Not Complying with the Fortunate’s Code of Conduct

Statement for Alireza Fani‘s works at Khak Gallery, published in Levantine Review, 31 Aug. 2010

Alireza Fani is an artist obsessed with arrangement of visual elements in his artworks in order to create an exact delusion: aesthetics of fashion photography combined with the precision of landscape photography in creating photos of pretty women who are indifferent to the camera or the primitive environment surrounding them: they are as much models as the bones and fishes in his works. They are there to speak of those, whose lives, like fishes outside water, have been spent in isolation from the environment yet under its influence, those who have carried and protected in silence a different life under their thin overcoats. The photos remain silent to illustrate mere agony.

It might be said that a major source of misery is men’s ability to communicate everything apart from agony. It is considered sadistic and discourteous of course to elaborate on your extensive agony. The wretched who comply with the fortunate’s code of conduct perfectly understand misery.

The words for agony are few. While power moves the world sometimes agony moves power: every revolution is a result of an underestimation of the agony of others due to lack of social transmitters, of social nerves. Yet, once the force is released and agony gains power, the lack of words does not dissipate.

Alireza Fani’s works strike me for the immediacy of such transmission, for how they grasp, even for few short seconds, a bare visual solution to a collective silence. They are accurate and obsessive translations not of a carefully delimited problem, rather of an underrepresented collective agony. They are not examples of social art responding to a particular situation, they render the symptoms of a collective malady of a nation, a malady best described by Antonin Artaud: ‘a disease that deprives you of speech, memory, which uproots your thought. […H]ere, monsieur, is the whole problem: to have within oneself the inseparable reality and the physical clarity of a feeling, to have it to such a degree that it is impossible for it not to be expressed, to have a wealth of words, of acquired turns of phrase capable of joining the dance, coming into play; and the moment the soul is preparing to organize its wealth, its discoveries, this revelation, at that unconscious moment when the thing is on the point of coming forth, a superior and evil will attacks the soul like a poison, attacks the mass consisting of word and image, attacks the mass of feeling, and leaves me panting as if at the very door of life.’ [1] The malady is not what produces pain, but the pain itself, and more than that, the endurance of pain in time, a very long time: it is pain absorbed by the soul, by the collective. Fani’s photographs do not report or document a person in distress or torture, they plunge into historical depths of a collective agony to show the perpetual nature of it, the cruel indifference of reports, and to stage the incommunicability of misery. No wonder the chosen medium is photography, bringing into a standstill a temporary torturous moment and documenting the imaginary with great precision: Hence, the soft and cruel atmosphere of works. As such, the fantastic works distance themselves from fantasy: they preserve their collective urgency, their tie with the inner core of a situation while making use of a surreal atmosphere. The surreal severs not its ties with the real: it serves as a door leading the viewers ‘where they would never have consented to go, in short, a door that opens onto reality.’[2]

His last series of photographs are somehow different from the rest: men have now entered the photograph to gaze back, together with the women, at the camera. They cut silence and agony open, the same it has been done to them: wounds run deep and their ends will never meet.

Fani has brought the visual shock from the field of graphic design, his field of study, to that of photography. He has given up the direct and symbolic graphic expression so as to go deeper and the result is a series of works that are silent yet extremely frank and phantasmal yet precise. Fani’s works move in the opposite direction to surrealism which takes refuge in delusion from the real world: they accurately record a delusion which weighed upon a nation for decades. However, they might literally be considered ‘surreal’ if by that term, one means a portrayal of what ‘presses upon the real’. The works restore the hope that photography might have the magic to return the performative power to words emptied of meaning and power. Therefore, while the girls in these photos are no girls and the bones no bones, they are not symbolic either. They do not represent anything rather than alluding to what is crushed under underrepresentation. They are the alphabets of Fani’s language used to convey the residue of meaning left in the few words of agony.

If Fani uses beautiful young female models, it looks more sublime than beautiful. It evokes more regret than desire. They are unfulfilled possibilities, signs of a destroyed fashion. Under their thin coats, they carry precarious lives which have always been under attack. They are no victims, they appear silent and confident. They are simply there to show the context: there is nothing wrong with them, they are only ‘irrelevant’.

Exotic is not a word for describing Fani’s works. Far from it: there is nothing Iranian about the scenes or figures displayed. He is the conveyor of what remains to be said, not what people are waiting to hear. His figures are not men stuck in time or lagging behind the victorious contemporary world, they are very contemporary indeed. They are not unreachable Others; they are simply in pain, an extensive pain, under the influence of an unexpressive agony. Actually, there is nothing more accessible and more immediate than pain. Fani’s works have developed, once you consider their context, on the margins of the expressible. In line with many other successful works of Iranian contemporary art, they are confident responses to an attack on expression, to those who have blocked its way, echoing Artaud’s sneering words, ‘This habit that you have of turning your backs on questions will not prevent the heavens from opening on the appointed day and a new language from taking root in the midst of your idiotic machinations, we mean the idiotic machinations of your thought.’[3]


[1] Artaud, Antonin (1988) Antonin Artaud: Selected writings, edited by Susan Sontag (Berkeley: University of California Press), p. 44-5.

[2] Ibid, p. 50.

[3] Ibid, p. 104.