An original account of the 2015 Paris’ terror attack, Cyclothymia of a Land echoes the deep reasons of physical and psychological displacement. Emergencies, iniquity, propaganda, terrorism, war to terror, all inhabit an unusual journey into Tehran’s contemporary and precarious cityscape and an eerie and non-reassuring vegetation.
2017, HD video, sound, 14’25”
Cyclothymia of a Land presents itself as a visual and sound cut-up of apparently disjointed data and sources mainly split in two sequences; in one the Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi tells the story of Death of a Salesman (as Arthur Miller’s stage play) over a travelling of Tehran’s cityscape; in the other a testimonial account of the Paris terrorist attacks of 13 November 2015 over uncanny vegetation, progressively enters a reinterpretation of Man Ray’s movie L’Etoile de Mer (based on a poem by Robert Desnos) in today’s Paris.
Morad Montazami: As one of the primary component of your larger series Cyclothymia of a Land (also as part of a film trilogy), the film broadcasted here marks not only your re-settlement from Tehran to Paris (back in 2014) but also a crucial shift in your artistic methodology. As if everything in your practice had to go through a total reset, from the political instability of Tehran to another kind of instability found in Paris— mainly after the different terror attacks which happened, including the Bataclan tragedy (13 November 2015). But also your interiorised and harsh encounter with the “migrant” status somehow imposed on you by the French administration and laws. It sounds like you had a lot to deal with in this film and all from scratch in a way?
Arash Hanaei: That is true. Back in the days, when I grew up in the midst of the Iran-Iraq war, which holds a totally different temporality than the current “terror” situations, I would have never thought to encounter such context in a city like Paris, thirty years after, let’s stay the least as a state of emergency, if not as a “state of exception”, which creates a link for me between the two cities. I became obsessed with this temporality of the transitory, in radical political terms (life or death) as it eventually also reflected my own transitory situation—indeed with a strong cultural complex which made it very difficult for me to accept my new material condition outside of Iran, where I was used to operate as an artist. We could say that terrorism versus war on terror and nationalistic propaganda as a strategy of control is something new to France, yet I don’t believe so. But I was more interested in the “post” traumatic than the trauma itself anyway. I was less interested in rational historical facts than ungraspable ruptures, breakups and blind spots.
MM: That’s where you came up with this idea of Cyclothymia, which you began to develop until recently. It sounds more like a cyclic disease for representing the trauma than a dated tragedy. One can feel particularly thrilled when watching the film by the way you address the chaos of images or the global media crisis, all of it like a discreet but violent collage of conflicting temporalities and discourses.
AH: It’s as if from the chaos of images, some sort of redemption of our schizophrenia was made possible; trying to overcome the syndrome of the story within a story, within a story... without beginning or end, like an endless loop. Another way to look at it is as visual palimpsest or layered field for a fragmented and delayed vision: something to be seen or witnessed has been decentred in favour of unexpected apparitions and forgotten landscapes, where whisperings resist the orders. I like to think of the viewer as a dwelling eye and the film as a dismembered body, to be reincorporated to the falsely random and objective act of seeing. That’s the whole instability.
MM: You seem to diminish your ties with the short-term expectations and the temporalities of a marketed art scene (“Iranian contemporary art” currency let’s say) while your work reveals itself piece by piece, as a nomadic puzzle, in its own ecological process, submitted to change, transposition and acclimatisation.
AH: That’s the least you could say. In reaction to what I consider a “bureaucratic Middle Eastern art”, I would never compromise with cheap identity politics or fantasize my own “exile” condition. Subjected to the constant clash with state ideology or “official” narratives, my practice early on shifted from the documentary image (I had the chance to study with documentary photographers like Kaveh Golestan and Bahman Jalali) to multiple sites of counter-narratives, including in the way I position myself. Living in globalized, neoliberal and hallucinated cites makes identity politics more complex than who you are supposed to be for a market or infrastructure. It’s the micropolitics of how we survive in the age of digital knowledge and transitory politics that matter overall.
Cyclothymia of a Land, Part 1, 2017