A sneak peek from the installation of Zahra Zavareh’s exhibition ‘Disjoint’ at Detroit Stockholm
A few weeks ago we paid a visit to one of this Supermarket 2019’s associate galleries Detroit Stockholm, just as the Iranian artist and sculptor Zahra Zavareh was busy preparing her video installation ‘Disjoint’ that revolves around the notion of detachment and death anxiety. Originally from Tehran, Iran, Zahra Zavareh joined Detroit in 2018. She moved to Sweden over a year ago after she was refused a residence permit in Norway, despite having a Norwegian husband. We spoke to Zahra about her artistic background, exhibiting at Detroit and how she expresses herself through different kinds of mediums. Her exhibition ‘Disjoint' combines art installation with technology as she explores the questions – What connections are real? Which connections are fake or augmented?
We then continued with a chat with Henrik Green, who is not only the current chairman of the board at Detroit Stockholm, but also one of Supermarket’s recurring volunteers for several years. We talked about different ways of managing and promoting an artist-run space in Stockholm and of his parallel activity of volunteering at Supermarket.
What is your artistic background, and what drew you to art?
I studied physics at the K.N.Toosi University of Technology in Tehran, and at the same time I attended art courses on the side. When I was finished, I started contemplating what career I wanted to pursue, eventually deciding that my future was in the arts. Art occupied my mind more than physics in the end, you could say.
What is the ‘Disjoint’ exhibition about?
When I moved to Stockholm about a year ago, I started having a recurring dream – that I was murdered. A kind of dream that I had never experienced before. What was it about? I believe that dreams are not just dreams but expressions connected to your unconscious mind. Maybe the dream reflected my feelings of detachment or loneliness. Both thoughts kept rushing through my mind, eventually becoming hard to shake off. Maybe it was simply about death anxiety, which I believe we always carry with us. As I could not let go of thinking what it could possibly mean, I decided to confront it by creating this installation. Death, birth and the cycle of life are all very general but consuming questions – yet here they are brought to the table quite literally and as seen from my point of view.
More specifically I have tried to recreate a hotel room environment, for the simple reason that you never stay in a hotel room for very long. It is a temporary dwelling where people come and go. The installation consists of all the basic traits of a hotel room, including two chairs and a table, an armchair, a mirror and a bed with a tv in front of it. Each with their separate functions.
What made you decide to join Detroit Stockholm?
I was not initially familiar with Detroit as a newcomer to the city. When I came here, I set out to become integrated in the local art community. As a consequence I went around all the Stockholm’s galleries during the first six months inquiring about a space that I could join and have a studio in. After some advice from the various galleries, I eventually approached Detroit and was accepted. It is a really cool place since it is so international and the people also truly cooperate with each other, and I really appreciate that atmosphere. This is exactly what you expect from an art community!
Was it important for you to join an artist-run space?
I prefer to be part of an artist-run space. I did not know anyone here and I just wanted to meet new people on a similar wavelength as myself. Being an art student or for example studying abroad tends to open the doors naturally in terms of meeting other artists and curators. However, I came here for other reasons and I really wanted to introduce myself and become part of an artist-run gallery. I was very lucky to find Detroit.
Can you describe the process of working with this exhibition? Do you have a recurring pattern or workload plan, or perhaps the exact opposite?
I do not have a special system. When I start working with an idea, I try instead to be open-minded and follow my current inspiration, without drawing any conclusions early on. I like to try different methods which aid me in realising new ideas. This is the first time that I work with a green screen for example – which is maybe a bit too ambitious. I had no experience with video editing when I made my first video in preparation for participating in a video art festival in Tehran. Learning by doing triggers motivation, even if that means a certain amount of pressure and stress.
What is the (best) way to approach anxiety and the existential dilemma?
Art for me is something to occupy my mind with. In many ways my art is a method of approaching and confronting the political or existential idea that I currently process in my mind. Being occupied by an idea for a while works fine for me, and I strongly carry the feeling of wanting to do something with the concept artistically, once the interest is sparked.
Do you think that the subject of death anxiety is satisfactorily addressed in art? Is that even possible?
I never strive to evoke divine philosophical questions, but rather metaphysical ones. I believe that all the different domains in culture work with death anxiety; from cinema to literature or art. For me as an artist I would like to suggest that death is taboo. You want to be immortal, and as an artist you tend to create art not only for yourself but for an audience now and in the future. The question is both wide and broad, as one aspect I decided to focus on loneliness. In your own way, you are always alone, even when surrounded by others. I am not seeking answers to profound questions like the meaning of life, but I approach the themes nevertheless and present my perspective on this perpetual cycle.
You have used many different mediums in your work over the years. Do you prefer any medium over another? Why is it so crucial for you to have a versatile approach to your work?
