Nazgol Ansarinia, ‘Membrane (unwashed silk)’, 2016, Green Art Gallery

In recent years, Tehran has borne witness to a blistering pace of construction and urban exfoliation. Townhouses that were demolished only two decades ago to make way for low rise flats, are now in turn being replaced by taller apartment complexes. This spatial transformation has been accompanied by a tidal wave of gentrification which displaces people through force or economic entreaty.

The city is resurfaced layer by layer. Doors and windows are removed, walls are smashed, and the rigid line between inside and outside briefly dissolves. The sanctity of the private realm—the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, the family gathering space—is divested of its protective walls, laying bare the intimacy of the residents’ inner lives. This voyeuristic moment is brief: the built fabric of these spaces, interwoven with the lives and memories of their former inhabitants, is soon reduced to piles of rubble and carted away.

Yet even as the dust clears, ever so often a layer of the demolished house remains on the shared wall of an adjacent building. This wall bears traces of its former life: ghosted outlines of picture frames and sofa backs, the grouted tiling of an upstairs bathroom, or a constellation of ledges and sockets which together hint at the original function of the space. Paint choices and remnants of wallpapers reveal the tastes and aspirations of previous inhabitants, while empty walk-in closets invoke Gaston Bachelard’s poetics of space and still “bear within themselves a kind of aesthetics of hidden things.”

If, as Bachelard suggests, the house holds “one of the greatest powers of integration for thoughts, memories, and dreams of mankind,” then its demolition is doing far more than simply reducing an domicile into detritus. Any remaining parts are more than mere architectural fragments, but rather contain the lived space’s precious last bits of memory. It follows, then, that if these temporary surviving walls are somehow preserved, their attached memory fragments might somehow encourage the recollection and recovery of these lost houses. Membrane is an attempt to do this through conserving the fleeting physicality of one such wall, found off the Imam Ali highway in Tehran.

Here, the artist maps the surface of the wall with a 3D scanner. Using the data collected on site, she recreates it—a resurfacing, in her own way—as a three-dimensional model, which is then carved into a 30 piece mould. A one-to-one scale model of the wall is then cast in memoriam: a death mask intimated in paper, paste and glue.

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