Sunday, 30 July 2017

Why Shirin Neshat complicates 'Aida' at the Salzburg Festival

With Anna Netrebko in the title role, Verdi's "Aida" gets a fresh staging at this year's Salzburg Festival. Iranian stage director and film artist Shirin Neshat told DW why she made "Aida" more complex than usual.
Anna Netrebko will be Aida. Courtesy DW.
by Andrea Kasiske, DW

New York-based Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat is known for her photography, video installations and films. Her work has largely dealt with women's issues in Iran, exploring taboos and touching on gender and cultural conflicts.

At this year's Salzburg Festival, she is the stage director for a new production of Verdi's opera "Aida" starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko. The 19th-century work tells the story of a Nubian princess captured and enslaved by the ancient Egyptians. Radamès, a military commander, finds himself forced to choose between his love for Aida and his loyalty to the powerful Pharaoh.

DW spoke with Neshat ahead of the premiere of "Aida," conducted by Riccardo Muti, on August 8.

DW: Ms. Neshat, how would you describe your interpretation of "Aida?" How do you see the opera?

I have the feeling that there is a lot to interpret with "Aida," both from a Western and non-Western perspective. I know that many Middle Eastern critics have complained about how "Aida" exoticizes Egypt and portrays it as a barbaric society.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

This Creepy AI Artwork is Programmed to Learn and Adapt Itself

Who is the artist? The AI creators or the AI itself?

The Machine Was a Ball and I Was a Cold Star Installation view, Adam de Neige in collaboration with Ivan Pesic, 2017.  Images courtesy of the artist and Creators - Vice.
by Andrew NunesCreators - Vice

Whenever we view an artwork, we only see its final stage, some form of polished end product. All of the labor, emotional turmoil, and complexity of its transformation from thought to reality remain hidden, its history lost. The artwork at its completion enters stasis, never to leave this state unless ultimately destroyed. Iranian artist Adam de Neige in collaboration with software engineer Ivan Pesic completely disrupt this model with their project The Machine Was a Ball and I Was a Cold Star, an algorithmic artwork designed to "educate and evolve" itself as time goes on.

Recently on view at the start of the Venice Biennale at Spazio Tana White, de Neige's project consists of an AI arrangement of projected videos, images and sounds, that are ultimately out of the duo's control once installed. The "storytelling AI" as de Neige calls it, continuously morphs itself, and even the action and presence of visitors can "influence some parameters" in the artist's words.

Although this project marks the first time de Neige has made autonomous AI-as-art, he believes the work is in line with his ongoing conceptual trajectory as an artist. "You can see some reflections of this idea in my previous work and projects," he tells Creators. "There is more or less the same principle behind my 'partly destroyed' concrete works. It's even more evident in my project Beneath the Flow where I drowned artwork in a Venice lagoon two years ago. By masking, destroying, drawing, and letting things go on their own, you basically question notions of order, chaos, and control."

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Refuge: A Novel

I started having nightmares around the time we arrived in the first refugee hostel—missing limbs and phantom stranglers and dying parents were simply the price of sleep.

Illustration by Ansellia Kulikku. Courtesy Guernica.  
by Dina Nayeri, Guernica

ur first visit was in 1993. I believed Baba was coming to Oklahoma to stay. We drove to the airport around noon on a blistering Oklahoma Sunday. Maman allowed us to miss church for it and we took pleasure in putting on casual clothes, packing bottles of ice water. Kian brought an old Game Boy. The sun blazed through the windows and within five minutes we were sweat-stained and nauseated. Kian and I wore thrift store shorts and t-shirts with faded brand names; Maman wore jeans and a nice blouse from Iran. She was trying to strike a balance. Iranian women fret constantly over their looks, but she didn’t want Baba to think she missed him.

She fired questions at us, oblivious to the answers. “Are you excited to see your Baba?” “Kian, do you have your poem?” “Niloo, I told you, no shorts. Do you want your Baba to think you’ve become some kind of American dokhtare kharab?”

Maman’s biggest fear for me since the day I turned thirteen (a year earlier) was that I would become a dokhtare kharab, a “broken girl,” which is the Iranian way of describing a sexually free person who happens to be female—she thought I was more prone to it than average, because of my shared DNA with Baba. The male version of the word, as in most cultures, is something along the lines of playful.

Kian nudged me in the ribs and started singing an annoying song he had made up that made Maman giggle. Sometimes she would tease him by humming his toddler revolution song. “The caged bird is heartsick of walls,” she would croon in a baby lisp. Kian would sing the rest and they carried on their mother-son infatuation. I hated it. I didn’t know to miss Baba in those moments.

Maybe because I was a daughter, or because I was Baba’s daughter, Maman reserved all her austerity for me. She forbade me from wearing a drop of makeup and only gave in to my demand to shave my legs when she saw that my hairiness defied modesty and she could neither let me out looking like that nor force me to wear long pants in the stifling Oklahoma heat. Always crammed in tiny rooms with Maman and Kian, I craved the smallest privacy.

Sometime during our years as asylum seekers, I stopped playing children’s games. I forgot books I had loved and lyrics to Farsi songs, and started to dream about having my own apartment in a big city. In Oklahoma, I made secret plans, borrowing college admissions guides from the public library, readying myself for my second escape—this sleepy flatland was no home to me, and it would be worth any hard work and indignity now if I could just find my own. The other children had never met someone from the Middle East, never considered dreams or demons other than their own, and they didn’t invite me into their narrow universe. They didn’t explain their song lyrics, the rules for dodgeball, or how to pronounce the many words I mangled. Left to entertain myself, I lived inside my imagination. Soon I decided that to find safety here and to re-create the sense of home, I needed two things: money and the air of being a real American (an elusive formula that brought me daily shame). In order to prepare for my excellent future in a big city, I lived off pita bread and egg whites, swam a thousand meters daily, and never stopped moisturizing my legs. I studied twelfth-grade calculus seven hours a day.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Beyond the veil: Bold art by Persian-Arab women

Superheroes, mythical female figures in the desert: the Suspended Territories exhibition at Germany′s Marta Herford gallery showcases contemporary women's art from the Arab world, Iran and North Africa. 
Courtesy Qantara.
by Julia

Public debate about women in the Middle East easily gets bogged down in prejudice: oppression, violence and backward ways of thinking are predominant perceptions of a region that has become the epitome of chaos, war and decay.

An exhibition at the Marta Herford gallery, located in north-western Germany, tries to avoid these pitfalls by exposing the visitor to issues presented by female artists in countries as diverse as Iran, Libya, Jordan and Tunisia. Their art raises awareness about the unseen and "in between" dimensions of Middle Eastern culture, equally found in desert landscapes or in Palestinian refugee camps.

Living in uncertainty

The notion of "in-betweenness" is arguably most ingrained among stateless Palestinian people. To this end, Jordanian artist and architect Saba Innab helped rebuild the Nahr el Bared Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon while creating a series of installations and drawings that reflect on almost 70 years of diaspora. She notes that Palestinians have internalised the temporary and elusive. "That interested me, " Innab admits.

Sama Alshaibi knows exactly what Saba Innab means. You have no place to return to, no place to go, said the Iraqi-Palestinian photographer who was a refugee for a large part of her life. "Nor are you welcome where you are, either."

Sama Alshaibi lived illegally for years in the U.S. before being granted asylum. To be a refugee or a displaced person " is an identity all of its own," she says.