The art historian and curator, Vali Mahlouji, delves into an analysis of Jason Seife’s exhibition and artwork.
Jason Seife’s hugely successful solo exhibition, A Small Spark vs a Great Forest, is coming to a close at the end of this week. To celebrate the final days of this powerful exhibition, we invite you to explore the thought-provoking analysis of Seife’s work written by art historian and curator, Vali Mahlouji. Through his study, Mahlouji situates Seife’s paintings in a complex and broad art historical framework, scrutinising his use of materials, his method and the importance of his subject matter (click here to read the full essay).
Art historian and curator
Mahlouji is a curator, founder of the non-profit platform Archaeology of the Final Decade (AOTFD), advisor to the British Museum and director of Kaveh Golestan Estate. Founded in 2010, AOTFD is a curatorial platform that works to recuperate erased histories. The organisation seeks to shed light on artworks, artists and cultures, which have been obscured, censored, lost or destroyed. Through his non-profit, Mahlouji has worked with global art institutions such as Tate Modern, The British Museum, Smithsonian Institute, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Paris Museum of Modern Art.
Mahlouji’s exhibition Recreating the Citadel resulted in the first room devoted to an Iranian artist at Tate Modern (Kaveh Golestan, 2017-18). His travelling exhibition A Utopian Stage at Whitechapel Gallery (2015) was nominated for Best Exhibition by the Global Fine Arts Awards. Mahlouji also frequently guest lectures at international academic institutions, including Stanford University, The British Museum, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Yale University, Asia Society Museum and National College of Arts Lahore. As a writer, he has contributed essays and publications to various institutions such as Guggenheim Museum, LACMA, Photo London, Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, Asia Society Museum New York and Yale University Press. Mahlouji’s upcoming book, A Utopian Stage: Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Perspolis, is due to be published by Whitechapel Gallery in 2021.
Vali Mahlouji on Jason Seife
An essay on Seife's paintings and exhibition
In his essay on Seife, Mahlouji delves into the materiality of the artist’s work, underlining the importance of medium and method. In particular, Mahlouji analyses Seife’s use of concrete, emphasising the specific subtext of the artist’s self-made mortar, which obliquely references building materials used in the Middle East. Mahlouji states,“The appropriation of concrete as material here may speak to the temporality of cities, the breakdown of architecture, the crumbling of defences, and the very fragility of our human existence in succumbing to military or political conflict, violence, fragmentation and annihilation.”
Mahlouji continues by indicating how Seife’s artworks, inspired by traditional Persian carpet designs, subvert the intended use of the original object. Seife’s paintings circumvent the practical function of a carpet: they are not placed on floors for the applied purpose of bringing warmth and comfort. Instead, they hang on walls and are appreciated for their conceptuality and aesthetics. As Mahlouji puts it, “The ornamental designs are stripped away; the materiality of the carpet as the object is transformed into that of an artwork. Here, the artist appropriates and realigns the meanings and functions associated with the carpet as a decorative object and repurposes its surface visual skin.”
Mahlouji also highlights Seife’s meticulous method of hand painting each design, comparing it to the traditional painstaking process of weaving textiles. In this way, the writer indicates how Seife’s artworks pay homage to the original craft: “The meticulousness of painting carefully and delicately emulates the time-consuming, repetitive, semi-meditative/semi-automatic nature of textile weaving, here through the artist’s choice medium of paint. Those are both skill-heavy tasks, demanding precise control of the medium.” The writer sheds light on the importance of the Persian carpet as a key influence for Seife: “The Persian carpet designs appropriated by Seife are not merely assortments of scrolls, arabesques, foliage, flora and animal life. They are inherently highly charged as stylised celebrations of the natural world.” Mahlouji conveys the wider historical context of the Persian carpet as a symbol of something heavenly and even utopian. Their designs serve to bring a piece of something heaven-sent into people’s homes and everyday lives: “The functional craft or object of furniture is also a conceptual slice of heavenly bliss through which we subliminally dream.”
Scroll down and click the link to read Vali Mahlouji’s essay in full.