Of keys and pigeons…
Bidoun meets the artist Shahram Entekhabi
By Alia Rayyan
A man in a gray suit and white shirt stands somewhat remotely at the edge of a weekly market and allows the crowd to push by him. His attention is drawn to one of the passers-by, who bears a surprising resemblance to him. In a hectic, tense fashion, he begins to pursue the man, which leads him through streets, tunnels, house entranceways – until he arrives at his own doorstep. Has he followed himself? Shahram Entekhabi quietly watches the video projection “i?”, a work in ten episodes which depicts the everyday life of the protagonist “O”, played by Enthekabi himself. A game of perception and observations of the self. The plot of the video by Shahram Entekhabi is not only reminiscent of the film classic “Film” by Samuel Beckett with Buster Keaton – it can also be understood as a reference to the subject of interpretation from the viewpoint of an immigrant.
Entekhabi is one of ten artists with a commissioned work in the exhibit “Far Near Distance – Positions of Iranian Artists” (Kilid). Concurrently, a solo exhibition of his video work is featured in the Play gallery in Berlin Mitte. Bidoun met the artist in Berlin and spoke with him about his video work “i?”, the accompanying workshop for young people from Berlin and the exhibition in the House of World Cultures.
Entekhabi belongs to a generation of exile artists that haven’t been back to Iran in 18 years. The 41-year old projects an air of relaxation and ease. A prominent pair of black glasses dominates his face. His look is perfectly suited to the style of Berlin Mitte. Outwardly political, his artistic work concentrates on themes of the human microcosm. “In the film, I observe myself,” Entekhabi explains. “My ‘self’ is separated into two people. One is fully integrated and involved with daily happenings. The other always arrives a bit too late – stands in front of locked doors, gets lost. Even if Entekhabi is clearly recognizable as the protagonist “O”, his face is always partially concealed and remains in obscurity. A blade scrapes across O’s face. One can hear the breathing, the water and the scratch of the sharp edge. Despite being shot in close-up, the viewer is held at a distance.
“I am interested in exactly that moment in which you are at one with yourself; when you have no gender, no nationality, no age. I was looking for moments in which one is completely alone. For example, the sound of the shower or the scrapes of the razor. Then you suddenly notice something which brings you back to reality. At this point, you are once again confronted with your physicality, with the location, the environment. My work i? revolves around this search, the search for a “self”.
At first, the nine young people in the workshop could relate neither to the subject of “identity” nor to a film language à la Beckett. According to Entekhabi, only during the practical realization were they able to display their true strengths. The three productions can be viewed in the gallery. “Without consciously doing so, in the end they chose a similar film language to that of Beckett. In the process, an authenticity was created which some video artists are able to hide behind. However, these films don’t have anything to do with the subject of immigration or being on the outside. These young people haven’t yet been confronted with their own “difference”. Many are already from a fourth generation of immigrants and approach this subject in a very different way. Perhaps because the clichés are more deeply rooted or obvious. Belonging to a clique and behavioral roles are much more important.” Role play and clique membership seem to dominate the exhibition “Distant Nearness”. Shahram Entekhabi sighs deeply when asked about his opinion of the show.
“Naturally, at first it is nice to have the chance to meet so many artists from various branches. But something was missing.” With a sweeping arm movement he continues: “I think the reason was the composition. To be completely honest, there were many of us in the exhibit who would have had a better standing position with their art in other exhibitions – because apart from nationality, there is little connection between the pieces. This is difficult. Artists who are completely different are suddenly thrown together in a show, in a room – and the only thing in common is nationality. But what does that actually mean? Examining this point could have been an interesting topic. But it didn’t take place. This isn’t a critique of the curator’s work, but more of a general problem with national-themed exhibitions.” Apparently, Entekhabi feels, societal expectations are constantly pandered to and certain topics covered. “If at all, I think such concepts should be taken on by several curators,
so that their various backgrounds and directions can influence the show.” When artists appear in a national exhibition, there is always the danger of them being pushed into the role of representatives. For Entekhabi it was important to transfer his connection to Iran as authentically as possible. Naturally, nostalgia and the feeling that one has to make up for something play a major role. “One almost feels even more responsible than all those that live there. And of course, this influenced my work for the exhibit “Far near Distance.”
The oversized, illuminated key in the colors of the Iranian national flag was the subject of much discussion. Not only due to the fact that the text next to the piece contains a misleading explanation. The key has nothing to do with the desire of a war refugee to return home. “I never fled. The explanation that I left Iran 25 years ago because of the war is false. At that time, I received a scholarship for my art studies and simply happened to be in Italy when the revolution took place. Then there was no chance of my return,“ clarifies Entekhabi.
Instead, the oversized plastic key can be better understood as an allusion to the promises of paradise. “I wanted to cite the idea of martyrdom, which exists in numerous ways and is used in political contexts. The responsibility for this provocative cult of martyrdom is passed back and forth between western and oriental governments. Even if one can interpret different forms of sacrifice for a “good or holy thing” or justify them, in the end it all comes down to forms of manipulation, symbolized by a promise. On the one hand, for a paradise in the life hereafter, and on the other, an “earthly” paradise. A sound draws our attention back to the video projection, where a cacophony of pecking pigeons fills up the screen. The sequence is shot for a relatively long length of time. “For me, pigeons are the perfect example of being forced to adapt and of the ability to do so. They are always there, yet have nowhere to which they really belong.” Entekhabi as a pigeon?
Alia Rayyan was born in 1974 in Bremen and is of Palestinian/German origin. She studied international politics with a focus on the Middle East and sociology and art history in Trier, Hamburg and London.