Dubai. Leaning back into Lawrie Shabibi’s ultra-stark white chairs speaking with the Iranian artist Shahpour Pouyan was a throwback to some of the late night ideological debates I used to have in graduate school. The deep philosophical deliberation that goes into his work is refreshing in an era that may one day be remembered for its purely reactionary Arab Spring art. The three pieces he contributed to Traces are inspired by Nazi Germany’s V2 rocket, designed by Werner Von Braun, who was eventually captured by the United States military and brought to the US to contribute to its space exploration program.
Shahpour Pouyan is one of four artists participating in Traces, Lawrie Shabibi’s group exhibition also featuring work by Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Marwan Sahmarani, and Selma Gürbüz. Traces concerns pieces constructed on paper and explores the permanence of creating art using one of the world’s most ancient and universally valued materials. The exhibition is poignantly placed in an age in which more often than not books are read online, letters are typed not handwritten, and installations get more attention than drawings.
Q&A with Shahpour Pouyan:
DANNA: Your 2011 solo show Full Metal Jacket, also at Lawrie Shabibi included the Projectile series, striking large-scale work in iron and brass that could be circled and examined in 3-D by viewers. Does composing on one-dimensional paper render your current work any less powerful?
SHAHPOUR: Paper has a long history beginning in China and then traveling down the Silk Road, and has been used to draft everything from Ilkhanid-Persian machines to the futuristic inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci. As a medium paper is more connected to science than canvas.
DANNA: Your work has a scientific and ideological quality to it that makes it stand out. Do you have a related educational background?
SHAHPOUR: I actually have diplomas in Math and Physics and a background in Philosophy. I grew up in a military family in Iran and remember studying diagrams and blueprints of different American and Russian fighter planes in my father’s room. I read Military technology magazines in his library. As a young boy, I was fascinated both by the brutality and mystery of stories from World War II and the Cold War, and was more interested in watching historical documentaries than playing outside with my friends.
DANNA: All of your work centers around a near-fetish with objects. What do you see in them?
SHAHPOUR: As a boy I preferred to play with objects more than with popular children’s toys. I tried to find faces and characters in tools like scissors and pliers. I appreciate the metaphysical quality of objects.
DANNA: What was the process you used to create the three pieces for Traces?
SHAHPOUR: I like to use historical references and change them in my own way. The blueprints are meant to vaguely resemble mosques, schools, or other monuments. I created the background by softly touching the side of a pencil to paper. I then painted over using gold or silver leaf and open acrylic.
DANNA: Many of the great collectors in Dubai are Iranian and we have an influx of Persian art coming to galleries here on a regular basis. I’ve always wanted to visit Iran and I’m very curious to hear your perspective on the contemporary arts scene there. Without generalizing too much, what can you tell me?
SHAHPOUR: Art says a lot about a country’s culture. This question is very general and kind of impossible to answer in one paragraph. I’m just a little part of the Iranian arts community and having been based in New York City for years, I’m not familiar enough to speak for everyone. There are a lot of galleries in Tehran, but it is like every other major city in that there is a sense of chaos and it can’t be generalized as one movement. We have four of five main art schools in the city and each one has its own teachers and style. I think Pop and Kitsch have grown very popular in Iran. Also some artists are trying to experiment in new mediums like digital art, video and performance.
DANNA: Can you explain your ongoing fascination with the German scientist Wehrner Von Braun and how his discoveries inspired these pieces?
SHAHPOUR: A while ago I was visiting the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin and was magnetically drawn to these hilariously odd objects from World War II. I learned that they were rockets invented by the Nazi scientist Wehrner Von Braun. I did some reading up on his story and how the Americans took him into custody, and asked him to develop his discoveries for the same use but under a very different ideology. I am interested in how technology has been used and developed in different eras as a tool by various civilizations, ideologies and religions as Power’s arm.
Traces will be at Lawrie Shabibi (Dubai) through 18 July. For more information and timings click here.