New York Gallery, Elga Wimmer PCC: ‘The Safarani Sisters: Reincarnation’

Mary Hrbacek
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Bahareh and Farzandeh Safarani, “5:30 a.m. In the Basement,” Oil paintings on canvas overlaid with video projection, 60×36 inches, 2018.

Roya Khadjavi Projects presents “The Safarani Sisters: Reincarnation,” a series of fourteen new video-paintings in which the identical-twin Iranian sisters, Bahareh and Farzandeh Safarani, create a plausible world of visual intrigue.  The exhibit features the artists in a performance-based genre of photography, painting and video. Reincarnation refers to the rebirth of one’s psyche into a new body, but here it is the twins’ inner life that undergoes a process of transformation. The Safaranis incorporate the ambient play of shadow, light and reflection to stress interior versus exterior reality in their psychologically potent episodic narratives.  The video projections create convincing atmospheric visual and kinesthetic effects.  Windows play an important role as metaphoric unconscious portals that signify each twin’s quest for self-revelation.

The twins’ purposeful methods to overcome their diffidence generate edgy disquiet images whose compelling video projections infuse the element of time to create believable phantom-like forms that appear and dissolve.  Their barely perceptible movements generate a sense of legerdemain and reverie, which forges cinematic effects within the dynamics of the skillfully articulated paintings. This uneasy terrain leads to viewer speculations and mild disquiet at the unconventional yet wondrous ephemeral visual perceptions. The pictorial interiors are refreshed by elusive breezes that engender feelings of anticipation inculcated with repressed angst and suspense. Viewers inadvertently create unpredictable interactive results that intensify the visual complexities as projections cast exquisite shadows that meld their identities into the scenes.

Right:Twilight reincarnation, Oil paintings on canvas overlaid with video projection, 108×72 inches, 2018. 

Each format is an intense multiplex scene that progresses as the artists inscribe intricate emotions onto the canvases using both photography and video projections, to build deepened self-identities as women. Through this exposure or “unveiling” the sisters enhance their relationship as twins, and their sense of themselves as Iranian woman artists. The artists gradually defeat their trepidations by scrutinizing uncertainties in a visual discourse, which ultimately strengthens their consciousness and confidence.

In passages that parallel Dutch Masters and Renaissance interiors the artists sit, stand or recline, seemingly absorbed in profound thought, contemplating quiet rooms imbued with light that emanates from prominent windows and empty mirrors.  The video imagery forms apparitions glimpsed briefly at illuminated windows in bare rooms, as the women speculate on their inner and outer surroundings.  The immobility of quiet figures suggests parallels with women in rigid societies where culturally imposed boundaries hinder them in their daily movements, their education and experiences, and limit the scope of their prospective achievements.

The Safarani sisters engage in hidden internal strategies to realize progress as women and as human beings by cultivating their resolve to collaborate in their quest to conquer culturally imposed fears and hesitations.  In many cultures, twins are assigned a sacred symbolic role; in Greek mythology, as progeny of Zeus the Dioscuri were instated as the Gemini constellation in the firmament for eternity. In ancient China, “twins” are affiliated at once with both discord and harmony (p. 69, 1000 Symbols, Thames & Hudson, 2002).  The show demonstrates an impressive degree of creative cooperation.

Left:The artists Bahareh and Farzaneh Safarani. Photo by Justin Aversano, courtesy the Safarani sisters. 

The video-painting entitled “5:30 a.m. In the Basement” (oil painting on canvas overlaid with video projections, 60 x 36”, 2018) reveals a sister engaged in wiping bright red blood off the floor, positioned near a door stained with a red handprint. This printed self-signifying cipher represents a universally recognized style of signature whose imprint has spiritual connotations as an evocation of divine power. In India, doors with handprints are thought to protect the family home. Hands epitomize Islam’s five reverent precepts:  prayer, faith, fasting, charity and pilgrimage (p. 159, The Book of Symbols, ARAS, Taschen, 2010). In various cultures blood frequently connotes suffering and sacrifice. It is related to childbirth and to life force, associated with rebirth.  Here it may suggest the exigency to strive to relinquish living a life devoid of progress. The basement personifies a dark, moist womb-like underworld whose substructure we build on, in order to attain psychical, developmental or instinctual evolution, to hide or to keep our secrets or our valuables. In Islam the basement is a hidden place where mystics are said to withdraw in search of union with the Almighty. (P. 574, The Book of Symbols.)

Left: Ater 12 PM, Oil paintings on canvas overlaid with video projection, 72×48 inches, 2018.

In other works, blue or white light is projected through shielded semi-transparent window frames to shape forms on the floors that glimmer within the restrained interiors.  White light, which is associated with “spirit,” exudes a sense of purity; it is linked to innocence, to virgins, to wedding dresses, and to enlightenment while blue light has profound metaphysical connotations. (P. 545, The Book of Symbols, ARAS, Taschen, 2010.)

The use of soft warm brown, green, gold and yellow contrasted with pale ultramarine blue augments the artists’ enigmatic passage of developing consciousness in a mood of expectancy, heightened by the subtle employment of video images of objects such as a cuckoo clock, drapery, and figural phantasms that appear and disintegrate in a believable invented scenario.

