Posted by Power.
The very first art work one encounters if one decides to enter the exhibition “Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast” is named “Tower of Babel” by artist Goran Hassanpour and is over three meters tall. I met Goran the first time in 2004 when he was in the third year student of the Valand Academy of Arts in Gothenburg, Sweden and I was the curator for the bachelor-degree show there. I remember it vividly because he was late and I thought he was arrogant, and then he was fumbling with the computer and I also remember thinking “Oh dear, here is the clown of the class…”. I mainly remember the moment because he proved my prejudices very wrong, there were no arrogance and no clowning what so ever, only a big heart and a great artist. The short film he showed me was a clip of himself, straight forward looking into the camera and speaking from the heart in a rather broken Swedish about his own relationship with contemporary art. The film is named “Världsmästaren” which translates to “The Champion of the World” in English and it made a huge impact in me since it was effin brilliant! He tells the camera/viewer that he himself is going to become the “World champion of art!” one day, which is of course hilarious and at the same time it is full of both confidence and seriousness. Like in many societies, it is not easy for any minority group, and coming from a culture and a language far from the Swedish and try to become world champion of anything is challenging to say the least. They say that, much like the outlaws of the Hells Angels, it is only 1% of a society that are interested in the arts, and of them there are even fewer who are interested in contemporary art. To squeeze oneself into this narrow scene when one doesn’t come from a family that enjoys art or even have an idea about art or contemporary art, is already challenging in itself. The ability to see this clearly and then to actually be able to use this within your art is ingenious.
For his bachelor exhibition which I curated in 2005, he made a new video which depicted a surprise party for his father when he turned 50 in a Swedish setting, but with a voice-over by Goran himself telling a story about when Goran was a little boy and still in school back in the Iranian parts of Kurdistan. Someone came up to him in school and told him that his father had been released from prison (where he was interned for being part of the Kurdish resistance guerrilla) and that Goran should go home to see his father. Goran ran towards his home as fast as he could, but wanted to share the extremely good news to all his relatives in the village. He ran around to all the friends and relatives to tell them that his father was home! Finally he ran home, completely exhausted and very happy to be able to see his beloved father again. However, his father wasn’t around anymore, he had only a temporary leave from prison and Goran didn’t see his father that day.
The next time we worked together was for a residency and exhibition in Cairo in 2010-2011 at Darb 1718. His work for this show is pictured below.
Goran was part of a workshop and exhibition that we (I and co-curator Juan-Pedro Fabra Guemberena) named “FAMES: Family Vaudeville” where the artists from the Nordic region was supposed to work with the locals in the local environment to make a new work for the exhibition. We stayed in Cairo for almost a month. The day that we landed in Cairo it was the general elections. Everyone was very tense and they were sharing videos showing both the fraudulent behavior of the ones responsible of counting votes and enraged mobs burning down poll stations. Mubarak was on his 32 and last year of reign, but little did we know that at the time. The general vibe inspired Goran and he made a work with arrows made out of a replica of a ballot paper used in the recent election, needles, thread and matches. The visitors were encourage to try to get the arrows through the “bulls eye” of the box – the entrance of a full size replica of the election boxes in Egypt. The matches could be set on fire and the needles could bite someone where it hurts, just like the voting paper, but only if it is able to reach its goal, which might not be an easy task in any country, much least in Egypt at that time…
A month later, when the exhibition was still up, the revolution that turned Mubarak over once and for all commenced.
The third time we worked together was in St Petersburg, a show with a very long name: Nordic Art Today: Conceptual Depts, Broken Dreams and New Horizons, 2011 at Etagi. I was one of many curators (Kari Branzæg, Birta Gudjunsdottìr, Simon Sheikh, Anna Bitkina and Aura Seikkula) and chose among others Goran for the show, and we produced the piece named Tower of Babel which is shown for the second time in Momentum 7. I wanted this work to be the first work one encounters in the exhibition because it is a very strong statement in itself, it has a lot of sounds (bird-chirp) and because it sort of put the whole exhibition in motion. Around his work is Hassan Khan, Loulou Cherinet and Lisi Raskin – and more about these works in their own blog-posts. Below you find the text I wrote for the catalog and also a text he wrote himself in the same publication.
