We Hurt Each Other Quite Easily..

Ebrahim Jahanbakhsh

Amir Mobed’s performances have always been a matter of controversy. His last performance, “Authority” was performed in Tarahan-e Azad gallery. He had built a small room in the centre of the gallery. The room had an entrance and an exit. The audience was supposed to enter the dark room one person at a time. There were flashlights in the room controlled by the performer. Four projectors were installed outside the room which exposed the insider with super extra bright light while the audience were waiting in row to get into the room.

A simple idea would not result in creating an artwork. The essence lies in its different aspects. Could the form of performing “Authority” be a reaction to that of your previous one in Mohsen gallery? That performance seemed to be a contest between the audience and the performer. In “Authority” though, you let the audience in the performance area one by one. Have you been looking for a space in which you were in control of the audience?

What you have mentioned could be true. Yet it is my lifestyle that creates my works. These performances are part of my life. Each one resembles events in a specific period of my life in the society. I am not at all involved in politics. Nonetheless, because the ideas of my performances comes from living in this society. They might involve the political aspects as well. The reason I decided to encounter my audience alone this time was because I believe many of our issues and social crisis originate from the struggles inside. Each of us have our issues, and if members of a society do not promote their attitudes, we would be facing more of hierarchical relationships. Something between a devoter and a devotee. Training the proletariat for one’s gain. When society members do not accept such mal-relationships, it could be inevitably seen at different levels in a society. None of the audience asked if the gun was for real in my performance in “Come and Caress Me!”. They didn’t ask if the ammo were for real, and would the performer get hurt by any chance if they shoot? It is because we don’t have the attitude of proposing “questions”. When one is in such situation, they could ask many questions and then decide to shoot or not! The audience shoots and ultimately blame me for putting them in such a condition while I did not “create” such condition by myself in the first place. It actually already exists. It exists in all of our lives. The gun is the example of the condition we are experiencing in life. A condition in which we do not question and that is how we would hurt each other quite easily.

As for “Authority”, it seemed as if it involves two parts: one happens in the room between you and the one who enters, and the other is outside where people are waiting to enter the room. Have you also planned for the performance outside?

I was mainly concerned about the light. I intended to make the outside the room so bright and disturbing, yet it couldn’t happen. Three or four other projectors were needed, but then the place would get warm. Still, I could not be aware of the performance the audience would tend to show outside. I mainly focused on the space inside the room. Yet the audience were following the outside events. I thought of creating another performance outside the room by exaggerating the light or lack of space for making a line.

The performance outside was resulted from the fact that few people were accompanying the performer. They did not try to make people line up and so it was a less controlled atmosphere and therefore could let another performance happen.

Yes I agree. People who attend such performances are amongst the educated ones who claim to be the influential intellectuals. When they participate however, they act as if there is an execution, though it was not the case. What I perform, is actually an image (a representation). I am creating an image when I stand in front of the target mat. The strange reactions to such images are reflections from the society. Still, we insist on our intellectuals’ different attitudes. The class who claim to be conscious and aware, could not succeed to make a simple line to watch the performance. Don’t they even realise that they all could make it if they simply follow a discipline while people can do it when they are outside of the gallery, shopping. Why should I consider guards? Should someone really be there to line up the audience?

Focusing on the interior, the audience pass the undone queue and enters the room. Is the performer the ruler? Does he reign over the audience?

Yes, of course.

Could the audience object to the governor’s call?

It is not about ruling and power. The audience who have chosen to enter the room, has chosen to enter a private space. Entering such space was based on their own free will. It is not a matter of governing; I have a performance in this room and a definition for this space. Basically, I have to manage the space so that I can perform my idea. The audience still have their own authority. Many were frightened and decided to get out of the room while many others accompanied the performance and so did I. This atmosphere is for me to perform my ideas and the images I would like to show to the audience. It does not indicate execution or dictation.

Were the audience supposed to view a specific image or each could see a different image?

I have talked to twenty people so far and each of them have viewed different images.

Some of the audience might claim that they have not seen any images and nothing happened!

It does not count.
Is it a fear or you do not consider the audience?
No it’s not about that. Almost twenty percent of the audience were confused and they stepped out of the room eventually. This is also a reaction. It was not of course what I expected but still a reaction. Sometimes the audience do not get a performer’s idea. They think they are here to visit a dark room or search for me in it. I understand if the audience believe there was nothing to discover. I respect this idea as well. Yet I do not accept the comment the performance in the room had no idea.

Let’s talk about the experiences you have had with the audience in the room. You placed yourself in the same situation (of the audience) when you flashed. What images you could see?

The preparation of the room was finished just before the performance began. I just had some hypothesises. I was willing to focus on the hands and the face to create the images. Therefore, I wore a black dress. The images I saw were strange after some audience entered the room and I decided to change my dress and wear the same pants I was wearing before the performance so I was not totally in black (so the audience feel less frightened). There was a flash of light on the face when the door was opened and the audience entered. One could tell how they felt and what brought them in. Whether they are scared or not. All could help me to go on with my performance. Those who were afraid found their way out to the exit by touching the wall. There was a dim light at the door and those who were scared moved towards it. They might have felt secure and probably stood there for a while. I tried to involve them with the performance at this point. Some followed and some didn’t. They could not overcome their fear and left eventually.

