Mr. Majidi and the Electricity Box | VO Curations | London SE1 7NX

This exhibition of collaborative works by Iranian filmmaker Mania Akbari and British sculptor Douglas White follows on from their film “A Moon for My Father” (2019). The exhibition features new photographic and sculptural works that further reflect on ideas of biopolitics and different forms of governmental control. Composed of found objects and archival imagery, the series focuses on specific instances of censorship, surveillance and control. Through a poignant and personal perspective, Akbari and White invite the audience to contemplate the complex and often invisible connections between state, body and objecthood.

‘Geometric Resistance’ is a contemporary example of how an ordinary urban object transforms into a political volume, a powerful symbol of resistance with a dense memory carrying sociological history. Assembled by the artists, ‘Geometric Resistance’ is the sculptural replica of the electricity box located on Enghelab Street, Tehran, that the activist Vida Movahed infamously stood upon to protest the obligatory wearing of the hijab in Iran in December 2017. Movahed’s action motivated other activists to do the same, and so the government decided to weld angled metal covers onto the boxes in response to prevent standing. Following this occurrence, an underground artist group responded by designing wooden platforms to cover these constructions and released the designs online, titling the resource ‘Geometric Resistance’. Initiated in the virtual world, these plywood constructions quickly began appearing in the real world. The protests atop common electrical boxes immediately elevated these simple forms into discreet symbols of revolt, entering the political realm. The resulting architectural designs became an inadvertent collaboration between authority and rebellion. Jane Bennett highlights that objects that go beyond their objecthood and become independent from human interaction are the genuine creators of history. The assembled electricity box becomes a trace, the presence of an absence. The peculiarity of its assemblage, in comparison to common electricity boxes, allude directly to the bodies standing upon them, giving them political significance.

The photographic series ‘House of Sin’emerges through the interplay of authority and rebellion. The photographs comprise images taken from mobile phones seized by the Iranian police, and used as evidence at government trials to make a case for supposed morally corrupt behaviour. Doctored and blurred by authorities, they transition from private space to public, rendering intimate settings, everybodys’. Blurring the photographs generalises the agents they contain, and further the blurred bodies become a trace. They transform into symbols, used as examples and threats. Akbari and White re-present these affects as a way of leaning into their visual peculiarity, exaggerating the unsettling, idiosyncratic aesthetic of authoritarian power. They are displayed as transparencies on makeshift lightboxes held on rusted steel structures, alluding to their original provenance on mobile phones. The artists’ subversive and imaginative recycling and reuse signifies how they can also represent the site of potential rupture and protest. The works become indicative of artistic gestures that can counter these notions of political and personal subjection through expressions of resistance and activism.

Standing in the middle of the exhibition space, the ‘Mr Majidi’ series of sculptures derives from the manipulation of a single found object, a discarded water butt, found near the artists’ current home in London. In this object the artists’ felt they recognised a figure that was familiar to them. Mr. Majidi relates to Akbari’s direct experience of the Iranian operative of the Revolutionary Guard, who is responsible for the surveillance and control of the nation’s filmmakers and, ultimately, responsible for her own exile. Operating under this mysterious name, this authoritative figure was invasively present in Akbari’s life and career, and took on perverse roles of a charming confidant, as well as an abusive commander. The staggered and serial presentation of the sculptures suggests the character’s multiplicity of facets. Free of his control, yet still affected by his memory, Akbari and White explore the ongoing psychological shadow cast over their lives by presenting the sculptures as animated caricature, dismantled, inside out, standstill and upside down. The scene communicates violence with the playfulness of a cartoon, which the exhibition title further alludes to through reference to the ‘Mr. Men’ series of children books.

To accompany this exhibition, Akbari and White have curated the cultural programme ‘Body and Borders’, launching 7th December at V.O Curations’ 12th floor gallery, and encompasses further screenings from 10 contemporary artists, who also explore the physical, political, emotional and sensual borders of the modern corporeal experience. Screenings will include the work of Johann Arens, Lucy Clout, A K Dolven, Barbara Hammer, Carlos Motta, Lynne Sachs, Margaret Salmon, Mark Street, Jessica Sarah Rinland, and Miranda Pennell. A panel discussion will follow the screenings, hosted by art critic Nick Hackworth featuring Mania Akbari, Johann Arens, Lucy Clout, Miranda Pennell, Margaret Salmon and Douglas White.