serves as the repository for The (uppercase) Archive, a semi-regularly published “newsletter” booklet. The first one I come across is volume 2, no. 4 and begins with a call for “marginal notions,” ideas deemed unusable by one person that might come more naturally to fruition in the hands (mind) of someone else. There is so much like this, in these pages, focused on building a community. I find it very compelling that these books of “news” were named The Archive, as if once it is written down it is no longer of the current, only potential; what is normally static energy becomes kinetic through (my) interactions.

Also of note:

Binder #1 is the only one that contains a table of contents but it is incorrect because the first pages correspond to something unlisted, and the pages after that, with the seventh item on the list. Wading deeper, I find myself intrigued (inspired) by a mention of “trailers for books,” (a kind of lovely concept!) and a short story titled The Girl in the Bathroomexplicating a show by the same name. The story goes that on June 22nd, 2006, Marie Valigorsky, the girl in the bathroom, was evicted from her place on the wall, across from the shower, only to have her image reproduced 52 times, by various artists, to be sold or re-hung throughout the city.

She had “seen a lot of things between the toilet and the shower and all the various guests that [had] made a habit of her company. But she [was] a nice girl; she [didn’t] judge. She [didn’t] pay rent either… She is a very nice girl… Her hand writes in big loops on paper with wide lines… She is quiet at first and talks in doldrums tones within which she hides morsels of surprise; she is worth paying attention to. She just completed an original composition about Mt. Vesuvius. Marie is regularly wondering what to do and where to go and between her passions and fetishes, her sexual explorations, and the casual giggles that stand as artifacts of her childhood, she sighs about music.” Until she was taken down, (I imagine) her image was the only piece of art that had purely served the purpose of decoration and that is why she became important, a regular fixture in the space, worthy of a proper goodbye, “She [was] constructed as such… it is not so difficult to erect a celebrity.”

And while there are many reasons something might end up hung up, I think about what those things are in the gallery’s current iteration. There’s the No Smoking sign and the liquor licenses and Sector2337 also has a singular decorative piece of art. Adorning a wall of the bookstore, there is a vertically-oriented landscape painting, depicting what seems to be ruins of a pantheon-esque structure, overgrown with fauna, a large urn sitting in the foreground. I suppose we could similarly evict that image from the space now, but I doubt it would feel as tidy or effective or elicit a narrative nearly as interesting. I make a mental note to ask about the origins of said painting but decide later, it is not necessary.

The epigraph of this piece of writing is quoted from a press release[2] found in Binder #2.

Binder #3 contains information about a publication called Phonebook (2008), “the essential travel guide to artist-run centers, small not-for-profit, fringe galleries and other exhibition and presentation projects… a valuable resource for artist and audience alike, connecting a web of makers and projects while acting as an archive of work…” meant to be used as “a research tool, as a travel guide to the visual arts, for networking, for exhibition proposals or to facilitate artistic exchanges.” There are still copies of it in the book closet.

Tucked into the interior pocket of Binder #4 is a letter “to whom it may concern” announcing Caroline Picard’s resignation as an artist (dated October 17th, 2008) and three pamphlets for screenings of films from the 80s—MegaForceCannibal Campout, and NightBeast. Each consists of some combination of rules for a drinking game, “non-competitive trivia” questions, “facts and cast notes,” stills, funny commentary, spoilers, and a list of related titles. They sound like pretty fun events… There is a (now defunct) link written on all of them (movienightwebsite.com); the page currently hosts the Tommy Hilfiger section of a Danish online retailer. The last six or so pages of the binder are empty save for titled post-it notes—many from a local dentist’s office, still in operation—placeholders no one got around to replacing.

Binder #5 contains three pages of press releases for two different shows and many, many print-outs of online press: announcements, mentions on “things to see/do” lists, interviews and reviews, a good deal of which stress the importance of apartment galleries in Chicago. There is also one price list which reminds me that I don’t think I have seen any others.

In the Portfolio Book, there is one square card with a dollop of dried white paint, captioned: a friend of mine, having a bad day.

Otherwise, it is mostly empty and the least logically organized—

I assume in anticipation of there being more.

 

[1] In Lieu of Gifts, a solo show by Jenny Walters, on display from May 9th to June 13th, 2009.

[2]  Remote Sighs From a Desert Island; works by Peter Speer, Doug Shaeffer, Philip von Zweck, Anne Elizabeth Moore and Carmen Price, on display from November 30th to December 22nd, 2007.

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The Empty Garden

During the final week of Sector 2337 activities, we are publishing a series of responses to the Green Lantern Press’s 15 year old archive. Join us this Friday from 6-11pm for Sector’s final partyThe following text was produced by O. Kristina Pedersen. OK Pedersen is a metaphysician, b. 1993, Midwest USA. Pedersen investigates communion on the fringes. Her books include Gemini, a poetry chapbook, and What Humble Place As This, a newspaper documenting oil pride in rural Texas. She aspires to play Willie Wonka on Broadway. 

The Empty Garden

OK Pedersen

As the sun fell sideways over California Avenue on a winter afternoon, we—the scientists and the scholars—came across a vacancy. It was a strange place for an empty garden, between a smoothie shop and a vegan diner, and across the street from a Mexican bodega. At the center of the garden stood a monument, which was not a statue but an archive, comprised of five oversized 3-ring binders. These fat-free tomes, stacked atop a modest pedestal, contained the history of the garden. The monument lacked any of the usual fascist frills of history petrified: no plaque or official explanation adorned the monument, its face was clean and its covers unmarked. All stacked up, the binders came nearly up to our knees. But, if you opened its two hundred pages, and lined up all its words, they would maybe go for miles.

