“I Am Here” is a continuous collective art project that concentrates on challenging the various notions of the “center.” The first part of this project took place in three stages in Iran. The first stage began in 2015 after the artist researched the various creative methods of creating a connection with “location.” By searching the name of Iran in Google Maps/Google Earth, Mahdyar Jamshidi found that a red balloon marks Iran on the map and discovered that this symbol (located in the desert outside the town of Aghda close to Ardakan-e Yazd) is the geographical center of Iran’s current borders. He then traveled to the marked location where he dug a hole 150 centimeters deep and placed at its bottom a mirror measuring 250 centimeters in diameter. He marked the hole’s perimeter with a circular red neon light. The second stage of the project took place with the support of Ag Galerie in the form of a curatorial tour and collective dialog at the marked location of the hole in the spring of 2016. The third stage took place in the winter of 2017 as an exhibition at Ag Galerie in Tehran and included the presentation of a research archive, video files and installation.
It did not matter whether I was on campus in Sydney or driving through the deserts in Iran, I would always follow my presence via the blue dot on Google Earth/Maps. The fact that I could travel without borders and boundaries in the shortest amount of time from where I was standing (virtually) to another place, excited me.
What was I surrounded by? What was the distance from where I was standing to my house? Where exactly was the red balloon on the map, which indicated Iran? To answer these questions, I followed the red balloon on the map of Iran for as far as the image quality on Google Earth allowed. It indicated a place where water had flowed through the desert bushes on either side of the Naein-Ardakan highway in Yazd Province close to the city of Aqda, a place the mention of which was new to me.
When I returned to Iran, I went there with friends who knew the area and found the exact location of the red balloon using GPS. Enthusiastically, I set foot on a location to which I had never been before. For years my eyes had grown accustomed to an aerial view presented by Google and now I was standing at a location where the distance between me and the red balloon had reached a minimum. A place which based on Google findings was the geographical center of Iran.
At that moment the bright lights across the night-time sky surrounding me had become important. Gigantic stars which were light years away. Was it I who were in the center surrounded by stars? Or was I standing on the perimeter small shining points? Finding an accurate definition for center depends on the proper understanding of the underlying factors and to answer these questions, I had to first determine my own location.
I thought of creating a symbol on the ground just as our ancestors had done which could contain within it information about my presence in that location; a mysterious form yet recognizable from above. Therefore the shape that came to my mind was the simplest form that also possessed the ability to create a connection with other living beings. The best way to create a connection was a visual one that required no verbal communication.
The shape would play an important role in this connection. Digging the earth and creating a pit which, was beneath the level of the horizon felt strange yet brought me closer to the ground. I was in search of a shape which would insist on my presence on the ground. Water became the best way to emphasize the shape as it would reflect upwards and indicate the form of the shape. Humankind has always need water to survive and even now fortunes are spent in search of water as a source of life on other planets. Therefore after I had dug a pit (150cm deep and 230cm wide), I placed at its bottom a mirror so that just like water its reflecting quality would depict my face and the sky. I realized that it seemed like I was still looking at myself and that point from above. So I decided to recreate the red balloon by lighting that location up in the heart of the desert using a red neon light placed at its perimeter.
In reality the method of the project from the beginning was based on research and discovery: the discovery of the red balloon on the map to finding its actual location and seeing myself and others at the geographical center of Iran. This method which in the
second stage of the project became the search for definitions, in its third took the form of an exhibition where the responsibility of research and discovery was given to the viewers.
I Am Here for me is a beginning to question and challenge proven concepts, which have over time been transformed into the center. As the stagnancy of the project can create a center, and as the aim of the project is decentralization, I saw it to be necessary to continue the project so that over time a new map of the places and the concepts of decentralization would be presented.
“I AM HERE”
I discovered Mahdyar Jamshidi’s project I Am Here in 2016. We spoke about the project and he explained that while studying in Sydney, he had searched Iran on Google Earth and seeing the red balloon drop on the map had increased the importance of the definition of “center” to him. The idea to search Iran had come from a story in Zen philosophy about an individual understanding the self and finding creative ways of connecting humankind to him or herself, to location and to others. Initially I thought that the aim of the project might be to establish the issue of identity and the definitions surrounding it. Location can be the center of the place where the artist is confronted with his or her own identity; this has been seen in the work of many contemporary artists in the past few decades. Questions arose: Was the artist’s aim to find the geographic center of Iran? And why would he mark the exact location of the red balloon on Google Earth on the ground in Iran by digging a pit, placing a mirror at its bottom and embellishing it’s perimeter with a red neon light in the desert near Aqda in Ardakan Yazd Province solely for the sake of finding his own identity?
He explained that this project was not in response to a search for Iran’s geographic center even though his research into locating this center were based on information provided by Google Earth and ultimately extremely close to the various maps available. Indeed this project is an excuse to question the definition of center and the value of this definition in today’s world.
