Upon entering the darkness of Aggregate Space Gallery (ASG) in West Oakland, I’m immediately greeted by a bright, LED-lit image of two women’s profiles in a video installation titled “Although the Wind.” No detailed information is given — the two women face one another nearly motionless in a white room — and it feels impossible to discern who or where the artists are. In the video’s still, bare frame, viewers watch as both women blow air in and out of their mouths, cheeks puffed and breath heavy.
The piece opens Eleven and a Half Hours, a ongoing video exhibition at ASG centered on expression of resistance, action, and politics in the everyday lives of two Iranian and American women. A collaboration between Tehran-based artist Shirin Abedinirad and Oakland-based artist Dionne Lee, Eleven and a Half Hours focuses on striking similarities between the two women’s everyday lives — despite their difference in location, culture, and race.
“I started doing a lot of video installations for my own artistic practice, and for this [exhibit] I wanted to continue that journey,” curator Shaghayegh Cyrous tells me. “I thought, maybe I can create a platform for an Iranian and American [to collaborate], especially after the travel ban. Maybe I can create an opportunity to go deeper into what's going on in the daily life of two women and artists — two totally different persons.”
Cyrous took on the project as a culmination of her participation in ASG’s annual gallery exhibitions internship, a program that trains emerging artists who want to learn about a curatorial practice or expand their understanding of a non-profit/artist-run space. Conrad Meyers, director of ASG, also notes that a key focal point of the exhibit is its confounding of the Iranian and American space.
He shares, “A lot of [Cyrous’s] earlier ideas were about blurring lines between the two cultures, and making it feel like a conundrum...making Iran and Oakland feel like the same place. I really responded to that.”
Throughout the exhibit, Cyrous also interlaces the law of inertia and how it determines movement — or lack thereof — in the world around us. “Although the Wind,” for instance, was inspired by the act of blowing into a flame, and the two possible consequences — the flame either rising, or dying out. For her, the idea of “stop or go” represented by the piece was a demonstration of Newton’s First Law in the exhibition, especially as it pertains to resistance.
“[In a project for Jim Campbell], I was...filming people’s daily lives, researching their movement, and how that movement was created,” she explains. “I thought it was interesting that the law of inertia existed everywhere. Things that are moving stay moving unless a power stops them. So that's resistance in a different version, I would say.”
At a simplistic glance, the exhibit doesn’t necessarily read as overtly political; most pieces in the exhibit feature abstract imagery, such as Abedinirad’s broken reflection of herself in the Caspian Sea. Rather, Cyrous hopes for the juxtaposition of the two artists’ work, side by side, to challenge stereotypes associated with American and Iranian identity.
In fact, visitors to ASG are often unable to discern which piece of art came from which artist. Cyrous shares that people actually often mistake Lee’s “A Use for Rope or String” (a repeating film of Lee playing Cat’s Cradle with a string) with Abedinirad’s “Sirocco VIII” (a snippet of Abedinirad’s bare lower legs), since many viewers don’t expect to see an Iranian woman in high heels.
Meyers also adds, “I think something that came up very early on was putting a black woman and an Iranian woman that cannot leave her home on video screens — that was a political act [in and of itself]... So, in this case, it was really about creating a sensation that we're looking at a phenomenon in this exhibition. And that phenomenon is this idea of living with resistance.”
'Eleven and a Half Hours' is at Aggregate Space Gallery in Oakland through Sept. 23. Details here.