Art

Urban Utopia

27 May 2018Katrina Kufer
Urban Utopia

Image courtesy of Gallery IVDE

Nargess Hashemi, Tehran-born and raised, has an artistic practice that exudes visual elements immediately referential of Iranian tradition: intricate patterning, detail-oriented abstraction, a vague sense of mosaic. Her fourth solo exhibition at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, I will build a tall city interconnected by cul-de-sacs, on view now, is a colourful and densely packed show which incorporates ready-made or everyday materials that are recontextualised by conceptual frameworks – the kind of exhibition that IVDE is characterised by. However, while two bodies of work –works on paper and heavily hanging crochet sculptures – promise imaginings of Utopian city ideals that emphasise interconnection rather than division – the exhibition begs the question of whether these suppositions are perhaps more rooted in idealism. 

The busy aesthetic of Hashemi’s slightly feminine works – more in regards to the unimportant generalised perceptions of intricacy and crochet-work as female-oriented practices – is mirrored by the number of works on show. The exhibition fully envelops viewers. The limited incorporation of negative space on show is a gallery trademark, but it may serve to support Hashemi’s commentary, which is all about the environment and living space specific to the crowded metropolitan landscape. Nine framed works on paper depict abstract geometric checkerboard compositions in myriad hues, while three large-scale loosely crocheted curtains hang from the ceiling, with a smaller one installed in the centre of the space on a low pedestal. The clusters of the works overall, and the imagery that constitutes them, serve to simultaneously conceal and reveal – but for those more sensitive to visual cacophony, the hanging may risk rendering the works too similar. But there are layers to the density. A symbol chart near the entrance breaks down the diamonds, squares and patterns of the works on paper as residential complexes, culturally diverse homes and cul-de-sacs, while a second chart reveals a colour map. The exceptionally precise hand-drawn abstract grid works, which have a retro feel thanks to their hues and contrast play, are suddenly legible as medical services (orange), voids (black), green spaces (green), or cultural and educational centres (burgundy). The smaller-scale pieces are visually pleasing – even mesmerisingly soothing when sections engage subtle colour gradation – but the essential context provided by the decoders allow the works to step from purely formalist towards conceptual.

Each of the Untitled works on paper are delicate in their execution, and closer examination reveals the unmistakable mark of the artist’s hand in the grids and the hearts, cross hatches and stars inside them. The effect is one of meticulous care and consideration, appropriate to the show’s emphasis on large-scale urban plans and small-scale interiors. The forms are sharp and the compositions angular – a jarring contrast to the soft, undulating crochet “curtain” works created by a community of women that dangle from the ceiling or free-standing frames – but there is a sense of fragility present, which carries through to the show’s intent. The idealised world that Hashemi presents – focused on people not cars, rife with green, waterways, solar energy facilities – offers holistic musings on how to build a more sustainable, functional future, inviting viewers to join in on the dream of a “more integral, sustainable, community-oriented society.” The execution may be sharp, and the works clear in presenting deep, evolved and considerate contemplation, but are the works overextended?

The works are beautiful, and the idealism that resonates throughout is a palpable and reassuring gesture, however, while the show is contextualised with real-world considerations, a deeper, more profound impact could have been reinforced through empirical evidence, thus sidestepping possible interpretations of wishful thinking. The intent is admirable, and plays into an ideal that would not be dismissed by any, and through Hashemi’s refreshed creative vision for Utopian living spaces, I will build a tall city interconnected by cul-de-sacs boldly proposes a big-picture vision of potential peacefulness and respect.

The idealised world that Hashemi presents – focused on people not cars, rife with green, waterways, solar energy facilities – offers holistic musings on how to build a more sustainable, functional future, inviting viewers to join in on the dream of a “more integral, sustainable, community-oriented society.”