WHO, BY WHOM, AND FOR WHOM: PRESENTATION OF CONTEMPORARY ART IN IRAN AND REPRESENTATIONS OF THE ART OF IRAN ELSEWHERE

 by Sandra Skurvida*

In a sociopolitical context where national legislation heavily mediates the private and public sphere, how do art and curatorial practice intervene to both convey and resist the limits set on the circulation of art in public life? How does the social impact of art manifest itself within a space of regulated spectatorship? And how does a deregulated form of spectatorship engage with the art conceived in restricted environments? This inquiry examines these questions relative to current art practices in Iran and their transnational circulation, cross-examining variances of presentation and representation in different contexts in Iran and the United States.

Notably, the ideological standoff between these two states following the Iranian Revolution of 1979 chronologically parallels the evolution of postcolonial discourse (Edward Said’s Orientalism was published in 1978). Michel Foucault articulated the inextricable relationship between power and knowledge in a theoretical formula that has since become a cornerstone of postcolonial theory: “There is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.”[1] These lines appear in his Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, published in 1975, just before their author hailed the birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran.[2] Soon thereafter, revolutionary intellectuals filled its prisons.

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Figure 1. Evin Prison, Tehran, 2012. Photo by Author

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Figure 2. Azadeh Akhlaghi, Barbad Golshiri, Farzaneh Taheri, and Rahman Bouzari

Evin Prison looms large in the everyday life of Tehran—its reinforced walls block sightlines and obliterate large swaths of urban terrain. The daily threat of imprisonment prods individuals towards normative self-presentation in public in every sphere of daily life, from the dress code to art production. Yet, within the sociopolitical consciousness in Iran, the prison is also a public space that acknowledges opposition by means of legislated punishment: paradoxically, through imprisonment, dissenting opinions become public. Via imprisonment and release, not only do dissenting thought-acts become public, but also comings and goings of prisoners of conscience are suffered and celebrated in a community of friends and supporters.[3] The two photographs above (figs. 1 & 2) illustrate the dialectic between public and private modes of dissidence. The first photo was taken outside the Evin Prison in Tehran on August 15, 2012, when more than fifty political prisoners were freed before Eid al-Fitr, the religious holiday marking the end of Ramadan. Among them was journalist and translator Rahman Bouzari, who is pictured in the second photo, celebrating his release with friends.

 

Disturbing public opinion

Just as the space of protest can be both private and public, so too is the space of a work of art. The creative act, as defined by Marcel Duchamp in his eponymous 1957 lecture,[4] cannot fully be realized in the absence of spectatorship. Thus, the ability to be public and produce a public is the lifeline of contemporary art, and enables it to be a vehicle for critique.  However, its public nature also means that artistic action can be legislated and is punishable by law.  Governmental restrictions of cultural production render contemporary artists susceptible to being charged with disturbance of the public sphere.  Artist and writer Barbad Golshiri plots the ideological structure of the socially engaged art world in Iran in a diagram entitled Disturbing the Public Opinion (fig. 3).  It takes as its starting point, “Disturbing public opinion,” which opens onto three avenues: “Disturbing the public opinion as charge,”  “Disturbing the public opinion as disturbing the doxical,” and “Disturbing the public opinion as transitory legislation.”  He then examines how and to what extent these tactics can elude ideological control and produce dissent within Iran’s legislated public space.  Golshiri’s chart provides a framework for the commentary that follows, which examines an array of transgressive art practices and their transnational states.

Figure 3.  Link to Barbad Golshiri, Disturbing the Public Opinion, 2011:

Indeed, artists in Iran are commonly charged with disturbing public opinion. As anthropologist Talal Asad perceptively expounds in his discussion of Islamic legislature, the sociopolitical governance includes the political subject’s belief system.  However, thought-acts are only deemed transgressive (and therefore punishable by law) when they become speech-acts:

Insofar as the law concerns itself with disbelief, it is not as a matter of its propositional untruth but of a solemn social relationship being openly repudiated (“being unfaithful”). Legally, apostasy (ridda, kufr) can therefore be established only on the basis of the functioning of external signs (including public speech or writing, publicly visible behavior), never on the basis of inferred or forcibly extracted internal belief.[5]

Accordingly, art is rendered political less by its creator’s intention than by the context in which it is viewed; that is to say, by the social politics of the consummation of the creative act via spectatorship. A work’s transgressive capacity is thus determined by the context in which it is received.

