In her work, Vanessa Safavi refers to the human body with a certain lyricism, inventing new forms with unorthodox techniques. She questions the sculptural possibilities of representing the body today and questions our relationship to the body, to disease, to sexuality and to identity.
Titled «Dolls and Goddesses », the show at « Casina Idea » explores the domestication of gender stereotypes with humour and a sense of provocation. Safavi presents new works she has made during the last year, during the confinement in her studio in Switzerland. In the upper gallery she presents a series of glazed ceramics representing women breasts. These pieces make special reference to anatomical votive offerings which, in several cultures, represent fragments of human bodies intended for treatment. The room downstairs pictures a tableau of a more recent narrative of history of women; the realm of the housewife and the aesthetic of domestication. A couple of microwaves represent one of its strongest artefacts. Using them partly as pedestal to present her ceramic nails, Safavi intends mostly to make them look like a ruin, depicting a long forgotten and romanticised fate. The nails, perfectly shaped and painted in soft feminine colours, also refer to the conservative image of a woman that is silent, elegant and perfect in every respect. Questioning the concept of legitimacy and its relevance in today’s conversation on feminism, Safavi reflects how the very same definition of an object can be hijacked and become a subversive force against its original meaning. Giving value to the creativity of what she observes trough the question of legitimacy, the artist proposes to search for answers nonetheless with some critical distance and irony. The works echoes the implicit feeling of shame and acknowledge free labouring as a modern version of slavery via « homekeeping », including raising children, cooking, cleaning and maintaining the household.
With the new series of silicone paintings Safavi was inspired by famous antidepressants and benzodiazepines like « Prozac »; « Lexomil » or « Lithium ». Their colours take source in their original packaging designs and the halo effect symbolises the flash, when the drug starts to kick in. In her installation, Safavi associates the figure of the the housewife and the « biopolitical » of the pharmacological impact of these drugs, when they arrived on the 1950’s Postwar landscape, reshaping women’s bodies and identities. Celebrating women’s lives of all classes and identities from antique ex-voto until today, « Dolls and Goddesses » commemorates the tragic fates, the struggles, the victories and the inequalities that coexist together in an empowering feeling of empathy.
Safavi’s framed silicones monochromes investigate the limit between reality and fiction, dream and awareness. The silicone surface appears to symbolise that limit, as a sort of gate that would connect two dimensions. If you get closer to the surface, the outlines of the silicones will disappear and you will be traveling between small craters of air bubbles. Safavi sees these particularities as metaphors of the mind and proposes an experimental reflection between science, human organs and abyssal creatures.
In the last 10 years Safavi has been looking a lot into the whole family of rubbers, mostly for their characteristic to be soft, elastic and transformative, calling the heritage of the “soft sculpture” or the “Antiform” movement, which uses industrial materials in a more sensitive way. For the artist, silicone, latex, wax and all kind of rubbers, soft and pliable, have the very particular ability to attract inner and hidden emotions. In her work, Safavi investigate the sculptural possibilities of bodily representation and questions the relation we experience with illness, sexuality and identity.
Made during the last year, during the first confinement in her studio in Switzerland, these pieces make special reference to anatomical votive offerings which, in several cultures, represent fragments of human bodies intended for treatment. The healing deities are solicited by the population to relieve the ailments that overwhelm them. Among these offerings, the anatomical votive offerings occupy a privileged place in the healing process, representing a diseased organ. This work echoes the fragility of the body and its complex relationship to the world and disease in particular.
Safavi’s work is mainly concerned with sculpture and installation, but also sound, film and photography. Safavi has continuously photographed her silicone sculptures over the years, alongside quotidian subject matter. Her recent photographic works consist of framed silicone monochromic sheets combined with an image, the colour panels chosen by a process of building associations. Her interest in the accidental and the ephemeral can be seen in her experimentation with observational angles and colours that at times suggest physical encounter.
It was while trying to make her own sheets of latex, to use in her sculptures that Safavi discovered the factory of PRIMUS GLOVES. Its location, its architecture and its operation immediately excited her interest in that they evoke a second central theme of her recent work: that, always related to an idea of modernity, the urban, the rational, the effective.
