As artist Adam Feibelman found on a recent trip to walk the rugged trails traversing the border between Tucson and Nogales, the sharp divisions ingrained in national identities and our senses of place are rendered hazily ambiguous as the paths between nations wind off into the distance—no hard line in sight. In a similar sense, the work of Taravat Talepasand capitalizes on the image systems that indoctrinate Iranian identity, state power and gender, and how these notions are portrayed within and augmented through a steady stream of American popular culture. Through their respective exhibitions, Adam Feibelman’s Personal Provenance and Taravat Talepasand’s Born in Iran, Made in America, the artists explore the critical boundaries and borders that separate places and people—questioning, transgressing and meditating on both the systems of separation as well as a seemingly growing need for intensifying said divisions.
Capitalizing on the pivotal year of both her birth and the Iranian Revolution—1979, Taravat Talepasand’s exhibition “Made in Iran, Born in America” continues upon her exploration of the constructed nature of national identities as they’re negotiated within the tumultuous relations between Iran and the US and the East and West at large. Talepasand’s practice is defined by a series of collisions: between old and new ways of making, ancient and contemporary imagery and the traditional versus the taboo. By appropriating the “stuff” of which Iranian and American selfhood are composed—from currency, language and fashion, to pop cultural commodities and counter cultural icons, the artist is able to force a confrontation between Islamic theocratic ideology and the libidinous impulses that sit under the surface of modern day and historical Iran, as well as the ways that Iranian identity is indexed, intermixed and rebels against normative American culture. Two paintings are founded in reified literature created by Iranians living outside the borders of Iran that replicate and inform the visual and conceptual consciousness of real and imagined communities existing within and outside borders of national goals. A painted-patched-pinned denim jacket (in collaboration with Canadian artist Laura Rokas-Bérubé), currencies soaked in illegal substances, and repeated neons provide proof of the controversial terrain of pop-cultural obsession and youth rebellion as they pollinate back and forth across cultural boundaries. Each society’s respective notions of blasphemy provide a consistent point of entry and inquiry for Talepasand, with the artist’s recent works probing Armenian-American pop cultural idol Kim Kardashian as the latest in said iteration. Talepasand’s rug work depicting a layered emoji of Kim Kardashian (who was recently condemned as a secret agent by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard) crying, was created in Iran and smuggled back into the US, where it could double as a prayer rug or one to wipe one’s feet depending on cultural persuasion. Much like the aforementioned Kim rug, Made in Iran, Born in America sums up the ambiguous terrain of (female) civil rights shared in Iran and in America.
For nearly twenty years Adam Feibelman has devoted himself to creating intricately hand cut stencil and cut paper works that depict both the chaos and quiet of San Francisco’s iconic streets. While past works have seen Feibelman functioning as a sort of 21st-century Robert Bechtle, his latest body of work has provided an explosion for the artist in terms of his material processes and approaches to making. As a means of both commenting on and trying to better understand domestic and international discussions concerning immigration and migration, Feibelman has recently taken to centering his whole practice on the topic. Recent projects range from the artist travelling to Arizona to traverse trails that cross the border near Nogales while leaving water for beleaguered migrants, to working conversely on a monumental stencil work that depicts a 17th century Persian rug as a meditation on the antiquity’s movement through empires and across borders. Instead of focusing solely on current patterns of migration and condemnation, Feibelman’s approach to the subject is multifaceted and temporally diverse. In one space the artist has chosen to include a jacket from his grandfather who escaped Jewish persecution in Germany prior to the outbreak of WWII, in another there’s a cut paper work depicting the Arctic Tern – a seabird known for having the furthest migratory pattern within the animal kingdom. As evidenced by the exhibition’s title – Personal Provenance, the exhibition acts as a prompt for both artist and viewer to meditate on their own origin story in relation to the contemporary struggles of so many marginalized and maligned populations searching for safety and stability despite the barriers that lay ahead.
- Oh Petra, Trippin’, Foul, 2017 Latex, Jeans, Sock and Shoe 24 x 8 x 24 inches
In the fall of 2015, videos of Petra Laszlo, a camera operator for Hungary’s N1TV spread virally as she was captured kicking and tripping refugees as they attempted to flee a holding center near the border between Hungary and Serbia. As uproar over the incident spread globally, Laszlo was fired by her employer and charged by the Hungarian government with “disorderly conduct”. Petra Laszlo’s outstretched leg has come to embody the individual acts of bigoted violence that are both influenced by and reinforcing larger systems of oppression in regards to the movement of beleaguered immigrant populations.
- Street Market, 2017 Blanket, Edition of 7 60 x 48 inches
This work cut from multiple layers of door screen is based on one of the highest valued rugs in the world. The original rug is of Persian descent and was woven in the first half of the 17th century, most recently selling at auction in 2013 for 33 million dollars. The work serves as a meditation on the ways in which markets allow for the flow of objects, resources and commodities, while the people from said nations are so often deemed as without worth.
- World Wide Web, 2017 Spray Enamel on Wood Panels 144 x 144 inches
The Air Transport Action Group reported in 2014 that on average there a total of 102,465 commercial flights taken per day, with the number of passengers per year ranging in the billions. As nations around the world continue to tighten their borders, the aviation industry continues to grow, reminding us that one can reach any part of the world with the proper means. The monumental stencil work comprised of a pattern of 100,000 hand cut airplanes stands as an infographic of sorts presenting the enormity of such a figure, while simultaneously realizing the abstractness of such an immense amount of airplanes taking to the sky per day.