Your performances are believed to create tension. The atmosphere of the gallery seems to be stressful. Something a gallery tourist considers as a feature of your work. Though we were exposed to the least tension in this performance of yours. Many were smiling after they stepped out of the room. Why do you think they were smiling?

There is not a recorded video available from this performance. There are only some photos from outside the room showing the audience, waiting to enter the room. I saw the photos. Those who came out of the room looked mostly astound. Their astonishment however didn’t include any pain or fury. It was happiness and ecstasy on the contrary. Perhaps because they entered to the bright light from the absolute darkness all of a sudden, with the images still inside their mind. 

Were you looking for a less stressful performance?

There was no reason for tension.

Isn’t it (tension) a specific feature of your works?

That would be a mistake. How could it be? Performing to create tension? The performance itself would be wasted in the first place.

How about the little number of the audience participated? Many of the audience could not succeed to see the performance in the room.

Well, that was not a choice. We knew it from the beginning. I liked to continue the performance so that everybody could participate, yet I couldn’t. That was the most sophisticated performance I had.

Why didn’t you allow photos and/or videos in the room while there were flashes?

Some quasi pseudo-participations happen when there is a camera. People would react more consciously which I believe is an exaggerated cultural matter. And what could a photo reveal from this performance? My physique and that of the audience. They couldn’t be the photos documented from this performance. The images I saw in the room were often those created by the mind. Why would I want to document a photo when I cannot document those/the images anyway?

Would you please discuss the “images”?

The nerves behind the cornea transfer the sense data to the brain and that is how we can actually see the image. The audience see an image when the light flashes at the performer in less than a second. The brain though, records what has been seen in that very instant. Something else happens when you start playing with such an optical illusion which differs for every person based on their character, situation and the analysis of their mind. Such illusions and hallucinations even grow when the mind is exhausted. At the end of the performance, I could see the audience in four different spots when I flashed. I tried to create the same illusion for the audience as well. When someone entered, I flashed once or twice to see my image. Then I made noises as if I was walking. I talked to some who had this experience. They explained that they saw my image as a stop-motion after they heard me walking, while I was standing at one place. This is how the mind create images in the darkness based on the imagination. One even claimed to see his brother’s image. This image replacement happens based on psychological processes. I had such hallucinations as well. It was the hardest performance because of the many illusive images I saw, and there were times I couldn’t find my way in that small room.

The criticism about visual arts is that there seems to be a competition in suffering, meaning we would encounter works in which one might torture oneself to draw attention. Do you accept such criticism?

Yes, I do.

Could your un-stressful recent performance be a reason to stay away from the “suffering contest”?

No, I have not considered this matter. Yet, I believe the performer is the re-presenter of the society. If a performer suffers from pressure and self-sabotage in his/her life, it is their right to exhibit that in a gallery. I agree with the fact that the concept might be misused. Nonetheless, it must not result in banning a performer from performing the pain and pressure experienced in galleries. I believe it is every performer’s right to express so.

Performance art seems to have no financial outcome. The performers not only receive no money, but have to pay for their performances themselves. Could this be considered as an advantage for the performance?

Such condition results in the artist’s dependence anyway. When one invests, one can have demands. Investments lead to expectations such as receiving a percentage or advertising. I do have a problem with such expectations and financial “plans” in the field of performance. The capital force sometime imposes its own frames to art. Financial issues however, cannot be ignored.

Are there any solutions for a performer to be financially supported?

I am not aware of any. Are you?

No, the dependence must be appreciated then.

We have no other choice.

Another discussion is about the audience and the performance. The fact that it is different from a theatre. There are no seat numbers for the audience. Because they are free to be moving during the performance and can participate in the performance, some feel as if they are entitled to have any kind of participation and they might even tend to have their own performance while they are actually attending an artist’s performance. They state their dislike and believe they are allowed to express it in the gallery. Have you been exposed to such situations?

Why wouldn’t they allow themselves to take a painting off the wall when they are in a painting exhibition? The audience have the right to react so the performer notices, just because the performer is a living creature? I do not accept such idea. It is the performer who determines whether a performance is interactive or not. I did not encounter such problems at “Authority”, but I was still concerned about the reactions and what I must do. In “Authority”, few wanted to stay in the room who were later convinced that there are others to see the performance as well. I am absolutely happy that the audience has reached a maturity after all. The only interactive performance was “Come and Caress Me!”, but the audience has meddled in all other performances. In one for instance, I set a border line by a rope. The audience would stay if he/she likes it, and leave otherwise. Yet I see they interference and tendency to stop the work. Why would you want to cease my performance? I am speaking with my performance. It is like when people are talking and we keep interrupting them. Perhaps it is originated from such a habit in our culture.

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