The primary task of governmental restrictions in a totalitarian state is to limit the public space of spectatorship or the cultural content available for consumption in public environments. Artist and art theorist Bavand Behpoor describes his experience of the atomization of cultural production for the generation born in Iran after 1979:

The outside world was blocked away with a screen full of images. A sophisticated image translation machine was and still is at work. International movies could be watched on national television, but the films were translated into new narratives. The image produced of the world, of the society, and of citizens was and still is unbelievably phantasmagorical. The images of private life do not match what anybody has seen in private, and every possible effort is undertaken to make sure no image in the public realm communicates anything from one individual to another. However, it is ok if such communication happens in private. […] This is a system that dissects thought and tears apart expression not only by removing words or images through their abundance, but also by destroying their reference points. One can form his own private image (scraps gathered from the public realm), but cannot make this private image public.[6]

Politically engaged art has become critically dull within a Western context, where social change occurs through other channels.  However, its relevance cannot be taken for granted in environments where public speech is regulated, and, as a result, a separation of public and private realities persists. This is to say, society as presented or represented by the government is divorced from the private, lived reality of its subjects.  Politically engaged art is conceived in such schisms; it thrives on incursions on the public by the private.  To paraphrase one of Golshiri’s theses, “introducing a cluster of legislations from one context to another”—from public to private and vice versa—“could function as alteration, subversion, inversion [or one reality for another]” (see fig. 3).

In addition the contemporary art scene, because it engages with a global market and depends on spectatorship, inherently contradicts a society in which public expressions are restricted. As artist and writer Hito Steyerl notes,

Articulation of protest has two levels. On one level, the articulation entails finding a language for protest, the vocalization, the verbalization, or the visualization of political protest. On another level, however, the articulation also shapes the structure or internal organization of protest movements. In other words, there are two different kinds of concatenations: one is at the level of symbols, the other at the level of political forces. The dynamic of desire and refusal, attraction and repulsion, the contradiction and the convergence of different elements unfold on both levels. In relation to protest, the question of articulation concerns the organization of its expression—but also the expression of its organization.”[7]

Thus, art production in a totalitarian state becomes politically engaged by default if, due to its inherently public nature, a work of art confronts the legislation of the public space. But does (and if so, how does) this inherent agency translate to other, largely unrestricted environments? From Tehran to Paris, New York, or Berlin? Asad’s definition of translation as “at once a sequence of human acts and a narrative recounting it, both being and representation”[8] also applies to transnational curatorial practice—the work of art exists in its “being” and its subsequent representations. How does a work of art manifest in its original site of presentation versus another? Further, what is the relationship between the two?

Presentation of Contemporary Art in Iran

Since 2009, most “public” displays of politically engaged contemporary art (understood as conceptual, contextual practices) in Iran are in fact semi-public, as they have been relegated exclusively to the private sector of commercial galleries and a very small number of non-profit, intermittently run artist spaces. (Public institutions such as the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art and the artists’ societies no longer exhibit any overtly sociopolitical artworks due to the more restrictive governmental policies implemented since 2009.) Private galleries negotiate the limits of permissibility, counting on censors’ ignorance to the complex signifiers embedded in the works of art and their accompanying texts.[9] A lack of information on gallery websites and publications, such as images of artworks as well as exhibition opening dates, is commonplace and oftentimes intentional. This information could risk exposing the exhibiting venue to government oversight, resulting in non-renewal of the gallery’s license and other restrictions. Instead, information is shared via social media sites such as Facebook or through private communication. Artists, curators, gallery-owners, critics, and audiences engage in conscious risk-taking, hoping to evade censorship and experience a moment of collective freedom in the public display of defiance. To outsiders, such scenes look like typical gallery openings:

Girls in heels, their headscarves slipping back to reveal fantastical upsweeps, hipster boys in skinny jeans and gray-haired intellectuals who look as if they’ve just stumbled out of the smoke-filled back rooms of a French café mingle and discuss the art that surrounds them.[10]

However, this scene of private-public display that occurs every Friday in Tehran, even if superficially observed by the occasional visitor, is part of a subliminal system of codes established outside the doxical, momentarily transporting the public from an overtly regulated public space into another, public/private domain.

