Pillars takes as its starting point social historian Homa Katouzian’s statement “Architecture is the expression of the true nature of society, as physiognomy is the expression of the nature of individuals” to find new meaning in Iran’s architecture. The country has historically valued a certain kind of inwardness with regards to the public display of private life. This culture of modesty found a physical manifestation in its domestic architecture, which traditionally privileged simplicity and privacy. With their high walls and enclosed gardens, houses functioned as protective containers to shield its residents from the prying eyes of by-passers. Maximalist displays of grandiosity were strictly limited to palaces and places of worship.
Although this changed in the last decades of the Shah, as the built environment began to reflect the country’s new wealth, the post-revolutionary moment saw a re-embrace of values like austerity and humility. This new modesty, along with the economic slump and consequent scarcity of building materials, restricted what could be built after the revolution. The post-war economic recovery, however, along with the cultural openness of the Khatami era, slowly manifested itself in all aspects of life and also found its own physicality in Iran’s cities.
While these economic changes were gradual and subtle, a more visible urban transformation has taken place during the last decade, especially in Tehran. The sudden appearance of expensive cars and the construction of luxurious homes indicates both the immense gain of capital by a select few, and the disappearance of traditional values of simplicity and modesty in favour of a brash public display of wealth. This new ostentation is expressed in a pastiche of classical Roman architecture, characterised by an overt use of ornamentation and expensive materials such as stone.
In this hybrid style, columns take on a prominence that exceeds any functional purposes of load bearing. Often motifs from the ancient Achaemenid and Sassanid dynasties are incorporated for a Persian-Romanesque architectural hagiography. In Achamenid architecture in particular, columns were symbols of power and relentlessness, and embodied a desire for eternality. At base, these structures look to leave the revolution behind by harkening back the glorified past of several thousand years ago.
Pillars explores the post-revolution transformations of Iranian culture to find resonances between this new columnar architecture and the country’s socioeconomic fabric. A set of cross-sectional columns cast in resin reveals the text of the the Iranian Constitution—one of the most important forces shaping citizen’s lives—at their heart. They speak to the socioeconomic issues that govern daily life today even as they symbolically function as the pillars of its economy.
About Nazgol Ansarinia
A winner of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize, Nazgol Ansarinia makes multimedia works that, in her own words, reveal the “inner workings of a social system” and how these affect the subconscious mind. Ansarinia’s practice is rooted in research and studying networks relating to everyday life, such as automated telephone sequences, American security policies, and the circulation of news. Her series “Reflection/Refractions” (2012), for example, is comprised of collages made from two newspaper articles covering the same story, arranged based on ayene kari (Iranian mirror mosaic) patterns, such that the text is ultimately illegible. Ansarinia also visualizes the anxiety generated by bureaucracy and the Iranian state using quotidian objects, such as embroidered tapestries with motifs of civilians, or furniture that conspicuously has its middle sections missing.
Iranian, b. 1979, Tehran, Iran, based in Tehran, Iran