I would like to experience many different mediums; by nature I am curious to know a lot of things. My main motivation is to learn more in order to establish a good strain of communication with my audience, and I see it as important that in addition I am updated on new techniques. I am fond of the medium of sculpture – something that I believe stems from the fact that I like to make things with my hands. You get so into it when you work in a tactile manner with your hands. It could be that the final product is a video, but even so I try to incorporate something made with my hands. If I want to show something soft and delicate I use fabric; if I want to show something rigid and artificial I use metal instead.
In this exhibition I investigate which connections are real and which ones are manipulated. For my installation at Supermarket 2019 I use augmented reality, which means that if you wish to see the video you need to use a device, such as your mobile phone. I could just show it on a screen, but it serves my idea better to go with augmented reality.
Tell us more about your background. You divide your time between your art practice and working as an engineer?
After high school, I just wanted to move away from the city I grew up in and become someone new, so I went straight into studying engineering.
Although I felt at home with the maths and technology, I had the feeling something was missing. A few years before moving to Stockholm, I had taken up painting, and I started looking for different ways to connect with other people with the same interest. I took art classes during the evenings and through a workshop series at Moderna museet I came in contact with Detroit. One of the members here was in charge of the workshop, and one thing led to another. At first I shared a studio, and now I have my own. Art complements my technical side – it provides a space to deal with the existential, the impractical and other sensations rarely addressed in my engineering profession. It is always a struggle to find time, especially when you are in a creative phase and have lots of ideas and still have to be somewhere else for nine hours every day.
How did you first come in contact with Supermarket, and what made you come back and volunteer again?
H: Someone shared a post about Supermarket on Facebook and I remember thinking: that’s a perfect place for meeting other people with an interest in art. I think that in Stockholm there are extremely specialized communities, like small compartments, and when you work with people as intensely as during Supermarket, you get to know people much faster than what is usually the case.
Do you have any suggestions or words of wisdom that you would like to share with Supermarket’s new volunteers?
H: Try to be there from day one, to take part in building the exhibitions and greeting the galleries. The more time you spend at the fair, the more people you will get to know, and as you get to know more people, you will have more fun.
Was becoming a board member at Detroit something you had in mind from the start or did that happen spontaneously?
H: At first I thought I just wanted a studio space. But somewhere along the way I realised that someone has to take care of Detroit to make sure the opportunity to be here and work isn’t lost. That's why I applied to be on the board. Until now, I've been a secretary at Detroit, and for the coming year I will be chair along with Åsa Ekman. So I can’t say that I planned it, but I think I'm quite good at organizing things.
Z: Even your artworks are well organized :)
Can you take us through the process of deciding which artists are to be featured as part of Detroit’s exhibitions?
H: For the last couple of years, we have had a small group of artists who volunteer as a kind of jury. After an open call for proposals among the members, the jury chooses which artist gets to represent Detroit at Supermarket.
What are your thoughts on staying in your own gallery space as opposed to exhibiting in a booth at the main art fair venue?
H: It's both exciting and feels a bit risky. Only a small percentage of the people going to Supermarket will find their way here. On the other hand, if people do come, it will be unique, because we have more room and therefore we can do more. When I think about presenting artworks and visiting galleries, I always feel that it's much easier to experience art with fewer people around, and the fair is quite busy. So there are pros and cons.
Supermarket 2019 revolves around the theme of ’Temporary Moratorium’ and subjects shrouded in taboo. What would you say is controversial and taboo in contemporary art?
H: I have some difficulties with this year’s theme. Of course there are taboos, but if that becomes the main point of making art… Also, it depends on the audience, one person might say oh this is very controversial, I don't even want to enter this gallery and someone else would say, oh, it's just a performance.
Z: Exactly, we can't talk about it in general way because it's really different from place to place and from culture to culture. I think Confucius said that we should respect culture, because it defines ourselves and our identity. I don't know, I think it's personal, it depends on the artist as well.
H: Also, sometimes people are thinking very hard on whether things are taboo or not, or how to present things or how to include different people, which is good, but that's not the topic. You need to have a topic and then think about how it can be presented and reflect over how different people will react to it - not the other way around.
In a way, I think caring about your work and taking it seriously can be taboo. To be completely open and sincere with how very important the ideas I present are to me. I can miss sincerity in art. When I get the sense that works presented doesn't really affect the artist, I feel why should I be affected?
Would you say that Detroit works to promote the artist-run scene in Stockholm?
H: I don't think we have talked about it explicitly. We've had some exchange exhibitions. One of the members here also runs a space in Ireland and she makes works there and presents them here, and we have had guest exhibitions with artists from other artist-run spaces as well, but we don't see ourselves as big organizers on the artist-run scene, but more as part of an eco-system.
Detroit Stockholm is an artist-run collective that provides a free platform for artists from various disciplines. From nomadic performance art festivals, music and art happenings and various multimedia exhibitions. Read more about Detroit Stockholm here.