Public gathering is highly regulated in Iran, and thus art production has taken a decidedly inward turn.  Most art events take place in private spaces, indoors, where they are shielded from unwanted oversight. Artists who take their work to the streets in the form of performances, events, and other interventions take serious risks.  Increasingly, those artworks still presented in public have become more concerned with individual gestures. Jinoos Taghizadeh, an artist living in Tehran, provides one such example. In her public performance Nazr, which took place in Isfahan on September 7, 2003 (fig. 4), she offered seven boxes of pears and a public performance as nazr[11] a type of ritual pledge–in front of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. Though passersby were at first hesitant to approach, they soon came forth with questions, and shortly thereafter, the spread had been cleared of fruit, thus completing the performance and the nazr.   Those who partook in the ritual bore witness both to the enacting of one pledge and the undoing of another by using a private act of devotion to create a public sphere.  In addition, by appropriating a ritual for artistic action, this performance confused the boundaries between religious actions endorsed by the state, and the secular world of performance art.  Lastly, because the terms of the nazr remain secret, the critical stance of the work remains ambiguous, and thus, protected.

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Figure 4. Jinoos Taghizadeh, Nazr, 2003. Image courtesy of the artist

Virtual Walls and Loopholes in the World Wide Web

The specter of the Intranet haunts the Internet as its birthright.[12] Though seemingly open, the worldwide scope of the Web can easily be curtailed by national legislatures.  In Iran, the reaches of the World Wide Web are identified on the interface of your personal computer whenever access to a state-censored site is attempted:

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Figure 5. Screenshot, Tehran, August 2012, taken by the author

Bill Nichols and other pioneering theorists of cybernetic systems have noted the tension between “the liberating potential of cybernetic imagination and the ideological tendency to preserve the existing form of social relations.”[13] The apperception of the cybernetic connection can bolster a sense of social collectivity, and the possibility to connect provides an alternate means of evading or overrunning political control. But more recent developments, such as Alexander Galloway’s book Protocol, problematize issues of connectivity, collectivity, and participation. He shifts emphasis from “networks” to “protocols” in which the systems of TCP/IP and DNS operate as “political technologies,” and echo Foucault’s description of latter-day systems of control:

Power relations are being transformed in a way that is resonant with the flexibility and constraints of information technology. The Internet is not simply “open” or “closed” but above all the form that is modulated. […] Information does flow, but it does so in a highly regulated manner. […] Viewed as a whole, protocol is a distributed management system that allows control to exist within a heterogeneous material milieu.[14]

Indeed, the relative freedom of this ‘heterogeneous material milieu’ exists not only with regard to transmissions across space, but also to the potential of subverting the global economy of time.  Current Web technologies such as Skype and Facetime, among others, allow the momentary collapse of multiple time zones via live-stream. Due to their ability to interrupt the flow of historical time and reconfigure it into an approximation of a Bergsonian durée[15]digital transmissions effectively circumvent the economy of timed/denominated transactions, determined by a capitalist economy based on linear time.

The acronym PPP aligns “point-to-point protocols”[16] with “purchasing power parity” (an economic condition whereby different currencies have the same purchasing power in different countries). Both acronyms stress the means by which the disengagement from one determinate point of origin forces a negotiation of parity (purchasing or otherwise) and has the potential to disrupt ideological and economic relations. Placeless time is free; and, as Boris Groys aptly puts it in his study of politicized religion in the digital age, all resistance is ultimately resistance against time.[17]

The first Skype transmission from Iran within the context of visual art was conducted on July 11, 2008 by the artist Sohrab M. Kashani from the rooftop of his home in Tehran. In it, Kashani trained his camera onto the sun and followed its movement across the sky in Tehran, while the transmission was simultaneously projected onto the exterior wall of the Machine Project in Los Angeles (fig. 6). During this event, “universal” time associated with the movements of stars and planets collapsed into virtual time as determined by the Network Time Protocol (NTP).

