Living in the “Presence”
By Kristin Wissler
Boston, MA – When I first heard about “Presence,” the newest exhibit at Northeastern University’s Gallery 360, I had no idea what to expect. The exhibit, created by sisters Farzaneh and Bahareh Safarani, is comprised of “six video-paintings,” according to Gallery 360’s webpage. What was a video-painting? An animation? An optical illusion of some kind? The description also noted that these video-paintings toe the line between fantasy and reality, depicting a world where time is slower and almost still. If nothing else, I knew that these works would challenge me, and perhaps captivate me.
It turns out that video-paintings are a sort of mixed media, one-part oil painting on wood panels, and one-part video streaming from a projector. The videos and paintings combine seamlessly to create quiet yet powerful images of the subject — a woman — in a house. The subject is alone, but the solitude allows her inner world to manifest in reality — unless it doesn’t.
In one striking video-painting, the canvas is painted with a simple hallway that turns a corner into an unseen room. Every so often, the video projects a woman dressed in black stepping out into the hallway away from the viewer, yet so close that the screen is nearly black for several moments as her cloak billows out behind her. She is partially transparent against the canvas as she walks down the hallway. Soon she reaches the end, where she turns the corner and vanishes, having never looked back at the viewer. Every step she takes is methodical; her movements are in slow motion.
Bahareh Safarani said that the inspiration for the works came from their professors. Originally she and her sister had worked with painting and video separately, but according to Bahareh, “They told us to stop using a singular focus, so we decided to combine them.” The meaning of the works is very intimate to her, as the subject of the paintings, in a sense, represent her and her sister. “There’s someone between us here,” said Bahareh, “So this woman’s house is about contemplation, contemplation of herself.”
The video-painting mentioned previously, then, shows the transparent black-clad woman as an element of this contemplation. She is a part of the inner world of the subject, one that the woman is trying to discover in the empty hallway of the house. As the woman gets to know herself, it is up to the reader to get to know the woman. What exactly the woman in black represents to the subject is up to the reader’s interpretation, according to Bahareh. But it is clear that whatever the woman represents, it is something that the subject longs to reconnect with.
Bahareh says that her personal favorite of the six video-paintings is the simplest one: A painting of a window with a curtain, with video showing the rippling of light through the glass onto the floor. Its simplicity is exactly what Bahareh likes about it. “It’s less, but more,” she explained. “It’s simple, but it makes the viewer spend more time looking at it.”
She’s not wrong. I looked at the painting myself after I talked to her, and I lost track of how much time passed as I viewed the painting. A part of me was waiting for something more to happen, waiting for another woman in black to traverse the screen. But it never happened, and at some point I realized it never would. Yet I continued to look at the painting, and I began to see exactly why Bahareh likes it so much. Looking at it made time slow down, and the seconds became minutes. It was as if I was becoming a part of the inner world of “Presence.”
(“Farzaneh and Bahareh Safarani: Presence” continues through June 11 at Northeastern Gallery 360, Ell Hall (accessible from the Curry Student Center), 360 Huntington Ave., Boston, Mass. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. and on Saturday from noon-5 p.m. For more information, call (617) 373-5728.)