UNDERCURRENTS 12 June 2018
UNDERCURRENTS, a new body of work from Iranian artist Mehdi Ghadyanloo was exhibited in 2018 in Basel, Switzerland. The exhibition occurred during the week of the Art Basel fair on an industrial cargo ship moored to the banks of the River Rhine.
Throughout the vessel’s 7,000 square foot deck preternaturally serene seascapes depicting vast bodies of water in the mode of Magritte, Dalí or Yves Tanguy are displayed. Reference is also given to attempts of Romantic era artists in capturing the sublime through the portrayal of nature in its raw beauty. Within the paintings intense scenes of human drama from Ghadyanloo’s subconscious compete against infinite expanses of a wild and spirited nature with only the boundaries of the canvas in place to orientate the mind’s eye.
An exclusive focus on water expands the parameters of Ghadyanloo’s rapidly developing oeuvre both visually and conceptually and is a marked departure from the artist’s now familiar architectural compositions, geometric forms and arid desert landscapes. Additionally, Seth Troxler, a long-time Ghadyanloo collaborator, working through his Lost Souls of Saturn initiative with Phil Moffa, has created a sweeping score to further engage viewers of the exhibition.
Ever interested in investigating the human condition on a conceptual level, Ghadyanloo explores epistemological themes such as liminality and metaphorical uncertainty in each painting. The works of art are particularly concerned with those metaphorical spaces in which we may find ourselves adrift in and a sense of unease and helplessness is recognisably lurking above and below the boundless waters. In one painting, a black whirlpool centred beneath a pale sun suggests the threat of being dragged below while in another, empty ladders jutting out at angles from the water suggest the presence of people while each untouched rung emphasises their absence. Where people are present in the paintings, they crowd together for security in the middle of vast oceans either in endless processions or atop isolated structures. Ghadyanloo’s figures are indistinct and on occasion even naked thereby stripping them of any spatio-temporal context. Whether metaphors for a wider human philosophical condition, or victims of geopolitical circumstance, these uncertain human multitudes, united by a shared lostness, invite empathy and encourage the viewer to reflect on the wider circumstances of their own lives.
The intrinsic themes flowing through UNDERCURRENTS of transition, migration and uncertainty are reinforced by the geo-political context of the exhibition floating as it does on a ship mere metres from the combined Franco-German-Swiss border. In light of Ghadyanloo’s Middle Eastern origins, and in viewing each of the works in the same visual frame as the River Rhine, it is difficult not to contemplate the many thousands of migrants who have recently died crossing the waters of the Mediterranean in search of safety. This effect is compounded through Ghadyanloo’s anxiety laden depictions of various modes of transport such as the back half of a bisected aeroplane hovering above an unmoving ocean or a tiny rowing boat floating alone on a vast sea.
The works of art in UNDERCURRENTS embody the fact that Ghadyanloo’s interest in the shared human condition is never far below the surface. By subtly tapping into the political currents of the day in a shifting and transitional world, Ghadyanloo traces a nuanced view of our shared humanity filled with both hope and despair.