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Figure 6.

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Figure 6. Sohrab M. Kashani transmitting from Tehran, for A Practical Demonstration, a project by Jon Rubin and Machine Project, Los Angeles, CA, July 11, 2008

Skype, live-streams, listservs, social media, and other channels of content sharing via the Internet have become predominant forms of cultural exchange between restricted environments (between Iran and the US, for example). Virtual exchanges have been initiated by artists and curators worldwide and conducted in collaboration with independent producers in Iran, such as Parkingallery (www.parkingallery.com), founded and directed by Amirali Ghasemi; and Sazmanab Platform for Contemporary Arts (www.sazmanab.org), founded and directed by Kashani, both in Tehran. Such exchange of life’s activities via live-stream is demonstrated by projects like Kubideh Kitchen: Live Skype Meal between Pittsburgh and Tehran (fig. 7). The meal was simultaneously shared among diners in the two cities on April 28, 2012. Joined via webcam, guests sat around long tables and shared Persian food and conversation.

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Figure 7. Kubideh Kitchen: Live Skype Meal between Pittsburgh and Tehran, April 28, 2012. Photo by Setareh Soheili, courtesy Sazmanab Platform for Contemporary Arts

As Trebor Scholz notes in his essay on immaterial curating, “The Participatory Challenge,” such “extreme sharing networks are conscious, loosely knit groups based on commonalities, bootstrap economies, and shared ethics. They offer alternative platforms of production and distribution of our practice.”[18] However, many questions remain: Are these practices simple solutions, enabling us to overcome restrictions? Or do they indicate a larger paradigm shift in our conceptions of time and space as nationally governed entities?  Further, can we, through such immaterial labor, create and sustain semi-autonomous, alternative worlds?

Representations of Contemporary Art of Iran Elsewhere

When contemporary art from Iran is exhibited abroad, mainly under the radar of both the Iranian and local government, and generally evades severe censorship. In many cases, politically engaged art only becomes widely publicized if the artists themselves choose to leave the country. Greater artistic freedom is acquired at the cost of political agency—as Tehran-raised and Dallas-based artist Morehshin Allahyari notes, “the less I censor myself, the further I remove myself from my country.”[19]

The importance of context to the efficacy of art calls for a consideration of the repercussions of exhibiting art that originates in an ideologically restricted environment outside the operational boundaries of these restrictions. Exhibitions of art from Iran abroad fall into two main categories—those that are explicitly framed as “Iranian” and those that are not.[20] Within this, there are, of course, varied scenarios, including: artwork created by an artist living in Tehran shown there and abroad; work created by an artist living in Tehran cannot be shown there, but can be shown abroad with caution; work created by an artist living outside Iran can be shown abroad and in Iran; work created by an artist living outside Iran can only be shown abroad; and work created by an artist living in Iran that cannot be shown anywhereas long as its creator remains in Iran. Most frequently, the agency, or what Asad names the “being” of an artwork, is lost in the translation of transnational representation, and artists are afforded exposure and recognition within a systemic cycle of dominance that still regulates entry into “modern world culture” and the majority of contemporary art world institutions. This persistent situation warrants a comparison to Asad’s commentary on literary translation:

Why are they not translating my work?” says the colonized writer: “Am I not inventive in the way modernity values inventiveness? Do I not demonstrate the sensibilities that modern culture requires? Can I not criticize everything even as moderns do?” (The non-colonized writer asks no such questions.) Literary subversion cannot constitute an adequate response to the colonized writer’s (or critic’s) discontent because its effectiveness is a matter of canonical judgment, and he or she has no authority to make that judgment. The structures of power the colonized writer confronts are institutional, not textual. [21]

Another set of conditions informing the production and reception of work by Iranian artists includes those of exile, diaspora, and transitory existences, which are becoming increasingly more common. Monira Al Qadiri, a Kuwaiti artist raised in Japan who lives in Kuwait and Beirut and exhibits internationally, states, “I feel we have to come to terms with this fluid loss of identity.”[22] Artists in the diaspora may address their heritage and personal histories in their work, but, for better or worse, their address is remote.

