Gnosis, Prose and metamorphosis

Art history scholar and curator Julie Lang is SuperGlue’s guest writer for this month’s issue. Through this text, she reveals the practice and ethos of artist, curator and founder of the Centre d’Art Vevey Mazyar Zarnadar and explores the ways in which he interweaves subjectivity and collectivity in order to make visible social and political issues. 

Mazyar Zarnadar, Gnosis? (2017), Multi-media installation, 211x316x316cm. Part of the collective exhibition “Dix / Zehn / Dieci
(épisode 4) : Immersion”
currated by Yann Chateigné Tytelman with the participation of Christian Marclay at HEAD. Courtesy of the artist.

The way Mazyar Zarnadar told me about his practice immediately called to mind an image: that of a web to be woven, which throughout its progress opens up new spaces. Some sites of exchange, plural and innervated by threads that are made manifest in different physical or digital places. This image of interconnected sites, but always ramified, also reminded me of what some art historians call the discursive turn, in which artistic concerns become specific to a place, but also remain to a conceptual one. The practices that feature (in the sense of making visible) exhibit disturbing societal issues for which it is imperative to open up different places to work on them together and overcome them. Mazyar Zarnadar’s artistic practice is fundamentally nomadic, while being polymorphic and organic in order to actualize itself in different sites, by different means, through different ecologies. If this model immediately came to my mind, it is also because it resonates with another fundamental aspect of Zarnadar’s practice; that of the articulation between situated individualities and the collective. The artistic posture and responsibility, of commitment, even of political action, as different facets of the same project, that of renewing hegemonic conceptions by rendering pluralities of voices visible and heard.

Mazyar Zarnadar, Tao Te Ching (2020), Painting on photo frame, A3 inkjet of a 1:1 orthopedic foot scan, 42×29,7cm. Courtesy of the artist.

The sonic, musical and conversational dimension of Mazyar Zanrnafar’s work is essential, as is that of oral history around the exchange and creation of knowledge. This is how he brings together subjectivities and points of view in order to make political problems more complex, at which point, these notions become collective. Their installations and, more recently, their film productions create cohesions, encounters, “simultaneous relationships” and build up networks of solidarity. The moving image or the spatialization of motifs allows them to make local political dynamics and global cultural histories visible and to test the possibilities of sustainable dialogues and encounters with the protagonists, participants and audiences. For this research-based artist, building a critical culture and creating new images and representations for a less discriminatory society goes far beyond the theoretical. It is an approach, a methodology and an anti-racist, political and intersectional episteme from which a collective consciousness becomes possible, in order to rethink certain shared ideals. This is why exhibition production and publishing are inseparable from Zarnadar’s personal practice.

Mazyar Zarnadar, Gnosis? (2017), Multi-media installation, 211x316x316cm. Part of the collective exhibition “Dix / Zehn / Dieci
(épisode 4) : Immersion”
currated by Yann Chateigné Tytelman with the participation of Christian Marclay at HEAD. Courtesy of the artist.

The protean aspect of his work – of which painting, sculpture and writing are also part – also allows him to conduct the archaeology of his own trajectory, built on a Franco-Iranian identity. Telling one’s own story, populated by physical and spiritual migrations, documenting one’s experiences or producing one’s own narratives is a central political issue that Mazyar Zarnadar articulates in several ways. The first is the practice of overcycling, which creates a kind of intermedia ecology and circulation within their work. It is not only the materials that they reuse, but also the forms and motifs. Arranging and rearranging symbolic fragments gives them a power that is constantly being updated and reinvented. Sometimes waiting to be activated as parts of a whole, these pieces often seek to amplify voices, intertwined with their own. The second is an exploration of the spaces between epistemology, the forms represented and the materials used. These dynamic connections allow them to materialize and reappropriate terms and motifs from Iranian gnosis. Inspired by numerous traditions of the same name, it is to be understood as a crossing, a philosophical journey, an immersion in knowledge. The artist sees it as a process of experience and thought that allows them to give form and meaning to spiritualities as ways of producing knowledge. Finally, the porosity between the interior and the exterior is an important theme in their work. Putting this duality to the test allows them to induce a transformed relationship to the world, to oneself and to others – and that is given for us to see. Mazyar Zarnadar shows us how metaphysics is a powerful tool that opens up infinite possibilities. Through these different discursive spaces, moments or forms, their work is also and above all a real promise, that of “making the soul and the thoughts vibrate”.

Julie Lang 2021

This text was originally published in Vocab0, critical review of the Centre d’Art Vevey