The production lines of the PRIMUS GLOVES latex glove factory stage the paradoxes and tensions of globalized capitalism and the images it produces: the tools for the most cutting-edge technology in the world. an environment at the Metropolis; an industrial production chain that monkeys human forms by making mechanized human bodies work; cyclic and organic movements and complex shapes for a synthetic and disposable product. There is also a tension between an essentially linear movement that seems to tend towards no end, a movement that seems inevitably exhausted but consists of innumer- able new, perpetual revolutions.
The images shot in India in January 2018 go beyond the simple documentary project and are not only intended to show how this factory works. For the artist, they are a form in their own right which, by their aesthetics and their slow and repeated movement, re-presents, in the strong sense of the term, a state of the world, a state of beings and bodies in the world.
An image of a anonymous blonde woman in a plane, this time arranged next to a yellow plastic sheet of silicone. For her third solo show at the gallery Safavi proposes recent sculptural and photographic works including these silicones framed monochromes combined together with an image investigating the ephemerality of an event.
It is clear that the artist choose her color panel by building up associations. Her concerns are fundamentally experimental. The artist interests lay in the accidental and ephemeral nature of things and the observation of their natural particularities, like color. Safavi’s approach creates different observation angles associating a sheet of silicone with an image of a plastic bucket. If the color of the silicone remains in the image of the bucket, she delicately suggests its physical encounter. The ephemeral event draws with and within the space. Safavi takes the Breeder’s surprising architecture as a tool using the corners, the wide openings and the lower parts for their particularities to emphasize the space’s own narration.
The series of assemblages of different materials such as concrete, wood, plaster and layers of colored silicone strips result from working within a limited field of materials and actions, which the artist collects around her home or while traveling, made and arranged in her studio. Simple forms are simple gestures and create a fundamental visual vocabulary borrowing impressions of architecture and surfaces. Back and forth, turns and come backs are symbolically simulated by colorful silicone strips. These works reflect the intimacy of thought and an attempt to work through materials, in search of an event in constant circulation and fluctuation.
The colors play an important part is Safavi’s work and result mostly from her travel impressions but also from contemporary culture. They belong to a subtil system she organizes ingeniously. Color and materials hold social and cultural meanings; her silicone based works attest that precisely. However, the materiality of the silicone and its folded skin-like characteristic suggests also a living breath that it is alive and that sweat air bubbles. A little blue monochrome (silicone) titled “Untitled” (after Courbet’s blue), 2014 refers to Courbet famous seascapes. Untitled (Notebook 2010-2012), 2013 wasthe artist notebook between 2010 to 2012. Safavi is equally interested in the monochromic yellow and the weight of words that figure in the book. The artist intentionally drilled an hole through the book and placed a little mirror in the back cover that one can reflect its own image while looking at it. Once again, that work depicts the notion of travels and strates, the returns and come back is emphasized and pilled through the layers of the paper.
A few floor and wall pieces show “naively shaped” silicone breasts and plastic buckets that the artist commonly use for the making of her sculptures. Forming oversized vaginas and bellies, these fragmented body-parts ironically increase female stereotype. Titled “Uterine Furies” Safavi refers to the famous Sèvres porcelain milk bowl, complete with a nipple made in 1788 as part of a 65-piece dining set that Louis XVI commissioned for his queen, Marie Antoinette, to use at the royal dairy at the Château de Rambouillet. There were a set of four Breast cups made for drinking milk from. These late 18th-century Sèvres breast cups are modeled after a Greek drinking cup produced by Athenian potters, a mastos (meaning breast, udder), made from terracotta in the shape of a female breast, with nipple.
During the Age of Sensibility the aristocracy and Marie Antoinette longed for a simpler life. They looked to a Romanticized peasant life. Marie-Antoinette’s laiterie at Rambouillet, a temple of milk and cheese, was a monument to celebrate peasant life and all that was natural. Also the Breast cups make a reference to breast-feeding. Medical treatises published in this period, many of which were written by physicians attached to the court, encouraged husbands and colleagues to forcibly transplant women to the countryside if they refused to go gently in order to be “cured.” “Uterine furies” was a popular term for the sexually specific form of hysteria or the vapors and its literature is filled with scurrilous accounts of wayward women.
