The term spoiler means the premature revelation of a crucial plotline in a story, TV series, or film, through the knowledge of which any interest in continuing to follow the narrative thread is wiped out and the arc of suspense literally spoilt.
In her solo exhibition Spoilers, the German-Iranian artist Anahita Razmi (b. 1981), who lives in Berlin, makes deliberate use of the pre-emption of narrative motifs, in order to develop from it a strategic modus operandi for her exhibition. Due to the spoilt story line and the resulting clichés the action, taking its cue from key parameters and protagonists, becomes a self-generating story.
As in her previous works, Razmi reflects on the role of the Middle East in contemporary popular culture by examining its cultural inscriptions in the Western world’s present. Referring to the BBC production EastEnders, a pre-prime-time serial set in the East End of London, Razmi’s production covers the Near, the Middle, and the Far East. Stereotypes relating to various cultural regions and personal drama are incorporated into the project just as (post-)colonial and political references are.
The long-standing British TV serial EastEnders, comparable to the German series Lindenstrasse, has been a popular feature of pre-prime-time British television. The serial was developed by the BBC in order to portray the London of the times and the inhabitants of its East End, made up mostly of members of the working class and people speaking the Cockney accent typical for the area. This stereotype was addressed deliberately in order to give the socially disadvantaged district, with its various characters, an integrative focus and public attention. In this sense, soap operas are the optimal format for giving expression to stereotypes as social studies.
This stylistic element Razmi uses in her conception of the New EastEnders by undertaking a geographical dislocation of the context, the main characters, and the narrative, and transplanting them to a virtual-imaginary space of a New East, a New Orient. The Near East-, Middle East-, and Far EastEnders move along the plotline of the newly conceived and still unreleased serial New EastEnders and draft an alternative script for the East and its End.
The Innsbruck exhibition presents various spoilers to the New EastEnders:
New EastEnders – THE CAST
New EastEnders – THE TRAILER
New EastEnders – THE SPOILERS
New EastEnders – THE SCRIPTS
New EastEnders – THE PREQUEL
Among other things, Anahita Razmi has developed six different protagonists, all played by herself, whose cultural identities are condensed into a stereotypical image, through dress, profession, or gender-specific characteristics, and thus can be interpreted at will. The individual figures could be listed as follows:
Figure 01: The Desperate Housewife
Figure 02: The Ching Chong C.E.O.
Figure 03: The 1001 Night Shifts
Figure 04: The Xenocentric Eccentric
Figure 05: The Influencer
Figure 06: The Global Glam
Against varying backdrops, such as landscapes or everyday settings, the figures in the videos begin to tell their stories in ever new ways, without a script or a dialogue further describing the action. The plot unrolls on its own, as it were, in pictures that are prescribed and that we ascribe to them.
The video elements explicitly work with existing media strategies and thus deliberately loop, rearrange and exaggerate the stereotypes in question. Thus, through the technique of copy and paste, images, stock videos, audio clips, or quotes from well-known serials on the one hand, and the analysis of the political system of reference of an image of the Near East newly to be defined on the other, overlap to form a mash-up of various advertising elements of the New EastEnders. The serial consists of no more, consequently, than a trailer for the upcoming release of the serial being played over and over. Without developing a narrative of its own, the fictitious soap opera New EastEnders narrates itself in its polarising clichés and avails itself of the latter’s basic construction schemes.
The exhibition is supplemented by the light box work entitled China Girl, presented in the Kunstraum project room, which, as early as 2009, dealt with another film industry stereotype. In the days of analogue film, the expression China Girl became a well-known term to determine the colour coordination of a film. For this purpose, a woman was captured on film holding up a colour scale beside her face. The resulting film strip was inserted before the film in order to facilitate the colour rendering during the presentation at the cinema. Where the expression derives from ultimately remains a mystery. Whether Asian women were among the first of these women, or whether the reason was the then popular hairstyle of the tight bun, which might have given women narrow eyes, no one knows. Even if there is no film being announced, the colour scale and the artist’s portrait form part of the opening titles to her continuing explorations.
Appropriation, translation, and re-interpretation have become part of Anahita Razmi’s artistic vocabulary in order, in her works, to examine cultural and rhetorical transfers. Of particular interest to her are the current media representations of the Orient and their implications. What does branding mean in this case? Commercialisation? What role does the Middle East play in the mass media, in consumer and popular culture?
Anahita Razmi’s works have been shown at the 55th Venice Biennial, at Kunstverein Hannover, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, and in the course of numerous other exhibitions. In 2018, she was awarded the Goethe at LUX Residency in London. Moreover, she has received e.g. the studio prize of the Erich Hauser Art Foundation (2015) and the Emdash Award of the Frieze Foundation London (2011), and has been chosen for the MAK Schindler Artists and Architects in Residence Program in Los Angeles (2011).