An important subject of her fascination is architecture as representation of shared histories or common memories. Which architectural traces - or in case of conflict: architectural ‘scars’ - societies choose to preserve and which they don’t. Selecting or ignoring sites are a way of defining oneself. It is an interplay of politics and identity.
The identity-bound character of architecture manifests itself by its political use through intentional devastation, collateral damage, neglect or monumentalization.
Since 2008 her interest gradually moved from Western Europe to the Middle East. After Hosgeldiniz - a large scale photographic database of the ghost villages in South East of Turkey - Vanden Meersch started her new project: Mastering the Curtains.
Mastering the Curtains is a PhD project at the University and the Royal Academy of Antwerp and focuses on the architecture of religious minority groups such as the Sufi’s and the Bahai in Iran.
In her fourth solo exhibition at the Annie Gentils Gallery Els Vanden Meersch brings together works that focus on the different perspectives that are possible on an image, a truth, an event or a location. One historical event can inspire many different stories, identities or even ideologies.
Different truths can compete, undermine or reinforce each other. Truth or nonsense depends on which side one is located.
The exhibition combines works composed of images and sounds from Iran with works composed of images and sounds from Antwerp.
One of the main works in the exhibition is called Eagle’s nest. Panoramic photos shown together with a slideshow and sound collage is an installation inspired on Alamut.
Alamut was a mountain fortress located in the Alamut region in the South Caspian province of Daylam near the Rudbar region in Iran, approximately 100 km from present-day Tehran. The name means ‘Eagle's Nest’.
Under the leadership of Hasan-i Sabbah, Alamut became the site of intense activity for the Shi'a Nizari Ismai'li, along with a smaller subgroup known as the Assassins, between 1090 and 1256 AD. During the medieval period, the castle functioned as the major stronghold of the Nizari Ismaili state. In 1256, Ismaili control of the fortress was lost to the invading Mongols.
After the Mongol destruction, the castle was of only regional significance, passing through the hands of various local powers. Today, it lies in ruins.
Alamut has been an important source of inspiration, both politically and culturally, for many. Ranging from literature, such as the literary work of the Slovenian Vladimir Bartol, to films such as for example the fantasy world of The Lord of the Rings, even to the destructive political discourse and its setting of terrorist movements. The piece in the exhibition brings together parts of the absurd fragmentation and imagination on the empty place this ruin is today, under the title: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted”. A Supreme Ismaeli Motto.
Another eye catcher in the exhibition is a photo series about the quest for the Sufi communities in Iran.
Sufism (or Tassawuf) is a branch of Islam that is defined by its adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of the religion. In Iran, the Sufis’ liberal views contradict Sharia. Theirs is a politics of a-politics. Sufis do not support the government doctrine of velayat-e faqih (the supreme Shiite jurist should also be the nation’s political leader). Not always intentionally, they are among the critics of theocracy. Today, Sufism is under scrutiny in Iran because of tensions with the orthodox Islamic republic. Sufi shrines and mosques have been subject to destruction. Sufis are attacked in many Muslim countries, most violently in Pakistan, where many have been killed. But they are harassed most consistently by the state authorities of Iran. Many were imprisoned during the election protests that started in June 2009 following the disputed victory of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (the ‘Green Revolution’). The Sufi community inspires, due to its philosophy, opposition to any doctrine that divides rather than unites.
Units of infinity
Units of infinity is an artwork from 2012, for the first time shown in the gallery, that is perfectly combined with the art pieces inspired by Iran.
Units of infinity takes the city behind the facades as a starting point. All religious interiors of the same city, Antwerp, are captured in pictures and sound recordings during the execution of their specific ceremonies. The project investigates how smaller commercial spaces transform into prayer rooms of all kinds, and how different social groups are shaping public space into a fragile puzzle that constantly rearranges it selves.
Units of infinity is a sound and image collage that visualizes the thin boundaries between metaphysical intimacy and public space, interior and exterior, identity and politics, and displays it in a jumble of images and sound clips that overlap, neutralize and enhance their juxtaposition. The conclusive nature of the convictions becomes shaky in their many juxtaposed versions as they are subjected to an overall market mechanism. The result is a walk through the city as a marketplace, strolling as Babylonian experience.
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