On a hot summer day, steamy and crowded public transport is, beyond doubts, one of the worst place to find yourself in. But it is to this scenario and its hidden poetic of countless possibilities that Vanessa Safavi dedicates her third solo exhibition with ChertLüdde.
Titled The Cook and the Smoke Detector the show evokes an odd yet familiar setting through a new series of sculptures based on the accidental properties of an object or a situation. With a sharp playfulness, Safavi investigates again the topics of body and trauma, exposing how trivial misfortune acts on the complex mind-body relationship.
Safavi likes to hijack our common sense and to give unexpected meanings to what we usually take for granted. In this exhibition, she uses the familiarity of our urban everyday environment — from public transport handrail to a fried egg.
Her ongoing series Holding Substitute concerns the experience of the desarticulated body, questioning the relationship between the brain and the flesh. Gathering pictures of public transport’s grab handles that she has been taking during her travels, Safavi attempts to overcome their mere function as passenger support. Rather than being synonyms of imbalance, disability or stabilisation, they suggest a narrative dramaturgy in which all bodies become actors of a forced and involuntary dance.
She describes urban public transport as: “the place where everybody is equal, anonymous and therefore the best place to understand society. I imagine public transport like a contemporary theatre, were actors and public melt into one another”.
Using conceptual systems of language and a personal narrative, Safavi explores and enquiries the contemporary identity of the body, in relation to the constant optimisation of technologies and its cultural impacts in our hyper-organised society. This mechanism has unequivocally driven society to a new sphere of identity, in addition to a complex, vulnerable and schizophrenic fragility. To this end, Safavi work recalls the weakness of our bodies, along with the poetry that emerges from them.
Being interested in the materiality of the silicone by analogy with the skin and the human body, the artist states: “Silicone is an interesting element to look at in order to understand contemporary fashions and human behaviours. The complexion of the skin is a fundamental creator of identity and it is so deeply rooted in a cultural history. In this way, when cultural history changes, the same happens to the understanding of our body and thus to the value of our skin.”
Safavi’s ongoing research on the material of silicone is an investigation into contemporary fashions and human behaviors. For Safavi, the complexion of the skin is a fundamental creator of identity and deeply rooted in a cultural history. Using conceptual systems of language and a personal narrative, Safavi explores and inquires after the contemporary identity of the body in relation to the constant optimization of technologies and their cultural impacts in our hyper-organized society. This mechanism has unequivocally driven society to a new sphere of identity, in addition to a complex, vulnerable and schizophrenic fragility. To this end, Safavi’s work recalls the weakness of our bodies, along with the poetry that emerges from them.
Safavi’s interests lie both in detecting features of a universal nature of humankind, but also in how specific groups and their cultural identities can develop within a population. Her observations rely both on meeting individual people as part of a community, and on exploring the environment that influences them. Safavi incorporates her interest in social and political issues into her work. This results in the use of a wide range of disparate materials which she joins together, always with a special focus on selecting the right set of materials for a particular work. Les Figures Autonomes, which shows a sculptural group whose range of forms is reminiscent of Formalism. These slender metal sculptures are abstract and yet highly singular and individual imitations of bodies. Each of them symbolises an entirely autonomous character, and they appear to exist individually and independently of each other. At the same time, their “expressionlessness” suggests alienated individuals. Painted in different colours and composed of a variety of geometrical forms, they present both similarities and differences. This is an artwork that describes a multicultural society in which different cultures exist alongside one another in a seemingly natural way, where coexistence appears to produce no conflicts.
Of special interest in this connection is the work of Robert Smithson and his concept of the (non-)site. His non-sites in the exhibition space refer to real sites whose lack of order and whose denaturing prevent any simple categorisation and thus challenge us to think about the processes of civilisation. Robert Smithson is interested in modern types of industry, quarries and salt lakes, prehistoric layers of sediment and puzzling ruins of ancient and modern civilisation. He transfers rocks and debris from these places into geometric settings, like cartographic landscapes in the exhibition space and provides geological information and photographic documentation to go with them. In this way he tries to make the incomprehensibility of the places comprehensible as “three-dimensional cartographic metaphors” in abstract condensation. Robert Smithson is always interested in the geological and mental layers of civilised materials that form in an intuitively selected site.