According to the monument, there once stood a Sector—Sector 2337, to be exactright here in this very spot. It closed not long ago. The Sectorwell lit and sometimes quiet and always peacefulfelt like the inside of an imagination on a good day. It was once the home of the Green Lantern Press.

All around the Sector, the city buzzed by on bicycles and Ford F150’s. Some people outside said to their dogs in funny voices, “What’s that?” as they sniffed the facade (the dogs, not the people). Some people smoked cigarettes and some people puffed juuls and some people held hands. Some days it rained. Behind the Sector, the city had decided to grow a mountain. The mountain was no small place, its shadow cast over many sectors in space and time. It loomed over us as we entered the garden. Rumor has it that people will live on the mountain somedaywith its open floor plans and floor-to-ceiling windowssome very lucky people. There is nothing in the Sector’s archive about the mountain.

Instead, its archive tells the story of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, the goddess of grain, harvest, and abundance. One day Hades, god of the Underworld, kidnapped Persephone, because he had fallen in love with her. While in captivity, Persephone was tricked into eating fruit from the garden of the Underworld. Hades declared that, by eating from his harvest, she had consented to be his guest, thus Persephone must remain in the Underworld for six months every year for the rest of eternity. During this six months, her mother grieves: crops die, water freezes, and winter lays waste to the Earth. Is Persephone’s absence why the garden remains empty and the Sector remains closed? I mean, it’s right there, in one of the monument’s very official-looking 3-ring binder.

But the binders tell a thousand myths. They are neither dusty nor delicate. We sit at the feet of this monument, pouring over its pages, as it asks us hard questions: What is right with Chicago? How is it that we are so entrenched in the ideology of hierarchy that we cannot extricate ourselves enough from its grip to consider alternative measures of success? Is it possible to undo all that has been done and return to emptiness? Who is Marie Valigorsky? Is that your apple chore? We look up from the monument and softly furrow our brows. An archive always reeks of loss. This is a garden we may never have the privilege to play in, yet the flowers pressed in these pages remain pungent and real.

The plastic sleeves preserve countless manifestos, stories, opening night recaps, and Marginal Notions. But, lacking explanation, the archive speaks to us through metaphor, and we struggle to straighten out its symbols. Inside one of the binders, the methodology of a Wedding Party unfolds. Or, rather, the methodology of a Wedding Party remains mysteriously hidden inside four silver CD-R discs until we (scientists and scholars) can jimmy together a superdrive and TV screen to view their contents. The first disc is just a mixtape, starting with the song “I do, I do, I do, I do, I do” by Abba.

The Wedding Party was the first Green Lantern exhibition. The opening night, July 23, 2005, featured a series of paintings, multimedia Totems, and a book called Lust & Cashmere. In classic art fashion, it is hard for us to figure out what happened at the wedding party in question. The second disc in the archive, titled “Wedding Video Jenny Walters 4 min. 30 sec.,” shows a group of twenty people—three in wedding dresses and all else in formal attire—doing a choreographed group number in a hotel ballroom. The paintings, documented on the third disc, depict nude men seated comfortably in compromising positions, raising questions not of provocation but of the depths of intimacy. The paintings are based on the party, and the book on the paintings, and the Totems on the opening-night party in their honor, which is documented on the last disc. The works reflect stories back onto each other. Their echo is lost to us now, but the photographs of the opening reflect something more familiar and nearly reachable: another kind of communion in another kind of archive.

There is mischief afoot in these binders. We, the scholars and scientists, begin an endless debate. We look through the archive and try to pin down a place, a name, a fault line, a provenance. What happened here and which asteroid destroyed it? What came first and how could there possibly be more after? Why would anyone ever leave the garden? And as we study the archive’s most recent round of valedictions, debating how and why, Milo chides us gently through the stereo of a passing Uber: “You were too busy talking when the snake said love is choosing.”   

Photo by OK Pedersen

Rachel Galvin Readings

Join us for Rachel Galvin’s book tour, in promotion of her newest poetry collection, Elevated Threat Level.

(Links to events will be updated as they become available.)

Fall 2018 – Spring 2019 readings:

Sector 2337, Chicago, IL September 14, 2018

Ace Hotel Chicago, Chicago, IL, October 14, 2018

Bennington College, Bennington, VT, October 24, 2018

Two Dollar Radio, Columbus, OH, November 9, 2018

The Laundry Art Gallery, San Francisco, December 11

Wolfman Books, San Francisco, CA, December 13, 2018

Poetry Foundation, Chicago, IL, February 13, 2019

Poetry & Biscuits, Chicago, IL, March 15, 2019

Pete’s Candy Shop, Brooklyn, NY, April 12, 2019

5 titles for So close, far away

In tandem with the exhibition So close, far away, we have selected several titles available from the Green Lantern Press’s bookstore for their resonances with the themes of the exhibition. All books are available to purchase in-store or from our online bookstore

 

New and Selected Poems of Cecilia Vicuña

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Social Medium: Artists Writing, 2000–2015

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Jaime Saenz, The Cold

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Soleida Ríos, The Dirty Text

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Dolores Dorantes, Style

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