A driving force behind recent projects has been a contention of perspective. Skewing the asserted certainty of perspective and questioning its formal grounds for reference, as well as subsequent ideological viewpoints, Golkar engages a critical inquiry into cultural and socio-economic systems. Exploring the physical position of the body in relationship to form, physical points of reference and spacial relationships, Golkar subsequently echoes social, cultural, political states of mind in his work. — From Babak Golkar’s artist statement.
I’ve been thinking a lot about agency over the last few days, not only in how people exercise it, but what happens when they cannot. Through the lens of politics I wonder what agency means when so much of trade, of work, of finance and of consensus is globalized. On one hand I feel connected to everything by invisible threads and who’s to say that if I tug on my thread in Santa Fe someone in Japan couldn’t feel it? On the other hand, it’s difficult looking at these vast machinations and feeling like one is less than nothing. Should I invest in a home or hoard my money in the event of a financial disaster? Should I put down roots in the Southwest with the specter of climate change looming over the horizon like a mile-wide smoke cloud?
We have the capability to comprehend more than we can grasp and that is a recipe for madness. You can see the destinations these various roads can take you, but you’re not driving, you’re strapped into a kiddie car seat in the back. You can kick and throw a tantrum but the driver’s going to go where he’s going to go. You have to wake up every morning, knowing what you know, and pretend that you can deal with it. Some can’t. Some snap and spend the rest of their lives ranting about inanities like Starbucks holiday cups.
Iranian/Canadian-based artist Babak Golkar has a couple recent projects that tackle this idea of agency. Time to Let Go (Vancouver Art Gallery Offsite, 2014) and Scream Pots use vessels to contain emotions you can never let out in public. Similar to the idea of screaming into a pillow when you get too frustrated and don’t want the neighbors to call the cops, these works allow the viewer to shriek into the safety of a vessel. The therapeutic approach here is evident, but there’s an element of distortion within these vessels that can reframe the scream and present it back to one in a new way. Placement matters, too. These works are out in the open, in public, giving one a safety in expression that doesn’t usually exist.
In this installation I was interested in screaming as a release but also a gesture or a form of contestation. We tend to let go in private, not in public, and that letting go has to do with exposing our vulnerability, which here is reflected, not only by the action of participants through engaging with the works and screaming into the vessels, but also through the use of terracotta as a fragile medium.
We live in a time that systemic conditions are overpowering our basic human conditions. Systems that once were consciously man made now exist firmly in constative modes. In these kinds of systemic entanglements, this project would pose, is there any room for active and reflective thinking and affective criticism? Are the systems muting us in effect?
Pieces from Time to Let Go recently showed in Iran and the artist said that they represent a natural impulse to scream when confronted with obstacles that are unexplained by logic. The thorny place of art in Iran’s political and religious climate gives the works a whole new context. Read this article for an explanation.
I said earlier that distortion of the scream was a factor as well. One may yell into a vessel to find the scream muted instantly, another may find that the vessel amplifies this scream many times over. I think this adds an element of chaos to the proceedings— balance, in fact. If these jars exist because of stultifying, smothering order, we need to be reminded that not everything is preordained. Who thought that chaos could ever be comforting? But there it is. I like that this is described visually as well. Looking through one of these pots is like looking into an aberration of space. The pinprick dot of daylight on the other end may as well be miles away.
Golkar’s smaller-scale scream pots are more for an existential crisis on the go. Seen at this scale, we can start to see the influence of George Ohr on the work. The forms are organic, bulging, quirky distortions of space. From the artist:
Hand thrown on a wheel in two parts, these terracotta ceramic vessels are designed to muffle the sound of a scream. One end is designed to fit around the mouth while the other end is closed with a very small hole to let the air out.
But instead of just playing with space, Golkar is using his hands to shape something just as abstract: emotions. I think it’s fascinating that this amorphous feature of my life, something even I don’t even understand that well about myself, can be warped, changed and made new by a physical object.
Babak Golkar (b. Berkeley, U.S.A., 1977), according to his biography, spent most of his formative years in Tehran until 1996 when he moved to Canada. He obtained a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of British Columbia in 2006 and has exhibited in venues internationally since graduating. Selected solo exhibitions and presentations include The Exchange Project (La Collection Imaginaire), INCA, Seattle, U.S.A. (2016); Of Labour, Of Dirt, Sazmanab, Tehran, Iran (2014); Time To Let Go…, Vancouver Art Gallery: Offsite, Vancouver, Canada (2014); Dialectic of Failure, West Vancouver Museum, West Vancouver, Canada (2013); Parergon, Sharjah Contemporary Art Museum, Sharjah, U.A.E. (2012) and Mechanisms of Distortion, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, U.K. (2012). Selected group exhibitions include Decor, Fondation Boghossian – Villa Empain, Brussels, Belgium (2016); Crisis of History – Beyond History, Framer Framed, Amsterdam, Netherlands (2015); Common Grounds, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich, Germany (2015); L’avenir, 9th La Biennale de Montréal, Musee d’art Contemporain de Montréal, Canada (2014); and Hajj, le pèlerinage à La Mecque, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France (2014). Golkar works and resides in Vancouver.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.
Do you love or loathe these works of contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.