Like Robert Smithson, Vanessa Safavi is a passionate traveller and her rather nomadic lifestyle leads her to many remote places. Moreover, she also explores sites virtually. She loves to travel to the most unobserved and forgotten sites by clicking a mouse on Google Earth, and in doing so she discovers abstract landscapes from the macro-perspective. In the exhibition space, however, she constructs fictitious micro-perspectives: she creates imaginary images, between dystopia and utopia, which could be presented in extreme enlargement on a screen only as coarse pixels. While Robert Smithson searched in vain for backgrounds to the ancient Mayan culture during his travels which parallel the Mirror Displacements and reaches the conclusion that “Yucatan is elsewhere”, Vanessa Safavi’s installation concludes that “Real Life is Elsewhere”. While Robert Smithson focuses on the incomprehensibility of cultural layers in real space and transfers their abstracted extract to the exhibition space, Vanessa Safavi constructs mysterious fictitious sceneries that she could locate in the empty spaces on the virtual map and which achieve their own metaphorical existence as imaginary images for the transformation of cultural processes.
The interest in topography and especially in cartography combined with images of what might be happening in empty parts of the map are matters that already concerned the explorers of the new worlds and also shaped perceptions of the Eurocentric world view. When they wanted to draw up maps of Africa, especially remote areas, as late as 1800 geographers of the colonial nations depended on the unreliable and sometimes fantastic descriptions and sketches of Greek, Roman and Arab merchants, some of whom were still influenced by the medieval cosmology of Ptolemaic cartography. Wild ideas abounded about what went on in the interior of the unexplored continent. Africa stood for everything unknown. The blanks on the map were a stimulus to projecting excrescences of the imagination combined with longings and fears, stories of weird foreign places and the loss of innocence. Today by means of satellites or the photographs on Google Earth we can get more or less realistic impressions of every imaginable place on earth. And yet, especially in the deserts, there are still blind spots in the middle of nowhere that are veiled from general perception and where no human being ever travels unless in the virtual world of satellite vision.
The first pictures of the earth and the moon triggered a global awareness of the unique and fragile nature of our planet. The Apollo program promoted the dissemination of innovations in the field of materials science and engineering and promoted advances in computers and technology.
The exhibition “AIRBAGS” at MOT International in Brussels, was inspired initially by NASA tests and simulations of crashes, accidents or gravity tests used to prepare astronauts for space missions. A decrease in bone density and muscle mass, balance disorders, sleep disturbances, cardiovascular irregularities and immune system depression are common symptoms experienced by astronauts during a mission. Intense preparations are required in order to reduce the syndromes. The title Airbags evokes impact, when the physicality of the matter meets the human body. At the very moment or the very limit when the body transcends to a different sphere, it enters a process that Lygia Clark located as “where the frontier between body and object is broken.”
Safavi is interested in the alienation that we have with our body. She believes that this alienation exists in the hybridity between the tool, the unconscious desiring machine and hyperreal object.
The exhibition developed her research on the interpretation of the body as a physical form more than social or cultural entity. More generally, she is interested in the way our modern cultures colonize nature. When the space mission sent advance technology satellites and space probes to observe and collect data from space, it was a form of colonization. But more than that, developing intelligent machines to increase this form of colonization provoked political fears and human curiosity.
This phenomena of hybridization prompted Safavi to develop a new series of sculptures made from steel, silicones and bandages. The works attempt to be a synthesis between the human body, the satellite and prosthetic devices. Like all the pieces in the show, they endure the mutability between nature and technology. Fragile, delicate, and aerial, their physicality stands between floating satellites and medical devices irregularly shaped, with anthropomorphic banded shapes covered by silicones—hybrids of human organs and asteroids.A
Safavi makes clear references to post-minimalistic practices, inspired by soft sculptures made from pliable industrial materials that appear in transition between different states: solid, liquid, animated. Working with silicones allows her to suggest a topologic ensemble of forces and materials that draw a vast world of connections between body fluids, the suffocation of the skin and the organs and the information between inside and outside.
