An Alternative Entry in Five Moves

Schemes of an essay-to-be

①   Art FAQs

Art FAQs (2007-2008) were a set of proposals that the Iranian artist, writer and architect Homayoun Askari Sirizi aimed at realizing at the now closed project space 13 Vanak Street, located at the edge of an extremely vast parcel of empty land on the northwestern corner of Vanak Square in Tehran. Concerned and frustrated with all shortcomings in engaging the public in socially conscious projects, he claimed his own answers, given on the occasion of short-lasting events, to what he allegedly posed as frequently asked, fundamental questions regarding art. No objects were to be produced, no documentation of the events was allowed, and nothing was to remain of the proposed solutions; fundamental problems were to live on unresolved—as if the artist just wanted to fail better in engaging the public, and this was also evident from his utterly disconcerting responses. The artist made plans for a total of seven events, of which only one, Art FAQ #1, actually took place and another, Art FAQ #4, was rehearsed—and failed.

Art FAQ #1 was subtitled “Who is an artist? What is an artwork? How far can an artwork reach?” On the day of the event, visitors found nothing but other visitors hanging around in the completely empty space and on the sidewalk, in front of the large  street-facing window, looking into the tiny room. Most of them were covering their noses and mouths with hands as a terribly strong smell of urine was everywhere in the air, pushing out from the space and totally noticeable even on the sidewalk. Inside, some pale yellow paint was splashed on the walls here and there. It was actually a solution of yellow pigment in ammonium hydroxide. A small text was all that could be found in the window display. It read “Mammals are among territorial animals; they mark their territories by dripping blood, spraying urine and dumping feces.” It continued “Humans are mammals too.” During the whole time of the event, the artist sat hidden behind a wall partition at the back end of the room.

For Art FAQ #4, subtitled “Where did all problems come from? (Probably out of a hole?!),” the artist had the idea of trying to let as little light as possible into the space and make a tiny hole into the southern wall so that, by turning the whole room into a camera obscura, an overturned image of the immediately neighboring vast empty land would appear on the facing wall inside the space. The door was to be kept closed during the event, and it was not easy to look through the window as it was to be covered almost completely. Visitors had to approach the room from the other side and try to look through the hole that was made into the wall to see the inside. Again, as if practicing failure, visitors were to block all the light that the space of art needed to represent, albeit disorientedly, its larger outside. But the idea failed even earlier when it was put into test: The wall that was to be pierced happened to be too thick for a fine, straight hole to be made into it. The artist failed in representing the outside world before his audience would fail in seeing it.

②   The Mural

I imagine myself standing inside 13 Vanak Street, looking out through the hole Homayoun had made in the wall. What would the view be like from within a black hole? I imagine there being no obstacles, no billboards, no utility poles, no pop-up stands, no traffic signs and even no trees disturbing my sight line or, alternatively, I imagine my line-of-sight curving and twisting and rounding all those things. Then I would be able to see the mural on the southeastern corner of Vanak Square. Painted on one of Tehran’s typical huge blank city walls, it is of the same kind of trompe l’oeils that have proliferated all around the city in the past few years. The content of the image seems congruent with dominantly omnipresent constructions of subjectivity and ideologies of spatial division: The fantastic image of rural innocence, loaded with a promise of escapism, is de facto accentuated against the dark realities of an evil town; The privatized female subject has been just allowed up to the limits of her domestic universe and all that only due to an appointed household task; Male subjects, carrying live symbols of a reproductive lifestyle on their shoulders, seem to have easily passed through the city, the public domain, and are now headed for the countryside.

However, men are not given a face. Although I see them, we are not intervisible—they are walking their walks with their backs facing me. They don’t seem to be aware of me looking at them. My oblique (quer) sight line can assist me round their bodies, see their looks and read their lips. An imaginary leap has set me on this perceptive engagement with the surrounding, where my sight, and consequently all my other senses, would passionately drift away from the straight line. Each of the two men and each of the two little boys they carry on their shoulders transmute into one alternative subject who has four arms and no face. Together, they form one couple, two lovers, who might be forced to make public appearance with a pair of their arms holding to the rules of normativity, but somehow manage to reach hands, their other hands, to one another and perform alternative affections that go against the dominance of constructs.

