Fascinated by grids, lines, spaces and what she describes as ‘natural geometry’, Haleh Redjaian is an artist who has always operated within Minimalism’s interstices, using hand-rendered lines, weavings and thread to subtly undermine the apparent perfection of Modernism’s orthogonal warp and weft.
Her work may use graphite and graph paper, acrylic, woollen carpets and lengths of polyester yarn but in its engagement with what Gaston Bachelard once described as the poetics of space, it manages to combine the visual grammar of Western Modernism with the craft practices of her Iranian heritage.
After studying art history in her native Germany, Redjaian’s formal training was steeped in the traditions of the Bauhaus, whose female pioneers she admires.
She also openly acknowledges her admiration for artists such as Sol Lewitt, but in her choice of materials and collaboration with traditional carpet weavers, her practise blurs the illusory distinctions between order and disorder, tradition and modernity, East and West in a manner that also recalls Alighiero Boetti.
“We like systems and grids because they give us something that we can recognise, a frame that we can work within, but I like the idea of imperfection, the point at which the grid starts to break down,” Redjaian tells me from her studio in Berlin.
“When a grid is bigger it means there is a bigger hole that something can pass through. Even if the grid becomes thinner in one place it becomes bigger somewhere else. There is a movement in it which makes the whole thing more approachable, more human,” she says.
Installation in progress: Behind-the-scenes look at Redjaian's work
“Its the same with the weavings that I work with. They are hand woven which means that there are irregularities in them. There is already the irregularity in the wool and that often makes things more alive.”
Untitled (C_XXVII) is an example of the tensions that can be found throughout Inhabiting the Grid, Redjaian’s second solo show at Alserkal Avenue’s Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde (Gallery IVDE).
A plain woollen rectangle hand woven by traditional carpet makers from Kerman, Iran, it is embellished with black lithography and threads that form a geometric pattern that distorts and puckers thanks to the irregularities in the wool’s undulating surface.
If Untitled (C_XXVII) is evidence of the material and intellectual continuities in Redjaian’s oeuvre, similar works featured in In-Between Spaces, her previous solo show at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde in 2015, Notes for Daydreaming (2017-2018) represents something of a departure.
Consisting of 20 sketches executed on pieces of paper 19.5cm square, Notes for Daydreaming are not only smaller and less finished than Redjaian’s previous works but they also represent a subtle shift in focus.
Redjaian’s work is often described as space-specific. The artist will complete or instal works such as site-specific wall drawings - Lewitt again - that respond directly to the spaces where they are exhibited or to architectural structures, as was the case with In-Between Spaces, the central eponymous exhibit of her previous solo show.
Instead Redjaian’s Notes for Daydreaming turn inwards to chart the contours of the artist’s imagination, automatic sketches that are nevertheless rendered with Cartesian precision.
The idea for the works came from Redjaian’s recent reading of Bachelard and in particular his discussion of the influence of architectural spaces on our early lives and the way this resonates as we age.
“He writes about how our home as a child and certain spaces push us towards daydreaming. Whether that’s our bed or the view from a window,” the artist explains.
“We talk about daydreaming less and less because reality is nothing to dream about but in these times, dreams are the things that keep us going.”
Redjaian describes these spatial, architectural and intellectual influences as traces, which makes her Notes haiku-like meditations on life, space and aesthetic experience.
“Sometimes we have to work against traces because they should not overpower you, sometimes we get so influenced by things you wonder is this me?,” Redjaian admits.
“But my traces are not your traces and if you use the things that leave marks in a good way, it’s the most important thing. It’s who we are.”
Haleh Redjaian's Inhabiting the Grid opens 19 March, during Art Week at Alserkal Avenue, at Gallery IVDE.
Images courtesy of the artist and Gallery IVDE.