Whitehot Magazine

Shagha Ariannia and Danielle Dean: PTL (Part Time Lover) & FTL (Full Time Lover)

Danielle Dean, Are You Working

Shagha Ariannia and Danielle Dean: PTL (Part Time Lover) & FTL (Full Time Lover)
September 22-October 6, 2012
at Commonwealth & Council, Los Angeles

by Danielle McCullough

PTL (Part Time Lover) & FTL (Full Time Lover) are described by Commonwealth & Council as “diasporic love affairs of transnational political actors.” In these companion exhibitions at CW&C’s main space and their booth in the Co/Lab section of Art Platform Los Angeles, featuring artists Shagha Ariannia and Danielle Dean, the political is personal -- as both artists have led transnational lives and the multiplicity of their respective national identities informs each artist’s work. Ariannia was born in Iran, and emigrated to the US in September of 2001. Dean was born in Alabama; to a British mother and a Nigerian American father. Her parents split when she was very young, and she and her mother moved into a working class suburb of London, which is where she grew up. Both now live and work in Los Angeles. 

PTL and FTL deals with the construction of collective identities through nationalistic language. At the same time, both artists deliberately fragment the systems of power that control that dialogue through revolutionary play with the tropes of those systems through the lens of autobiography. Ariannia’s text-based drawings reconfigure the Iranian and US national anthems into intimate calligraphic love notes; Dean’s video work incises political and commercial speech, retooling the results into an incantation to make IEDs by. Ariannia bookends the contents of her work with the political events surrounding her birth (in 1984, Iran) and the events surrounding her arrival in the United States in September 2001, investigating both of these imperialist moments within the framework of the domestic sphere.

In 1984, just following the Islamic Revolution, the new Iranian state set out to eradicate all revolutionaries who had resisted Western rule but who were not in line with the new theocracy. As part of this “Cultural Revolution,” bookstores and other leftist meeting places were attacked, tens of thousands of educators and military personnel were dismissed, and many were executed or jailed. Ariannia’s piece, Our future is the approaching past, incorporates a digitized family audio tape from her parents’ home, which is a personal sound archive spanning c. 1978-1993. The tape is mounted to the wall, and the digital translation is broadcast from an iPod on a dock. The recording begins with a version of the radical left anthem The Internationale -- sung for the Ayatollah Khomeini at the dawn of the Iranian revolution. Those sounds dissolve into recordings of young Ms. Ariannia singing children’s songs by Ahmad Shamloo. The transmission ends with fragments of her brother and mother practicing English. Additionally, Ariannia has composed love poems from the US and Iranian national anthems, and presented them as love letters from one country to the other on musical notation paper in a piece titled Fuck the Motherland (Series #1). On account of Ariannia’s formal calligraphy as well as the sweeping language of the songs she interprets, this series reads more like a bizarre set of awards for token acts of diplomacy, rather than any genuine notes of affection. They are the scale of diplomas set in modest, yet formal frames.

Ariannia has also employed surveillance technology, more commonly associated with military and police operations, to make a video of the interior of her grandparents’ home, editing their figures out of the place in Two Americas Away. This surveillance footage was generated by a security system which her mother, who is in the US, set up to watch her parents from afar -- and edited together by the artist. According to Ariannia, she removed her grandparents’ images from the footage she used in order to protect their identities, as she felt she couldn’t explain her project to them adequately enough for them to be truly willing participants in the video -- making this a piece about war-time waiting,. The result is a series of interior scenes, occupied by a sofa, Persian rugs and other quiet comforts which feel haunted by the erasure of their inhabitants.

