I remember, a few years back, pre-pandemic, a show of Farsad Labbauf, in a downtown gallery, showing colorful, linear patterned portraits. But those colorful portraits have taken a back seat to his newfound production of images from his past and Iran’s history, in an honest exploration of what motivates him. His latest show, “Revisiting Fragments and Entities,” sponsored by Roya Khadjavi Projects at High Line Nine Gallery 9.1, New York, N.Y., from September 23 through October 16 reveals his newfound interest in creating myth and stitching together his history.
We find images of a ballerina, oil production facilities and old wooden bridges in “Rotation Ceremony #8,” (2000, paper, thread), all symbols of power. The ballerina is upside down, hanging from trapeze-like threaded lines, perhaps symbolizing the upside down and rotating power structure that exists. I think of culture hanging by a thread, threatening to fall to the other power structures shown in “Rotation Ceremony #8.” In portraying the nymphs of Greek myth in “Dancing Naiads,” (2021, Giclée print, embroidery floss, thread, acrylic), Labbauf is juxtaposing the Greek mythical nymphs of beautiful, fresh flowing water against dark, still oil, recalling that oil and water don’t mix.
In “Zero Liquid-Daul,” (2000, paper, pencil, thread), upside down imagery is used again effectively in four colored figures and the image of a rat literally cornered above a map of Iran. Here, pictures of powerful politicians behind a religious robed, masked figure again subtly allude to power structures. James Elkins’ introduction in the catalogue of the show tells me that a fragment of Farsi’s image is pasted onto the face of the pope with the word digar, Other, in Farsi is printed upside down with the first letter missing. noting that the missing letter, daul, is supplied by the picture’s title. Directional lines cross the politicians’ image and lead straight to the depicted rat.
In “Water Cut Bishop,” (2000, paper, pencil, foil, thread), we see, perhaps, a battle from the Book of Kings, but the title alludes to a game of chess, which keeps repeating as long as the players are willing to play another game.
In “Eclipse Cloth Note,” (2000, paper, pencil, thread), we see a figure, legs replaced with thread, looking puppet-like, with lines crossed at the level of the heart. Next to the figure is a drawing of a machine part, and an oil field with industrial parts indicating technology overtaking the land and people.
Powerful figures from Greek and Roman history are portrayed as well, including the Athenian hero for democracy, “Aristogelton,” (2021, Giclée print embroidery floss, yarn, acrylic), whose statue by Greek sculptor Antenor was taken by the Persians and placed in the agora when they occupied Athens during the Persian wars. It later survived only in Roman copies. With Labbauf’s Giclée print of the statue of the mad Roman Emperor, “Commodus,” (2021, Giclée print, embroidery floss, yarn, thread, acrylic), we see overlooked histories, their statues now taking center stage alongside the image of the statue of “Orpheus,” (2021, Giclée print, embroidery floss, acrylic), son of a muse who famously rescued his wife from Hades but lost her again to the underworld because he looked back. The use of Giclée, a reproduction of a painting or photograph or here, a photograph of a sculpture, leads us to recognize that the sculptures are not the real thing, or a revealing of the person or myth or God it portrays. In the age of fake news, we see the artist producing myths and histories.
The lines of thread cross at Vetruvian angles, alluding to the geometry of buildings, but also the wool threaded patterns of Persian carpets, in “Warrior (Study),” (2020, Giclée print, embroidery floss, thread, acrylic), the threaded lines form a 3D pattern extending from the sculpture, encasing it. In “Statue of Laying Man,” (2020, Giclée print, embroidery floss, thread, acrylic), the relaxed sculpture is covered by threaded lines intersecting where the belly button should be, where a connection to the mother once was, but has now been severed. Those lines provide a new connection, to the Labbauf’s motherland, as he stitches together his history and heritage.
(“Farsad Labbauf: Revisiting Fragments and Entities” sponsored by Roya Khadjavi Projects continues through October 16 at High Line Nine Gallery 9.1, 507 West 27th St., New York, New York, from September 23 through October 16. High Line Corridor open daily from 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Galleries open Tuesday through Saturday from noon-6 p.m. For more information, visit highlinenine.com.)