Current proliferation of multiple, transitory, often collective identities allows for existing signifiers to be reassembled into new iconologic puzzles. Speaking in tongues both native and learned, these kaleidoscopic reconstructions negotiate past and present realities simultaneously. In their project Reverse Joy, the artist collective Slavs and Tatars reactivates the mystical dissent of the Shi’a religious tradition through a fountain spouting blood-red liquid that derives from the religious tradition of Muharram.  The piece reappears in Jerusalem, a contested site between Israel and Iran (fig. 8). While the fountain itself is plugged into its immediate and mediated context, knowledge of its creators’ backgrounds builds the viewer’s awareness of additional signifiers embedded within the piece. This multiplicity results in a hybridity that regenerates new meanings from existing signifiers. An artist’s background, religious iconography, and site all relate to one another to form new constellations of meaning. Nevertheless, each aspect must also retain its specificity, lest the work of an artist born in Kaduna and residing in Memphis be overly homogenized as “informed by a broad range of practices, techniques, and materials, among them the artistic traditions of the Middle East, colonial and sub-Saharan Africa, and the European traditions of figure drawing and painting.”[23] Which artistic traditions? Which Middle East? Which Europe? These are the questions to be addressed by curators and exhibitions.

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Figure 8. Slavs and Tatars, Reverse Joy, public intervention at Under the Mountain festival for new public art curated by Omer Krieger, Jerusalem, 2012. Courtesy the Artists

Exhibitions that feature “Iranian” artists must consider the difference between art practice in Iran and a representation of “Iran” manifested as a result of diaspora. For example, Iran Inside Out: Influences of Homeland and Diaspora on the Artistic Language of 56 Contemporary Iranian Artists, curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath at the Chelsea Art Museum in New York City in fall 2009 featured thirty-five artists from Iran and twenty-one from the diaspora. [24] This exhibition is an exception to the rule:  a great majority of exhibitions framed as “Iranian” (or “Middle Eastern”) and presented in the United States rely heavily on the artists from the diaspora. More recently, The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art, and Society, a multi-site project by Rutgers Institute for Women and Art directed by Judith K. Brodsky and Ferris Olin, presented in fall 2012[25] featured twenty-four artists in the core exhibition program, only six of whom currently reside in the “Middle East.”[26]  Though the exhibition’s press release promises to challenge Western stereotypes, the artist roster suggests a Western adaptation of “Middle Eastern” art production—rather than a complicated diversity of positions, streamlined viewpoints and languages in translation ultimately reduce the artists’ voices to a politely accented English.

Representations of Iran emerging from the diaspora are often mnemonic, metaphoric, and nostalgic, and are thus considered more “universal,” or more broadly intelligible. They generally engage not in the production of knowledge but rather prioritize translation from one context to another, limiting the scope of meaning to what would be intelligible in a different context. Let us compare Shirin Neshat’s photographic series Women of Allah, 1993-1997 (which can be viewed on the Metropolitan Museum’s website[27]), and Jinoos Taghizadeh’s performance For Forugh, 2004 (fig. 9).  In these two works, both artists address the figure of Persian poet Forugh Farrokhzad (1935-1967) and refer to her texts. In Neshat’s well-known series, Farrokhzad’s poetry becomes exotic ornamentation covering the paper skin of Neshat’s veiled women.  The poet’s words have become images, cyphers for audiences who cannot read them.  Those who would read cannot because of superfluous and incorrect diacritics, and those who already cannot read the language believe they are missing meaning.[28]   The appropriation of Forugh’s texts turns her words from poetry into ideological signifiers for an “Iran” to which she does not belong. These “words,” though unspeakable, continue to signify “a Persian poet.” Empty words in Neshat’s photographs paradoxically reinforce the idea of the “silent women” of Iran by silencing one of its most distinctive voices.