The center has various definitions and the dialectic between the center and margin cannot be ignored. However, if we focus solely on the meaning of center, one can say that it varies in relation to the context in which it is placed; even though its purpose can be very similar in many ways. On the one hand it gives order to structures and on the other hand it limits the movement of their elements and takes them under its own control. It gains its strength from its unique position and thus fortifies the desire to be eternal in and by itself. It recognizes itself as its own purpose, it finds the source of other elements of structure and has the capacity to find existence in every condition. It can be objective as in the center of natural resources or the center of economic or political centers; or it can appear as being subjective as in the center of contemporary art in any city in the world or the center of worship for one of the world’s religions. Indeed the definitions of these centers are sometimes so similar that looking at one, demands reflection on another and sometimes the distance between them is completely obvious. In the history of humankind, various elements have been placed in the center: religion, intellect, the subconscious and desire, signs and investment. Therefore one can claim that everything depends on an axis of centralization, totalitarianism and power and all the elements of life, with both visible and invisible threads whether in terms of being visual and mental are connected to these centers and observe them. The result of this structure is the creation of a pyramid system, which transforms the center to a unified and absolute power.
One might perhaps have a complete definition of the center however how can one analyze its meaning? Is an artistic outlook enough for this perspective? And is this approach not the creator of the center? I found my answers in the artist’s approach to
life, in his different periods of education and in his interest in art and science. Mahdyar is among those artists who has on the one hand studied photography and contemporary art and on the other acquired a master’s degree in mass communication and journalism and a PhD in business management. He has completed courses in cosmology, he is a Zen practitioner and he is keen on incorporating science into his works. Therefore the best method of analyzing the definition of center could have been to concentrate on the production of knowledge and using various knowledges and sciences in the process. Since I Am Here was introduced as an art project and not an artwork, the basis of the analysis stage has been a collective discourse; that which in Antonio Negri’s opinion can be considered as immaterial labor. This means that the definitions are created via mental and collective activities because the form in which we produce has taken shape based on the “de-materialism” of the artwork. Without a doubt, this discourse could not have taken shape in an educating and one-sided manner, therefore by inviting the participants of the project to participate, the second stage took the form of a curatorial tour. In this manner, the speaker could address issues and each of the subjects could be expanded upon in the presence of the participants. This was most useful since the aim of the project was to create a context for the creation of ideas and questions and it was therefore necessary to refrain from any kind of definitive and decisive conclusions. In this manner, the presentation of the project was transformed from an educational one to one of producing collective knowledge.
Many factors influenced this section the most important of which was getting viewers to leave their inactive state and become an active participant, even though we knew that this could be realized not during a curatorial tour but by expanding the project over time. It was first necessary to create this change in the participant’s socio-cultural qualities and one of the methods could be to expand the group of participants from an intellectual group to include average individuals, a state in which according to Lewis A. Coser, “Individuals live for ideas instead of silence.”
In this stage, we had to decentralize the role of axis—artist, curator, critic—which the world of art had bestowed upon us. This meant an escape from using words such as “artwork” and “artist” which are filled with complicated notions of centralization and instead use words which were less charged and dedicated to history such as “cultural production” and the “creators” of culture. These words would help the creation and expansion of knowledge in society and put into motion the wheels of culture. Therefore, in the curatorial tour statement it was pointed out that in this project the artist, the curator and the speakers, would also experience the process of producing knowledge and each participant could move the project along by presenting their creative ideas.
The curatorial tour, posed interesting and at the same time challenging questions which would determine the level of the effect of the context on the grasp of the project. Many of them connected to the reason for the shape of the assigned location in the deserts of Aqda and the used elements. Some of the questions were in relation to the reality of the geographical center of Iran and some others would challenge the permanence of the location in accordance to the red balloon. The most important was the evaluation of the assigned location as an artwork.
This experience fostered in our minds the idea of a tour of the project to various locations and countries and the examination of the various forms of center. For if I Am Here is limited to one location, this danger exists that it will itself turn into a center. Therefore the movement of the project from one location to the next can unite them into a new map on which no center exists.
Before beginning the tours it was necessary for the third stage of the project to be held in the form of an exhibition based on an archive at Ag Galerie (the project’s sponsor). This way, all its stages from the initial idea to the implementation of the project as an installation by the artist, the video pieces and documents, a talk and book launch, could all create a space for the gathering and review of the goals of the project. This could also be an excuse for the exportation and expansion of the project from a personal field to a socio-cultural feat. At this stage too, a context was provided so that by examining the documents and observing the process of the project in the formation of this process, viewers could play a role and pose their questions and respond to this fundamental question: How can a proven definition be decentralized?
Elham Puriya Mehr – Independent Curator
curator : Elham puria Mehr
February 4 - March 1, 2017
curator : Elham puria Mehr
May 5 – 6 , 2016
Sponsored by Ag Gallery, Aqda Yazd
I Am Here from Mahdyar Jamshidi on Vimeo.