③   Grindr Cartography

A concentrated but diverse public of queer men in Tehran is to be found nowhere better than on the screens of their cell phones. The virtual communities that are built up by location-sensitive applications like Grindr, dwell on a gridded surface that runs across an actual geography that has no actually acknowledged consciousness of those communities. A graph of the network that those who appear on Grindr create suggests another subjective topography of Tehran. However, having the strict social and political climate of this specific context in mind, it is clearly an absurd attempt to make either the virtual topography or the actual geography come out as identical to the other, or to merely consider such bifurcation as what provides functional plausibility. These pocket-sized cartographic technologies of subjectification should help refigure potential perceptive engagements with the folds of a lived topography.

④   EXIT

Literally a freestanding signature on its own, the four-letter word EXIT, hastily but most legibly written in uppercase, has been rapidly and increasingly appearing on numerous spots around Tehran during the past two years. Street walls, trash cans, bus stops, roller shutters and traffic signs have all had their moments of encounter with EXIT. This by itself does not introduce novelty to the spectrum of sites from which graffiti artists can choose for their work. Even the word itself is a highly familiar and frequently utilized sign in an urban context. But the bare wit of these four letters superimposed on top of those same old places, together with them still incredibly mushrooming across most distant areas—despite being painted out almost routinely—have brought them a silently phenomenal presence in Tehran. A mask for an invisible agent, EXIT invites the passerby, unexpectedly and out of blue, to a parody of escapism, one that proposes a perceptive engagement that is in complete opposition to what the word, by definition, reads.

EXIT is a project of reflective reterritorialization. Far from being concerned with an attempt of withdrawal, EXIT transforms the surfaces it is tagged upon to reflective screens that, instead of opening up to somewhere else, redirect the suddenly engaged passerby toward their own gaze, location and state of being. In other words, by diffusely signifying a way to the outside, EXIT has actually set, and is setting, provisional borders at the verge of an expanding territory with no clear shape—a territory marked off by the artist, similar to how animals create sign-posts to retain their demarcated territories. This is a cartographical practice as an ongoing performance. Minding this fluid territory, it is easy to understand that anyone faced with EXIT takes a position previously took by the artist and is consequently placed on the inside. Therefore, by rendering any position “before,” “outside,” or “beyond” this perceptive territory redundant, EXIT is symbolically disrupting the bipolar exchange between the inside and the outside and is giving way to an expression of a discursive situation where the way out is virtually another way in.

⑤   Art Gallery Problem

In August 1973, during a conference at Stanford University, the mathematician Victor Klee extemporaneously responded to a request for an interesting geometric problem made by his younger peer Václav (Vašek) Chvátal. What Klee posed has since come to be widely known as the Art Gallery Problem or, alternatively called, the Watchmen Problem—an inspiring challenge in the field of computational geometry. It asks to find the number of guards who can survey 360˚ about their fixed positions and are together occasionally necessary and always sufficient to observe the whole interior of an art gallery. For a polygonal gallery with n vertices, Chvátal soon established an upper bound of [n/3] on the minimal number of guards.

The inductive proof of Chvátal’s original Art Gallery Theorem accounts for simple polygons, flat shapes with straight, non-intersecting sides that form a closed boundary separating the plane into two distinct regions: the interior and the exterior of the polygon. If the function g(n) represents the maximum of guards that are ever needed for covering a gallery with n vertices, it is often easy to establish a lower bound, that is g(n) ≥ [n/3], through generic shapes that settle the necessity of this particular formula. However, the categorical specification of simple polygons still bears particular challenges when attempting to establish sufficiency, as this needs an argument that holds for all polygons.