Among her influences, Danielle Dean cites bell hooks, Adorno, and Judith Butler, as well as her own multilayered identity. In her writing about her own work, Dean is critical of the deliberately divisive nature of the color spectrum as it relates to the constructs of race, gender, and economic control within consumer culture and dominant political structures. Dean’s video installation No Lye is an incredibly loaded work, particularly considering that it is only nine minutes long. For the first minute of the film, there is a close-up of a young black woman laughing, not a casual laugh, but a powerful mad scene laugh, a Medusa laugh, that begins to stutter and repeat -- she appears to be having technological trouble in the transmission of that laugh, like a DVD skip. Another woman commands her to “snap back” and the camera pans back from her face to reveal she is unclothed and casually seated on the side of a bathtub, in a bathroom with four other women who seem cast in order to present a skin-color spectrum. The women in her video speak a dialogue that has been built by cutting away fragments from printed political speech and commercial advertising. The ingredients for this script includes snippets from Tony Blair, David Cameron, Bush II, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, the Nazi Manifesto, Ebony, Essence, Vanity Fair, and Vogue; and it is spoken by the performers like a strange looping spell as they proceed to build a bomb from household cleaning products in their immaculate bathtub. The title No Lye is a reference to hair-relaxing chemicals used primarily by black women to straighten their hair; and the work suggests a disruption of patriarchal imperial rule through scrambling their messages to reveal the absurdity of that rule, and transforming some of the poisons which manufacturers sell in order to control women’s bodies and homes into tools of insurrection.

At Commonwealth & Council, this video was presented on a monitor atop a sculpture comprised of a stack of stained plywood tables in different shades and sizes -- reminiscent of prefabricated IKEA tables. The tables were arranged like a temple altar with the monitor in the sacred spot, the bomb ingredients carefully placed on each tier alongside hair relaxer and magazine stacks. In addition to this work, there were also two pieces that refer more directly to Dean’s mother -- Are You Working, #2 a busted TV shell decorated with faux marble contact papers and enamel paint gilding alludes to her mother’s shoestring-budget decorating skills.

There is also a small video of her and her mother smoking together outside of Dean’s studio. The latter piece, titled You’ve come a long way baby portrays Dean, cutting a tall, thin, fashionably dressed figure in high-waisted shorts and ankle boots and her mother, a considerably shorter, rounder, more practically dressed, working class woman, leaning on a wall in an industrialized urban environment. It is a deceptively simple long shot of two women smoking in silence. As the two are relatively still, this piece has a little bit in common with Warhol’s Eat, a film which functions as a portrait of Robert Indiana, eating an apple while a cat threads in and out of the frame intermittently. However, by informing viewers that this is an image of herself and her mother, in the format of a small screen video, this piece plays with conventions of the family portrait. The title is taken from the slogan cigarette brand Virginia Slims used in order to market cigarettes to working women and to teenage girls with professional aspirations. The end result is a work that relates to No Lye, in that players from the artists’ personal life are performing scripted gestures sourced from commercial culture, while simultaneously disrupting the rigid expectations for identity presentation which the powers that be have put in place to maintain control.

PTL (Part Time Lover) + FTL (Full Time Lover), opened at CW&C Council booth at the Co/Lab Fair at Art Platform Los Angeles. PTL (Part Time Lover) remained open at CW&C until October 6, 2012.

Danielle Dean You've come a long way baby

Shagha Ariannia Fuck the motherland

Shagha Ariannia Our future is the approaching past (audio tape detail)

Shagha Ariannia Our future is the approaching past

Shagha Ariannia Two Americas Away


Danielle McCullough

Danielle McCullough has exhibited work in Los Angeles, Seattle, Berlin, Amterdam & New York. She recently collaborated with artist Gabie Strong on Blast Site: A Workshop for Conjecture which was a sculptural, textual, edible and educational performance-based work as part of the High Desert Test Sites New Everyday Life Workshop series in Joshua Tree, CA. She is a recipient of grants from the Creative Capacity Fund, Change, Inc., and an artist residency at The Vermont Studio Center. McCullough is an active participant in Panel Shop, a collective cofounded by Andrea Zittel to help provide emerging artists with side income through the generation of specialty household design products. She is also the co-founder of Los Angeles Art Resource, an on-line forum for the Los Angeles arts community to share job opportunities, calls for entry, studio vacancies and regional grant/fellowship deadlines.

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