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Nargess Hashemi: The Pleasure in Boredom
The Pleasure in Boredom charts Nargess Hashemi’s process of developing over ten years worth of experimentation on graph paper. She has doodled in notebooks from a young age; during long, tedious car journeys, over extended visits with family and at art school where her teacher, artist Farshid Maleki, also assigned her exercises of repeated line drawings. The practice has become somewhat of a lifelong obsession for the artist. Using only the most basic materials, the artist adopts a commonly unfocused and subliminal practice and refines it, resulting in vibrant artworks of great complexity.
The title of the exhibition references an essay by E.H. Gombrich, in which the art historian examines the psychology behind the act of doodling and explores its artistic merit and relevance. He suggests that not only is the act a subconscious impulse, something that we are naturally compelled to do in a dreamlike, absentminded state, but that its importance lies in the fact that it is a vital tool of uninhibited expression, as well as being an integral way in which countless numbers of artists and scribes have practiced and refined their craft.
The Home and Carpet series exhibited in this show consist of brightly coloured compositions made up of very simple repeated, shapes occupying the minute 1mm x 1mm squares on the graph paper. Many of the works in Home depict architectural forms reminiscent of those in her earlier series Qajar. Qajar (2002-2006) was inspired by the extravagance and idiosyncratic aesthetic of the royal court. In these works the artist uses the technique of monoprinting to assemble an eclectic cast of characters taken from contemporary figures as well as from the monumental oil paintings of the Qajar period. Made up of vivacious dancing girls and the demigod like presence of Fath Ali Shah, Hashemi places them onto flattened perspective, cross sectional, architectural backgrounds commonly seen throughout earlier Timurid and Safavid miniatures. By doing this, she symbolically reclaims the long tradition of illustrated poetry manuscripts virtually abandoned during the Qajar dynasty. In Home, Hashemi eliminates the figures and leaves behind empty rooms and cityscapes devoid of human presence and ultimately takes the work to its purest and most abstract conclusion.
Meanwhile works in the Carpet series resemble Oriental floor coverings with concentric borders containing fields of decorative patterns. In a reference to her Stories From the Boudoir (2008) and Wrap Me Up In You series (2009-2011) that centered on domestic scenes, the artist reminds us of the notion that carpets are an extension of the Iranian household, a portable home of sorts. The artist thinks of these works as a metaphorical representation of the essence of “home” and all of the monotonous repetition, constraint and order that comes with that concept. Unlike the many complexities and restrictions of real life, here, Hashemi’s only constraint is the size of the individual pieces of graph paper. She breaks free of these physical limitations by using multiple sheets and continuing the pattern almost seamlessly, from one page to the next, sometimes using up to six sheets for a single work. In theory, the possibilities are endless, leaving room for the viewer to envisage even further development.
As an extension of this series, the artist uses the textile knotting technique of macramé that she learned as a young child. By using the colourful yarn as another vehicle to experiment with doodling, she takes the concept in a whimsical direction. In this instance the artist rejects the standard guidance of a pattern, and instead allows the shape of the work to develop organically, resulting in unfettered, irregular, and amoeba-like forms.
The universal practice of subconscious, experimental drawing lends itself to creativity and innovation. By her own admission Hashemi’s examinations into this area have not yet reached their zenith, and as she continues to explore the endless permutations of this adaptable form she is still finding new and unexpected ways in which to play.
*Adapted from the exhibition catalogue for The Pleasure in Boredom, 11 January – 27 February 2014, Gallery Isabelle Van Den Eynde)
 Gombrich, E. H. “Pleasures of Boredom: Four Centuries of Doodles.” In E. H. Gombrich, The Uses of Images: Studies in the Social Function of Art and Visual Communication 212-225. Phaidon: London 1999.
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The photography page aims to provide a space for reflection on photography in its various forms and uses in the Middle East. We showcase the work of photographers active in the region and cultivate critical thinking about photographic practices, representations, and history. The page publishes photo essays, articles, interviews, reviews and more. It also provides information on photographic archives, agencies, and institutions, exhibits, events, and publications.