- Border Jerseys, 2017 Mexico and US Soccer Jersey, Yellow Vinyl 36 x 24 inches
The Mexico-United States rivalry in soccer goes back to the first game played by the two countries in 1934, yet the tensions between the two nations can be traced back much further. Adorning the backs of the jerseys are “Cuevas” and “Trist”, the last names of Mexican diplomat Luis Gonzaga Cuevas and U.S. diplomat Nicholas P. Trist, who were instrumental in negotiating the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which brought an end to the Mexico-U.S. War that had begun two years earlier. The historic treaty ceded massive amounts of land previously deemed Mexico in trade for an insubstantial amount of money, laying the groundwork for where we draw the division between the two nation’s today.
- Movement off the Ball 1, 2017 Hand stitched cut water bottles, Edition of 7, 9 x 9 x 9 inches
Artist Adam Feibelman, an avid soccer player himself, sees an apt metaphor for the movement of people in the game he knows so well. The concept of “moving off the ball” deems that a player, when not in possession of the ball should be in constant motion searching for how to be most beneficial to their teammates–to achieve an end goal the process must be brought upon by movement.
Seeking a greater understanding of the great obstacles placed in front of the free movement of those south of the U.S. border, the artist travelled to view the webs of migrant trails that stretch between Tucson and Nogales, joining the organization No More Deaths which heeds a higher humanitarian calling by leaving jugs of water along the well traveled trails for those making the potentially deadly journey. Alongside guides Debbie and Ed McCullough and Andres Guerrero, the artist headed out into the vast expanse of Sonoran Desert that lies between Mexico and the U.S., dropping potentially life-saving gallons of water at some of the more travelled points on the trail, while taking note of how much water they themselves consumed under the sweltering Sun that day. In total they walked 6 miles, a mere fraction of the 50+ miles that so many migrants take–a truly heroic feat taken by anyone seeking safety, stability and greater economic opportunities.
- 5041 too many, 2017 Handcut Screen, Framed 9.5 x 32 inches
The concept of this work refers to “Plato’s Nation”, a theory derived by the Greek philosopher which deemed that the ideal number of citizens in a nation should be exactly 5,040. Plato believed this exact number of citizens to be optimal for governance, and added that the divisibility of the number allowed for an equal division of resources, etc. Although antiquated, Plato’s Nation serves as an interesting utopian ideal, yet as Febelman’s title slyly suggests, if such an ideal society is to be created what space is allowed for the one individual standing on the outside of the 5,040 looking in?
- First World Problems, 2017 Fake Iphone, Cell phone cover 6.5 x 4 inches
For many across the globe, the ways we move through the world have been vastly altered by the surge in prominence of rideshare apps such as Lyft and Uber. The grouping of bootleg iphones present requested rides that the apps cannot fulfill–whether it be for a journey from Aleppo to Greece, or Gaza to Tel Aviv, the app simply responds that, “no taxi is available”. The phones, perhaps no longer useful to the individuals who are unable to flee their oppressive or perilous surroundings, are presented amongst a street market stall alongside kitschy Pikachu and furry phone cases.
- Arctic Tern, 2017 Hand Cut Paper Assemblage 45 x 65 inches
The Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) is a seabird known for having the longest migratory pattern of the whole animal kingdom, seeing two summers a year as they continually circumnavigate back and forth across the globe. As state birds, bears and various animals come to be placeholders, symbols and signifiers for national identities and ideals, Feibelman’s sculptural portrait of the Arctic Tern rendered in layers of handcut paper serves as a mascot for an entirely different subset—for groupings of people who by choice or their own volition are constantly on the move.
- Old Blues (Ice Bridge Walking Sticks), 2017 Cast Resin, Hand Carved Wood, Graphite and Spray Enamel 21 x 4 x 4 inches and 16 x 4 x 4 inches
A set of femur bones, carved from wood, distressed, patinaed and encased in resin serves as an homage to the first people to make the trek from Siberia to Alaska along the Bering Land Bridge. Recent research suggests that instead of merely crossing the Land Bridge, groups of travelers lived on the strip of land for generations buoyed by the natural resources that the temporary land mass provided. In a similar sense Feibelman also describes the piece as an homage to the many groups of refugees and other migrant and displaced peoples who transition and become accustomed to vastly different climates both in regards to temperature as well as culture.
- Personal Provenance, Great Grandfathers Wool Coat, 22 x 51in, 2017
When the artist began on this body of work, Trump had not yet been elected, yet the unavoidable discourse surrounding the movements of certain groups of people had already become beyond toxic. As a means of thinking about and working through his own feelings on the matter while hopefully interjecting a different perspective and some much needed sensitivity, Feibelman set out on his latest body of work. In a sense the entire exhibitions begins with and centers around one of his simplest pieces: a heavy wool coat belonging to his Great Grandfather a German Jew who fled his home on the eve of the Second World War. Feibelman grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which among other things served to educate him on the plight and current situation of some of those who first occupied these lands. As Adam Feibelman puts it, “It is my request with this exhibition for people to step back and look at their own stories, talk about them, and find comrades in the struggle of people seeking greener pastures–where peace and freedom are the goal. I am now an Uncle. My sister with the same blood as me, met an amazing dude from Ecuador and now my family has one more wave of world mixture. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”