Crossing Threshold: A Dance with Perception

Teresa Williams, public programs intern at the Asian Art Museum, interviews artist Sanaz Mazinani about her recently exhibited work “Threshold”.

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Photo: Quincy Stamper 2015

The soft murmurs of conversation faded as the dancer entered the space. After drawing the attention of her audience, Bobbi Jene Smith began to dance. Complementing and reflecting the dancer’s movements, Threshold, an exhibition alive with
moving mosaic images and reflective surfaces, was the perfect partner.  Bobbi’s dramatic gestures and movements captivated those watching. When she was done, the dancer slowly walked out of the space.

Visitors were only speechless for a moment.  After which, they burst into applause and conversation. As the conversation about the dance and the exhibition started to grow, Sanaz Mazinani, artist and creator of the exhibition Threshold, happily moved amongst the audience, engaging visitors and answering questions about her work.

Both before and after the Artist Drawing Club  program, I had the opportunity to speak with Sanaz Mazinani about her exhibition, her fascination with explosions and how her work challenges our perceptions of the world.  Excerpts from our discussion are below:

Much of your work critiques the perception of photographic images as “truth,” and the interpretation of a photograph as a reliable account of an event. In Site, Sight, and Insight, I am interested in the strategies you use to make work that provokes viewers into considering how they read and interpret photographic images? 

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Photo: Qunicy Stamper 2015

Site, Sight, and Insight is an ongoing project where I use different techniques to express the limitations of the photographic medium. For example, I created a lenticular work that uses three photographic stills   of a beam of light. As the viewers moves past the framed photograph on the wall the beam of light moves with them. Another work shows two identical images of a pine tree, except that they are completely different shades of green, a shift as a result of the white-balance setting on a digital camera. Both pieces focus on the significance of light as a function of recording photographic images. For me, it is always important to think about the incredible transformation that a subject goes through in order to become a photograph. What are the effects of photographic representation and perception? How much of what we know about historical moments, or far off locations, are derived from the photographic representations that are widely circulated?

Your work often features images of explosions. What draws you to these images?

In practicing conceptual and documentary strategies side-by-side, I hope to investigate the context in which meaning is negotiated. By re-presenting the image of an explosion as a metaphor, I hope to discuss the symbolic value contained in media images in general. The explosion’s ability to obfuscate becomes a metaphor for my concerns with politics, a symbol for the veils of deception that simultaneously obscure and complicate reality.

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Photo: Quincy Stamper 2015

An explosion is a rapid increase in volume with a simultaneous release of energy. The symbolic likeness of an explosion stands in for an act of violence, but also for depictions of power that are sublime and awe-inspiring. We are surrounded by a culture of fetishism of weapons. The explosion is a compelling form made from a high-intensity chemical reaction. It is simultaneously magnificent and consuming, a sublime entity to be feared and admired

Through reference, repetition and representation, I examine the transformation of a momentary point in time into the two-dimensional surface of a photograph. Identifying auto-critique as an important tool, my work focuses on how translation through photography informs our relationship to war.

Threshold marks a new direction in your work. In the past most of your works have been photo-collages utilizing found images from a variety of sources, yet with Threshold, you chose to use video clips, specifically action sequences from recent Hollywood movies. What was it like to work with this material? How would you describe its effect? 

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Photo: Quincy Stamper 2015

I have been collecting video clips from news broadcasts and citizen journalists for five years now. I’ve amassed a collection of footage that deals specifically with explosions and bombings taking place in the Middle East that range from American soldiers blowing things up to the recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza. However, this footage just seemed too raw and overwhelmingly disturbing to use, so I opted to take a step back and work with a more sterilized version of violence. The footage culled for Threshold is from a database of Hollywood movies that I have watched, such as G.I. Joe and The Avengers. I am captivated by the incredible draw that I feel towards the power of an explosion, which in turn leads me to think about the militarization of our imagination and culture.

 

How do you want visitors to engage with Threshold? Have you witnessed any ways people interact with the work?

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Photo: Quincy Stamper 2015

I aimed to create a space where visitors could perhaps see themselves in a slightly different way than how they might see themselves reflected in a mirror. The video and sound component of the installation adds another layer and sets the tone for that personal interaction with the mirrored surfaces. I really love watching everyone interact with the work. My favorite is when visitors use the sculptural form to see themselves while they see through to the other side. This becomes especially poignant for me when visitors are interacting with friends and see themselves and another person simultaneously, so that the normal model of perception from one’s singular point of view is challenged.

For the Artist Drawing Club, for your exhibition Threshold, you wanted to invite dancer and choreographer Bobbi Jene Smith to experience, interpret, and respond to your work. This collaboration and performance you two titled Crossing Threshold. Can you tell us why you chose to work with Bobbi?

Bobbi is incredibly talented and has danced with the internationally acclaimed Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv since 2006. The first time that I saw her move and create was through documentation of a performance she choreographed titled “Arrowed.” Her performance digs deep into the human psyche and draws from a dark, existential place that we might all relate to, but may choose to ignore. Once I saw the performance I knew that I had to work with Bobbi, and that is when I asked her if she would be interested in collaborating with me. What was amazing about working with Bobbi was that we never really discussed the details, but had long and in-depth conversations about politics, human rights, and the creative process.

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Photo: Quincy Stamper 2015

 

What did you think of her performance? Why was it special?

I could not have imagined a better response to my piece. Bobbi understands the simultaneous anxiety and self-inquiry that I hope to translate through my installation, and takes these ideas and expresses them through time and space with her potent movements. I think that we are speaking the same words but through two uniquely different languages from our own perspectives. So for me it was rather special to realize this and wonder about potential future collaborations, and what we might be able to do for our audiences.

I wanted to follow up on our conversation about how, so many times, the topic of geometries in your work is only discussed on a cursory level. I wanted to know more about these geometries, your interest in them, and how this part of your work has developed both formally and conceptually. 

The geometries in my work are a means through which I try to understand our contemporary existence. For me, they become analogous to the networks of our digital domains, information linking us to one another through bits and bytes. The patterns that I use are inspired by my cultural background, but also relate to the power of repetition, circulation of information, and the forces that proliferate some details while censoring other facts.

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Photo: Quincy Stamper 2015

I should also note that, for me, Islamic geometries and ornamentation are not merely a superficial decorative element but a vital dimension of objects, buildings, and textiles. The use of these patterns in the Islamic world has cosmological and metaphysical meaning that alludes to ideals of harmony and transient beauty. I use Islamic ornamentation from a secular position, to speak to the power of change and the potential of what the world could really be, so that we may look at a pattern beyond the beauty of its decorative elements… as a visible symbol of the invisible ideal to be achieved.

Threshold was on view at the Asian Art Museum from March 27th May 3rd, 2015. If you did not have a chance to see the exhibition in person, or missed the Artist Drawing Club program Crossing Threshold, you can watch the video below to get a sense of it.

Join us for the next Artist Drawing Club event The Testimony Project Kickoff: A Night of Interactive, Audience-Led Research” with Eliza Gregory on Thursday, June 25th, 2015.

 

 

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