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Inspiring Meeting of February 28, 2023

On February 28, 2023, SMRN had another warm meeting with a group of members, including Mansoor Behnam, Pantea Karimi, Millie Chen, Lynn Marie Kirby, Niusha Hatefinia, Mena El Shazly, Laura Marks, Juan Castrillón, Radek Przedpełski, J.R. Osborn, Cigdem Borucu, Steven Baris, Nezih Erdogan, Azadeh Emadi,  Gustavo Furtado,  Walid El Khachab, Gareth Davies.

In the first part of this meeting, Pantea Karimi presented her current solo exhibition entitled "Saffron, Saint of Spices." The exhibition was inspired by Karimi's investigation of the botanical archives, which were housed in the Archives and Special Collections of the University of California San Francisco Library during her residency from July 2021 to July 2022. The saffron crocus stood out among the various plant species she studied due to its historical significance in Iranian culture, cuisine, and medicine. Karimi explained that the production of 1 kilogram of saffron spice requires hand-picking 150,000 crocus flowers, which poses a significant challenge for Iranian saffron farmers, primarily women, due to economic sanctions, endemic droughts caused by global warming, and the rise of shipping and labor costs. For Karimi, these factors imbue the saffron with symbolic significance as it embodies contemporary agricultural and economic challenges coupled with ongoing political issues under the theocracy in Iran. Accordingly, Karimi approached the saffron crocus from various perspectives, including historical, medicinal, pictorial, and socio-political, within a religious context in this exhibition. Using diverse media such as bottled saffron extracts, hand-printed marbling prints, and hand-crafted religious objects, she assigned sainthood to saffron crocus and celebrated this quintessential Iranian spice both visually and conceptually.

In the second part of the meeting, our friend Walid El Khachab gave his presentation titled "The Ethics of Surface: Cinematic Shadows as a Plane of Immanence." He elaborated on how shadows (and carpets) are, in hindsight, archetypes of cinema and visual screen media. He explained that rugs and carpets are part of our universal visual collective memory and can be seen as “ancestors” of the film frame in imaginary archeology. Additionally, shadows are mythological predecessors of the cinematic image, not just because shadow theatre is a sort of medieval pre-cinema, but because the shadow per se sheds a particular light (sic!) on the film’s agency, least because it is the first “nature-made” negative. The shadow’s agency effectuates the transcendence of its “unreality” within the “real” physicality of its own visibility as a surface. This might actually be a definition of both film and Deleuze’s plane of immanence. El Khachab also stated that the intersection of shadows and carpets lies in their performance of “surfaciality” and their visual interface with the Sacred, or the metaphysical: films, screens, and rugs can invoke the gods, while negatives on celluloid, projectors, and shadows do invoke the devils. Interestingly, the roots of two Arabic words, Kh.Y.L and ZZh.L.L, refer to both the paradigms of Satan and God, as well as to those of cinema and shadow theatre. This provides food for thought.

* This report has been prepared with the help of  Pantea Karimi and Walid El Khachab.