On a Tuesday morning, the shallow reservoir of water that serves as a sort of canvas for Shahrzad Changalvaee’s solo show “Absentia, In Effigie” is even more still than usual: it’s partially frozen. Opening the tin garage door to The Chimney, a unique gallery exhibition space in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, the artist is excited about this temporary development. Inside the pool, her array of photos are stuck in position.
“It may look random at the beginning, but it’s specific which images are sitting next to each other — as specific as you can control images in the water,” says the artist, eyes accented with blue liner; her sweater, by Iranian designer Zeynab Izadyar, is named “Sun Sets By The Lake.” “So the stillness of this, a fluid thing but it’s not moving, is very important.”
The brick-walled space is the brainchild of founders and directors Clara Darrason and Jennifer Houdrouge in 2015, who met while completing masters degrees in New York a few years back, and opened the space in 2015. They’ve used the unusual space, an intimate cubic stand-alone brick warehouse building, to stage ambitious installations and performances by emerging artists. The gallery is open on weekends and by appointment.
“[I always thought] ‘OK if I have the space, I’m going to do something big and tall,'” says Changalvaee, who met Darrason and Houdrouge through a mutual friend who showed in the space; she had work included in the group show “Endnotes” this past summer. “And then I actually thought of something that is responding to the space as if like — I’m not going to say it’s anti-space, but its low and its shallow. And I wanted the viewer to be conscious about the space by this piece that’s actually acting somehow against it.”
The pool of water, situated just a few inches from the ground and contained by a white border, is home to a floating display of photographs culled from her archive of “found” images — screenshots of videos and photographs from the Internet, as well as a few originals — which have been cropped and sliced and arranged in juxtaposition. Persian typography is placed next to English truncated phrases, natural scenes float next to the urban. Among the mix, slices of margin lay curled.
“A kind of nonlinear narrative happens in my mind linking those images,” she says of her process. “At the same time, what makes it more layered for me and hopefully for the audience is while they sit next to each other, a new narrative is going to be interpreted.”
Many of the images are cropped substantially, removing the context of time and setting, although a lot can be inferred through very little. A cluster of hands, for example, are telling: a peace sign, a raised fist, a row of men sitting passively with hands on each other. “Suggesting that they’re probably looking and listening to someone who’s in a higher position than them and the passiveness of the situation,” she says. “And this is something that, in a very abstract level, talks about what is going on in, for example, the social political situation of where I come from.”
The Iranian artist, who’s based in Brooklyn, not too far from The Chimney, was raised in Tehran and studied in the fine arts department at university there before completing her MFA at Yale. Like many artists, there are political undertones to her work. Lording above the organized chaos of the reservoir of photos a printer is situated atop a slide. The printer has been programmed to take and print random screenshots of videos every 10 minutes while the show is open, adding around eight new photos per day.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about hierarchies and of power limitations, dictations. And also the piece generally is about alienism versus exoticism. I’ve been thinking a lot about what is alien, and what is that tiny border where something is alien or it is exotic? About how things can eventually be neutralized and sit next to each other and have to interact with each other,” she says.
“It may look at the very beginning that it’s very authoritarian — it’s sitting on the top doing this carelessly — but it has a humor. It’s sitting on the top but it’s not quite on the top,” she continues. “And you know even that doesn’t have the full control, even that is not the character that is sending all this. I’ve been thinking a lot about agency and control. The computer which is sending the prints, we don’t see it. We know it’s probably there — I mean, it is there. I’m not hiding it that much.”
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