Taghizadeh, on the contrary, inhabits Farrokhzad’s world, and, through a performative action, shares this world with her fellow citizens in a public celebration. On the poet’s birthday, the artist walked from a bookstore in Bagh-e-Ferdowsi in northern Tehran to the poet’s grave in Zahir od-Dowleh Cemetery. On walls, street posts, and sidewalks along the way, she attached posters with photocopied images of Farrokhzad and pages from her books, sometimes overlaid with the artist’s own hands opening or turning the pages. According to the artist statement,

People gathered, started reading or checking it out. The elders, the same ones who for a lifetime had forbidden Forugh to their sons and daughters, quickly recognized the face and the poetry—perhaps in secret many had read her. And the younger people seemed to have seen her before. You may refuse to accept Forugh but you cannot ignore her. In a politicized city such as Tehran, many quickly connected her to the current political issues. Here and there they stood around the pictures in discussion. During a three-hour-long walk, the route was filled with posters, even though twice the city workers and police tore the papers off the walls and took away the glue and brush with threats. But in the afternoon, if you would follow the images here and there, you will reach her grave, under the light snowfall of which a small crowd had celebrated her birthday with a small cake.[29]

The cake was as large as a gravestone and covered it completely, its sugary slab in the winter’s snow overlaying the white marble inscribed with the poet’s name. It was cut into pieces and shared among the people who gathered around the grave, as the poet’s words were shared with passersby. A communal bond was created both because of the poet’s status as a cultural symbol and through her actual poetry. In addition, the procession produced a social space for mournful celebration. Though a disturbance of the everyday, it honored Forugh through a gesture of inclusion, rather than “reinforce their identical positive identities by stigmatizing others,”[30] as with Neshat’s Women of Allah.

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Figure 9. Jinoos Taghizadeh, For Forugh, 2004 (performance documentation). Public performance, Tehran. Courtesy the Artist

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Figure 9. Jinoos Taghizadeh, For Forugh, 2004 (poster). Public performance, Tehran. Courtesy the Artist

The pervasive impact of globalization on art practice is evident here. Beyond the immediacy of artistic praxis, art practices—including socially engaged art, performance art, curation, and site-specific installations—also engage neoliberal capitalist exchange. Golshiri’s chart outlines how this unified neoliberal art system operates: “In auction houses, governmental exhibitions and many mainstream events held by world-famous institutions, the audience and supporters of arts created within ideological maxims and/or of aestheticized stereotypes recognize themselves; they reencounter their over-digested ideas, a set of ideas that are not produced in collaboration with those works of art, but have already been there as common knowledge” (fig. 3). Ultimately, presentations of art under Iran’s national banner or within the framework of geopolitical interests connected to the financing pipelines of art institutions private and public and/or operating under the auspices of nation states and their legislatures subsume the potential of art to subvert the doxical and to reach the viewer across boundaries.

To engage sociopolitical doxa via art practice, the art-agent would have to first inhabit it in order to inhibit it. Thus, in a totalitarian state, a degree of opacity may be a strategic choice by the artist. In such a context, opacity that would otherwise be enforced by state censorship becomes an ironic exercise of free will by the artist.  This self-censorship announces itself in the artwork via “unfamiliarity, impenetrability, complexity, diversity and sophistication” (Golshiri, fig. 3). By extension, curatorial practice must continue to look for opportunities to produce a liminal space for the work of art, to build ephemeral publics outside the sanctioned identities via perpetually fungible art exchanges.

*Sandra Skurvida is an independent curator and scholar based in New York City.


[1] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975), trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage), 27.

[2] Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson, Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2005).

[3] It follows that house arrest enacts an opposite subversion through the legislative appropriation of the private space of a home by the public space of a prison, illustrated in This is Not a Film (2011) by filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who was imprisoned at home and banned by the courts from practicing his profession.

[4] Marcel Duchamp, “The Creative Act,” in Marcel Duchamp by Robert Lebel (New York: Paragraphic Books, 1959), 77-78; a sound recording is also available from: http://ubu.artmob.ca/sound/aspen/mp3/duchamp1.mp3

[5] Talal Asad, “Free Speech, Blasphemy, and Secular Criticism,” in Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech (UC Berkeley: Townsend Papers in the Humanities, 2009), 43.

[6] Bavand Behpour, “The Aftermath of the Image-Production Revolution in Post-Revolution Iran,” Nafas art magazine (October 2012),http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/nafas/articles/2012/the_aftermath

[7] Hito Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen (Berlin: Sternberg Press), 78.

