Homayoun Sirizi

Homayoun Askari Sirizi, Buridian Society, 2007, photograph installation. Courtesy the artist

Homayoun Sirizi
Ave Gallery
July 8-21, 2007
Vol I: Buridan’s Society, July 8-14
Vol II: U-Turn, July 15-21

The only maxim of contemporary art is not to be imperial, says Alain Badiou. “Empire no longer censures anything,” he writes in his four­teenth of Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art, and we should simply overcome “the pitiless censors of ourselves.” This is a nice idea in prin­ciple, but a New Yorker rushing to his office on Wall Street clutching his coffee in hand may have a vastly different perception of the Empire than a Tehrani strolling to work. These days, the latter may be worried about getting caught by the morals police in downtown’s Vanak Square for wearing a short-sleeve shirt, or simply having slightly too much gel in his hair.

In this picture, Tehran-based artist Homayoun Askari Sirizi is not holding the scissors by any means. In his recent two leg [volume] “Ain’t we having fun here” Volume I, the artist takes on the iconic paradox of ‘Buridan’s Ass,’ (named after the 14th-century phi­losopher) in which a donkey, equally thirsty as hungry, dies because he cannot choose between two equidistant and equal­ly tempting means of satiating himself: a pile of hay and a bucket of water.

Homayoun Askari Sirizi, U-Turn, 2007, luminescent donkey shoe and traffic signs installation. Courtesy the artist

Entitled “Buridian Society,” the installation’s centerpiece is a 2*1 photograph of a donkey. Along the donkey’s left side lie 20 buckets of hay and on the right is 20 buckets of water. On the left wall hangs a picture of traditional Iranian bread and on the opposite wall a picture of a bookshelf within a bookstore. Stepping into the gallery space, the chic Tehrani art-goer finds himself in the place of the donkey, or the ass, as it were. In a second part of the exhibition, entitled U-Turn, a lumi­nescent donkey-shoe is encircled by seven traffic signs taken from various Tehran U-turn sites. The signs were placed into blue barrels, a new urban icon that had been introduced to the city back when the current president was still the mayor of Tehran. On the signs, the ori­ginal format and text is kept intact, but the translations are slightly modified; Nobonyad Square, for example, becomes Neo-Fundamentalism Square.

In the end, Sirizi didn’t create a byzantine maze of meaning here. He employed simple semiotics and pared-down logic, and he avoided wrapping his ideas in exotica or belaboring it with traditional metaphor. It was a refreshingly simple exhibition and a refreshingly simple idea. After all, it is a U-turn from Happiness Street to Islamic Revolu­tion Square, from Badiou to Buridan, from the twenty-first century to the fourteenth.