In “Late Afternoon Gaze 1” (oil painting on canvas overlaid with video projection, 60 x 36,” 2018) a sister makes direct eye contact with the viewer against a drapery backdrop, as she confronts her need to establish a forbidden connection. In a sequential work, “Late Afternoon Gaze 2”  (oil painting on canvas overlaid with video projection, 50 x 36”, 2018), with her face in shadow she retreats behind a sheer or “veil,” denoting a regression from her previous self-assertive maneuver.  In recent centuries the veil has carried political importance in societies where removing it becomes a gesture of independence in terms of cultural and religious identity.  Veils are a traditional means to disguise, conceal and separate.  Spiritual revelation would be tantamount to “unveiling” or revealing the transpersonal reality beyond the realm of the sensate (p. 530, The Book of Symbols, ARAS, Taschen, 2010).

Right: Awake, Oil paintings on canvas overlaid with video projection, 120×72 inches, 2018

The video-painting entitled “Awake” (oil painting on canvas overlaid with video projection, 120 x 72”, 2018) arrays a sister clad in a dark dress, lying in an empty room on a floor filled with puddles of diffused reflections.  She covers her face in an apparent attempt to shrink from the inevitability of her metamorphosis.  In the double format work entitled “Twilight Reincarnation” (oil painting on canvas overlaid with video projection, 108 x 72,” 2018), the two sisters, one reclining and one hesitantly standing, seem suspended as they calmly assess their place in the poignant irrevocable path they have chosen.

The home is a center of rituals and sacraments in our relationships, a place of safety and of solitude that replicates in our subconscious our origins in the mother’s womb.  It is the center of belonging, which provides shelter and containment. It can be a place for nurturing the self, a place of avoidance, and also a place of deprivation of life in the world. The human psyche is often thought of as a house with various levels that advance through time.  Here the house symbolizes both a sanctuary and a prison. “Home is the goal of epic odysseys, spiritual quests and psychic transformation.”  (P. 556, The Book of Symbols, ARAS, Taschen, 2010.)   A window is often referred to as the ‘eye’ of a home which frames images with a sense of suffused psychic potency.  It is a translucent threshold where elemental outside and inside forces merge to create conditions conducive to the psychological expansion that leads to self-knowledge. (P. 564, The Book of Symbols.)

Blue Curtain” (oil painting on wood panel overlaid with video projection, 72 x 48”, 2017), (left) presents the transparent, veiled back view of a nude standing woman as she faces a window, in a scene that mingles eroticism with psychic transfiguration. In contrast, the opaque black veil is linked to irreproachable morality.

In “My Sister’s Picture,” Farzandeh and Bahareh offer insight into their performance-based collaborative process as one twin confidently photographs herself while the other scrutinizes her mirror image, enabling the viewer to participate in the genesis of the multivalent process, as their conscious self-knowledge expands. The twins gradually grow to trust their power to control the sheer curtains, which function as two-pronged barriers that both protect them and prevent their exposure to the outside world.  The mirror is a light-infused symbol of our ability to contemplate and reflect, as a vehicle for redemption. Mirrors embody the power of the unconscious to expose unknown potential wisdom.  Schopenhauer compared the mirror to human intelligence (p. 592, The Book of Symbols, ARAS, Taschen, 2010).

Right: My Sister’s Picture, Oil paintings on canvas overlaid with video projection, 40×30 inches, 2018.

The artists draw on women’s societal issues, psychology, filmmaking and art history to create amalgams of painting and video that examine their liberating interior odyssey symbolized by the interior settings of their artwork.  This autobiographical exhibition relates in eloquent uncanny images and postures the conflicts that surface when one examines internalized societal false certainties, to uncover one’s potential.   These realizations may precipitate new beginnings based on previously inconceivable personal truths.

This daring, inventive exhibition mixes video with painting in an imaginative effective process that enhances and invigorates both genres. It is a perfect bridge that produces a new means of honing and articulating visual art.  “Reincarnation” is an unusually sensitive glimpse into the private domain of twin sisters who miraculously support and encourage one another in their liberating disclosures. In the context of courageous performance-based imagery they present their insightful journey of awareness by exposing their internal conflicts. The sisters have explored their similarities, but they haven’t yet delved into what makes each one distinctive. They cooperate on the same art-piece and video in an unparalleled model of two minds working in parallel harmony. In this unique balance of performance, video and figurative painting, Farandeh and Bahareh have made a persuasive narrative of young women coming into their own in the context of their identity as artists and as Iranian women. The show provides an engaging example of an ingenious new, invigorated hybrid genre. It is rare, especially for sisters, to maintain a practice that excludes the strife and competition that dominate the outer world of art and the milieu beyond.

By Mary Hrbacek, Contributing Writer

The Safarani Sisters: Reincarnation’

Elga Wimmer  PCC, through October 31, 2018

Address: 526 W 26th St #310, New York, NY 10001

Phone: (212) 206-0006

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