Evoking the atrophied body, the work of Safavi also highlights a certain vision of the female body. Through the use of fragile materials and vulnerable gestures, she composes a fiction of the body, which becomes itself an object, the receptacle of a lived physical experience. Her work, marked by poetry, emphasises all at once the pain, shock and conscience of the body when it is ‘out of whack’.
Safavi’s reference to Lygia Clark lays in the relation to the alienation of the body, the ‘quasi-body’. Clark’s urge for an intimate sensation of the interior life allowed her to cease classical production and to step towards a healing and therapeutic practice by making her “participative sculptures” happenings, which included people and healing objects. Looking into this practice but nonetheless witnessing her contemporary posture, Safavi combines materials to explore new forms and fashions that evolve our media technological being without however denying a therapeutic need.
Cloud Metal Cities could relate to a science fiction scenario. The cloud – simultaneously natural and virtual – gathers the humidity of nature, the pollution of the city and in the same time stocks a constant flux of digital information. Influenced by the crystallized visions of her travel the artist describes the city physically, emotionally, and virtually with a taste for fantastic surrealism. HThe choice to use aluminum came also as a reference to Lygia Cark’s sculptures, titled Bichos (Critters) for their organic character. They represent the last stage of Lygia Clarks’s geometric research before she started exploring more conceptually ephemeral and sensory forms. Alluding to Lygia Clark’s body of work, Safavi designed a series of sculptures made of aluminum sheets that display her failure to reproduce Bichos. These sculptures are labeled as “failures” because they exist in a context that has changed, referring to a past which the artist has never encountered. Safavi thus prefers to give them the shape of a new existence.
Displayed on the floor, her works structure the void and remain sculptures at same time. As ruins in an abandoned city, their surfaces reflect all sources of light and sketch distorted, almost psychedelic images. Up close, crystalline dashes of an unknown liquid seem to flow down the metallic surfaces. Silent and enigmatic, almost invisible, what is on the surface is unknown, but the title Antropofàgia is nevertheless a clear reference to Clark’s work and Brazilian art history. It evokes the organic softness in a “swallowed-up” past and a raw physical murmur.
Each Colour is a Gift For You, a 17-part work, consists of stuffed budgerigars, located along the skirting board in one of the exhibition rooms. The birds are clearly dead, and appear to have been discarded, as if they had simply been forgotten. As an artwork, they have a definite presence, but as animals, they are inactive and, in a certain way, very sad to look at. What they symbolize is merely the idea of an exotic animal; they are also a reference to our relationship with nature. Here, we see the artist taking her interaction with the exotic and our relationship with it a step further by showing, in a very critical way, how the western world’s notions of exotic lands are expressed. Our enthusiasm for foreignness appears as an illusion – in spite of all our enthusiasm for foreignness, we impose certain expectations on it. Exotic birds symbolise foreignness and are a part of what one is in search of when one travels. Each Colour is a Gift For You, however, shows foreignness as a remnant, as a forgotten material, making it far more realistic than the exotic utopia celebrated in advertising and marketing.
Like many of Safavi’s works, the installations are open to interpretation. In all three cases, she focuses in on the idea of the desert as pure, virginal, even. “In human history the desert has always been a location for innocence and a simple existence close to nature. Many modern cultures project their longing for authenticity, purification and clarity onto the nomadic archaic life of ancient times,” she explains.
Safavi, whose interest in topography and cartography developed through a fascination with what could be happening in empty parts of the globe, began her desert-orientated efforts in 2010 with Plenty of None, a sand, clothing, and epoxy paint work centered around desert ecology and the relationships we have with nature. “The relation between the white sand and the sport clothes evokes the colonization of nature by men,” she explains. “The high-tech fabrics made to retain perspiration and to dry faster are made to be more performative and therefore resist the nature, and [the piece] obviously alludes to a possible catastrophe, disappearance, extinction.”