One Day reveals Iran's gridlock and anxiety

For a moment last June, America's fascination with Iran shifted from nuclear to Twitter. The San Francisco–based microblogging company's role in Tehran's post-election protests fired up the media's imagination and bridged the static-filled political divide.

More than anything, the Twitter hype indicated just how avidly people outside Iran crave interaction with and information about that country's average citizens, unmediated by politics or propaganda. Curator Taraneh Hemami originally conceived of the group art exhibit "One Day: A Collective Narrative of Tehran" as a way to sate that craving — to show what daily life is like in the capital of Iran, and to supplant the stereotypes.

In the wake of June's protests, the show feels less diaristic than historic. "One Day" shows a collection of work by young Tehranians who use the humble tools of the documentarian — photography, video, audio, maps — to convey larger symbolic truths. Neda Razavipour's Find the Lost One shows looped twin two-minute videos of walking commuters. In one panel, a commuter has been removed — but which one? The video's grainy surveillance feel, its passive point of view, and the impossibility of figuring out who is missing create an active anxiety.

Tehran's outline carpets the floor in Taraneh Hemami's Turning Green.
Tehran's outline carpets the floor in Taraneh Hemami's Turning Green.

Homayoun Sirizi's video, The Auspicious Bird's Rulership, filters destiny through another lens. A bird, plucked from its cage in the city center, bows mindlessly before a Rolodex of fortunes. The card it picks dictates your fate for the day, a tradition dating back to ancient Persia, when a bird alighting on a shoulder determined the ruler for the next four years.

But what land would they rule? Ghazaleh Hedayat's Taxiography gives us a sense-oriented lay of the land. Hedayat, trapped in a taxi for hours a day in Tehran's formidable traffic, began holding a pen over his artist's notebook and recording a sort of gridlock seismograph. On 77 sheets of notebook paper, the lines jostle and veer, snarl and bump. The piece seethes with resistance to frustration, a potent illustration of the resilience of human creativity even in a sea of brake lights. Abbas Kowsari's C-print triptych provides three Tehranian scenes: a polluted skyline, policewomen draped in hijabs rappelling down the face of a building, and groups of people strolling along an incline.

Taraneh Hemami's Turning Green celebrates the color that came to represent support for Mir Hussein Mousavi, who opposed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June's presidential election. The piece is a green wool carpet that has been sliced by laser into map lines of Tehran. On the floor in the center of the gallery, it emphasizes the show's geographical focal point. On the gallery walls, sentences in Arabic script sparkle. These are transcribed from Nima Alizadeh's audio installation This Is Tehran, Voice of Islamic Republic of Iran, which excerpts Iranian radio programs, and a description of the work offers some Orwellian translations: "Mankind needs religion"; "War is inevitable"; "I have no weapon except for tears."

If "One Day" disappoints, it's because of its brevity. This is a tweet of a show, an inadequate glance at Tehran's messy identity. Our desire to peer into the city is unsatisfied, and the restraint takes on political overtones. Kevin Chen, program director at Intersection for the Arts, says that one artist felt it necessary to drop out of the show. Since June, Iranian officials have been collecting photographs and video taken at the protests in order to identify people to bring in for interrogations. The artist's fear that her work might have been used in this manner is chilling, her absence a blot of unlocatable anxiety.

 
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