Tower of Babel, 2011
Goran Hassanpour grew up in a region not so far from the historic
site of Babylon, in the country of Iran. His grandfather told him the
stories of the tower of Babylon, as well as the legend of the
hanging gardens of Babylon, and the two stories were in
Hassanpour’s young mind merged into only one story flled with
Hassanpour’s work, Tower of Babylon (2011), is a tower made out
of more than 70 light-boxes portraying the same sort of beautiful
landscape that Hassanpour imagined Babylon looked like once
upon a time. The work might look like the famous tower of Tatlin,
and that is no coincidence as Tatlin also had the tower of Babylon in
his mind for his tower. These sort of boxes can be found not only in
Chinese restaurants, but also in many people’s homes where they
are placed to represent a window to a lost dream, a lost country,
or something very beautiful and harmonious. These light-boxes
are hung in the home with the utmost seriousness to be exquisite
and to remind us of a paradisaical place. Then again, for others,
the light-boxes convey bad taste, kitsch and the sort of “tacky” only
the lowest class of society could take serious and are by thinking
these thoughts, elevating themselves to a higher class. By using
these boxes to build the tower Hassanpour alludes not only his own
personal history and the two stories from Babylon, but also to our
society today. This is a time when the old world meets the new, and
the world that was before the old, the ancient world, seems to be
coming around again. The so called BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia,
India and China are now the countries that are expanding the most
as they are completely embracing capitalism.
Babylon is both a geographic place close to Baghdad, Iraq, where
one of the oldest and richest civilizations started, and a mythical
place – and the origin of the Biblical myth about the rich, materi-
alistic, corrupt and proud people who wanted to build a tower all
the way up to heaven. God punished their pride by tearing down
the tower and sentencing them to different languages. Babylon’s
famous gates, the Ishtar Gate (around 575 BC), was transported
to Germany where it was presented in the Pergamon Museum in
1930, highly renovated. The original site is now embedded in a US
camp since the Iraqi war, and substantial damages have been done
by the US troops and military vehicles.
Born in Kurdistan/Iran 1977
Lives and works in Gothenburg, Sweden
Goran Hassanpour graduated from Valand Fine Art department Gothenburg University and has since exhibited in various shows in Sweden and internationally. He exhibited in a satellite project, Matter & Memory, of the Moscow Biennial (2007), in the Swedish Institute in Paris, in the Swedish Embassy in Berlin, in Bonniers Konsthall, in the exhibition and residency FAMES: Family Vaudeville in Cairo, Egypt and in Nordic Art Today: Conceptual Depts, Broken Dreams and New Horizons, 2011, Etagi, St. Petersburg, Russia.
This is a photo of me, my father and my brother and it is one of the few photos that exist from this period of my life. I’m 5 or 6 years old here. The reason that I don’t know exactly what age I was is that at that time and place, it was not so important to know about the accuracy of when the children were born and one wasn’t bothered about the nearly perverted accuracy of months, weeks, days, hours and minutes many of us have now. I was born during a certain time of the year and I get different answers about what time it was depending on which family member I ask. Mostly it is by the weather conditions that the family member remembers about what season I was born. But I have heard about rainy autumn, sunny late summer, signs of spring flowers with different names, and even snow have occurred occasionally as leads to when it was more exactly. One thing is for sure though, and that is that I was born in the year before the Iranian Revolution 1978-1979. When I look at the photo there is nothing that directly indicate a time and place for when it was taken either. It feels very distant, almost like a century away. The photo appears to be old, almost historic, almost without link to contemporary times. The photo is taken during the eighties which maybe has more connotations with shoulder pads and the sculptural ability of hairspray. By the year 1991 I arrived with my family to Sweden as a political refugee because of my father’s involvement with a guerrilla movement in Kurdistan. After the teen years, which for me were characterized by conflict and uncertainty, often with aggression as the means and expression, I was able to lean against the arts and found in it a platform where I could investigate and isolate my thoughts about my childhood and the vulnerability to live as the child of parents living in exile and who have still not dealt with the fact that they may never return to a homeland that does not exist anymore – except for in the most remote part of the memory.