[8] Talal Asad, “A Comment on Translation, Critique, and Subversion,” in Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts, ed. Anuradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier (Pittsburg and London: University of Pittsburg Press, 1995), 325. In his response to the interrogations of translation practices, Asadoffers an illuminating metaphor that suggests this comparison between translation of texts and transnational curatorial practice: “Translation, in the most common contemporary sense, is used to denote the process by which meanings are conveyed from one language to another. In ecclesiastical usage, however, the removal of a saint’s remains, or his relics, from an original site to another is also known as translation.[…]In medieval Christendom the narratives relating such events were called translationes. As a subgenre of hagiography, translations displayed a typical structure: first, there was the search for the saintly relic, then the miracles marking its discovery, the initial failure in moving it followed by prayer and invocation and eventual success, and finally its joyful and reverent reception and placement in the new shrine.”

[9] The scope of this essay does not permit a thorough discussion of censorship codes; for further consideration, please see C+: The Iran Issue (Spring 2012) focused on censorship in Iran, edited by Author, published by ArteEast, http://www.arteeast.org/pages/artenews/Cplus/

[10] Jay Newton-Small, “Displaying Dissent,” Time Magazine, October 29, 2012 <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2127154,00.html?xid=fbshare> (29 October, 2012).

[11] A nazr is a type of pledge, an agreement with God that cannot be revealed to others. In this ritual practice, usually enacted in private, a secret pact is made with God, following by a donation of alms or other such offering. In the case of Taghizadeh’s performance, both the site and the offering were highly unusual.  This mosque has no minaret, and is the only mosque in the Islamic world intended solely for women.  The pears were chosen because of their suggestive feminine shape and were purchased with the money from the sale of a gold wedding ring.  For more information on the specific guidelines of nazr, see http://www.islamic-laws.com/oath.htm

[12] The history of the Internet begins in a closed environment of Intranet networks such as ARPANET.  Only after the decommissioning of ARPANET and NSFNET in 1990 and 1995 respectively, and subsequent commercialization of networks, did various Intranets develop into a global network—the Internet. “The specter” is a reference to the opening line of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: “A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of communism.” This conjunction is not incidental, as the following line ties theocracy (“holy alliance”) and the police state: “All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to hunt down and exorcise this specter: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.”  Although the prescience of these lines with regard to the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the current state of Iran presents material for analysis beyond the scope of this study, the relationship among Marxism, Islam, and technology’s role in the revolutionary movement as well as its continued role within the current resistance, should be noted.

[13] Bill Nichols, “The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems” [1988] in The New Media Reader, ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nik Montfort, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003), 627.

[14] Alexander Galloway, Protocol (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004), xix & 7-8.

[15] Henri Bergson, Time and Free Will: an Essay of the Immediate Data of Consciousness (Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience, 1889).

[16] Point-to-point protocols are data link protocols used to connect two working nodes in a network.

[17] Boris Groys, “Comrades of Time” in: Going Public (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2010), 84-101.

[18] Joasia Krysa, ed., Curating Immateriality (New York: Autonomedia, 2006), 17.

[19] Moreshin Allahyari, Skype conversation with author, February 2012.

[20] This essay interrogates decisions made by curators, exhibition makers, and artists regarding the presentation of their work—it is not concerned with essentialism of origin and supposed “authenticity” or lack thereof, but rather with the circumstantial specificity of artwork’s significations—its contextual reception—which inevitably changes with its changing contexts.

[21] Asad, 330.

[26] One each in Syria, Iran, and Kuwait; and three in Israel; this proportion remains much the same in the complementary programs.

[28] This textual/visual discrepancy has been noted by Barbad Golshiri, “For They Know What They Do Know,” e-flux journal, 8 (September 2009), http://www.e-flux.com/journal/for-they-know-what-they-do-know/

[29] Jinoos Taghizadeh, “A Performance to (sic.) Forugh and An Incomplete” (unpublished).

[30] Barbad Golshiri, “For They Know What They Do Know,” e-flux journal  8 (September 2009), http://www.e-flux.com/journal/for-they-know-what-they-do-know/