by Shraddha NairFeb 12, 2020
In the semi-autobiographical novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac, the line “the East of my youth and the West of my future” echoes the dilemma of the aspiring immigrants for whom East is in a constant state of becoming, whilst West holds the promise of a secured future. Its protagonists Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty through the journey in the USA envision a fragmented world rather than an organic one, which could recognise the presence of the other. Unlike Paradise and Moriarty’s understanding of the voyage limited to the geographical territory, for many, the act of travel and unlimited possibilities entailed around it are the two sides of the coin called identity. The transcultural exchange of ideas, especially for the artists, has extended the horizon of art practices for a profound meaning of creativity. One such artist is Tehran-born, Berlin-based multidisciplinary artist Sahar Homami. Her art practice involving a broad range of platforms - video/animation direction, real time visuals, digital installations and analogue/digital calligraphy - strives to find a fine balance between the mysticism of the East and technology of the West.
Driven by the ongoing research on the intersection of art, science, philosophy and mysticism and technology, is her 40-minute long audio-visual performance Fanaa. In Sufism, fanaa means ‘passing away’ of the individual ego to be with the creator of the world in the state of pure consciousness. In an interview with STIR, Homami explains the multitude meaning of the performance, “The word Fanaa appears destructed with detached letters which carry no meaning, after previously going through a process of dissolution and destruction. The word is stripped away from its attached identities and meanings. This is, in other words, the state of absolute nothingness, where all words lose meaning and only then one can progress and traverse into a rebirth, an awakening. The music structures and generative visual systems were progressively designed together”.
The storytelling format of the audio-video is inspired by a chapter The Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness from the 12th century Persian-Sufi poet Attar’s book The Conference of the Birds. The original story is unravelled through the stages of arrival, dissolution, nothingness, and rebirth. The viewers experience an abstract rendition of these four stages to pass through this valley. Homami further delineates on the process of making this performance, “The entire performance journey begins in arrival into a moment of awareness by an ambient sound and progresses towards dissolution. The musical dramaturgy progresses from a cinematic ambient rumble with a deep bass towards intense atmospheric minimal dark techno tunes, with a final landing into frequencies that are chakra tuning”.
Born and raised in Tehran, studied in Montreal, and now working in Berlin, these transnational experiences have significantly informed the works of Homami. She explains this cross-cultural influence on her identity as an artist, “The question I pose to myself and others sometimes is: What effect a migrating life has on the formation of identity? Perhaps the privilege of freedom of movement allows for possibilities of less expected or less usual identity narrative to form, free of superimposed structures of societies and cultures. Being a modern day khane-be-doosh (nomad) artist allows space for one to think of the nomadic identity that has now been formed and that informs the journey itself. When it comes to my art practice and its identity, the content is focused on the process and progress of life through the lens of mysticism and philosophy. It is to narrate experiences of the journey of a salek (wayfarer), on its path of human experience”.
The Farsi term raah in English means ‘the manner of doing something’. The audio-video Raah interweaves the ‘movement’ between the environments of creation, followed by the interaction between the artists and the image and sound, and lastly, the liveness of the performance facilitated by the mechanical procedures of the machines and artists’ performances. The research and concept spearhead the artistic practice of Homami that demands critical analysis of not just the present, but also the collective past. Adding further, Homami says, “With a focus on being the process and seeing in relationships, I use critical thinking, and research in and through my art practice. Research is an integral part of both content and technical development. This process allows for articulation of the conceptual content of art, which will then be translated into vision boards and storyboards. When it comes to aesthetics, the production is focused primarily on generative time-based or real-time content. I design, animate and/or programme to achieve the desired aesthetics. In real-time scenarios such as performances, I use node-based visual programming languages to develop real-time multimedia content as well as media servers. When I also produce the sound, then it is also created digitally and with generative design approach in mind”.
The duality defines the crux of life, where harmony between the conflicting forces seems unachievable, yet it constantly sets life in motion. Working on a similar theme is the work Simple Rotation, which combines abstract and whole; anarchy and peace to offer an all-encompassing experience. The visual forms in-sync with the music are instrumental to recreate the harmony of the universe. Since 3D world and visual programming play a key role in defining her artworks, Homami emphasises the art of storytelling with the aid of technology, “Technology and the digital age influence the way we experience, understand and express our realities. This presents itself in everything from religion or scientific and philosophical belief systems to mass media. The Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan argued that when it comes to any medium or technology, what we are considering are the psychic and social consequences as they amplify or accelerate existing processes. Humans have been and will always be storytellers. Digital technologies can be used to (re)tell our stories, like a mirror, to portray the condition of our individual and collective existence”.
Homami hopes that her works could offer, “A poetic, philosophical or spiritual experience or at the very least some eye-candy visuals. Our inner universe is concealed to us much like the outer world. The visual communication can be utilised as a medium to traverse certain inner and outer worlds simultaneously and diminish the seeming barriers. My work revolves around looking at the human experience (through the quantum portal, deep into the proverbial rabbit hole) and enhancing it. Creating fertile ground for the audience to have new experiences that could help expand our consciousness and our collective art of seeing. Our eyes are the windows to our souls, whichever way that you look at it”.
The creative collaboration and cultural exchange are the keys to achieve a successful art practice that finds the life of uninterrupted appreciation in the eyes of the viewers. Building on these two features, Homami ensures her interactive works lend new philosophical insight into the phenomenon called ‘life’.