MAN OF THE WORLD I UD Magazine Profile by Cheryl Gatward I Jan 2020
A descendant of the Qajar dynasty, which ruled Iran from 1794 to 1925, artist Firouz FarmanFarmaian has turned his life-long exile into a canvas. UD Magazine Talks to Firouz FarmanFarmaian about the caravan of life, the unknown path and connecting to our roots.
It seems the past inevitably influences us even if we don’t realize it all the time. When did you start realizing that the separation from your country is a theme you had to explore?
When you come to think of it, the sheer complexity of interwoven circumstances that need to shape up to create a full scale revolution are simply staggering. And that's just what happened in 1979 Iran. At the scale of my tribe, to loose the physical link to our ancestral land has been brutal. Not unlike being thrown out on angry seas and landing on foreign shores. It took time for me to find a path forward. Had many questions to answer.
At the beginning of your creative path you dropped out of architecture studies and went on the road earning money solely with your art. What gave you the courage to do that ?
My paternal grandfather Persian architect Abdol-Aziz Farman-Farmaian, was founder and head of AFFA, largest contemporary architecture agency of the middle-east up to 1979. Pressure to pick-up the mantle was at stake following the Islamic revolution. My brother Teymour and I were taken under his wing in Paris to be tutored and prepped to that effect. We both signed into architecture. He became the Architect. At first I felt at ease in the companionship of the ateliers, the diversity of the courses, the freedom to manage projects and assume control of concepts. But soon hit creative limitations as I felt increasingly curious to open new areas of investigation. I took the decision to sign up for the NYU film program, but it did not play out with family plans. So I to hit the road as director-producer-writer of super 8mm avant-garde black & white shorts... It was super tough, but I moved on from that point up. As the creative process unrolls I feel confident, content. As long as the caravan weaves its way towards the next exploration...
Tribalism is a term often used in a derogatory way when it comes to social behavior, and yet ‘tribal’ is n adjective enthusiastically embraced by the worlds of art and design. Why ?
This precise dichotomy was the underlying thematic of my last New-York exhibition, Poetry of the Tribe showing at Rodrigo Salomon’s Tribeca Artspace in the fall of 2018. It felt timely and appropriate given the political climate in the United States and the rising voice of native poets ringing throughout America.
Population on earth is rising, communications have been fluidified, the idea of nation is under threat as we move towards a global consciousness merging the material and the immaterial. The epidermic rejection of this relentless wave is a return to nationalisms and protectionist politics tagged by mainstream press as a return to tribalism. It is as simplistic as it is false. On the contrary tribes have arisen from the heat of this new wave, reconnecting to values such as the sacred, the respect of the memory, the safeguard of the planet through the story of our link to it. The art-world is for many a refuge where non-formatted and spiritual thought is seen as evolved and forward.
Each country or region is represented in your work by a certain palette. Morocco is Henna brown and Majorelle Blue. What would Andalucia be ?
Andalucia’s flag is Olive Green + White. I would add Cobalt Blue.
After having spent some time in Finland ( where your wife comes from ) what can you say about the Nordic cultures and way of self expression ?
What strikes you first is the tight connection to nature. I tuned in very fast in Finland. Walking barefoot in blueberry fields listening to the forest. I introduced handpicked blueberry Into the resulting Naturescape ( Blueberry Panels ) series that showed and sold-out in Washington DC last fall ( Syra Arts ). There is a dialog between man and the natural world that has been set aside, and it is very alive in the North. On another plane, I have an expatriate Swedish-Finn mother. My grandfather was an attaché to the Swedish embassy and lived his life in the east. He once compared his family life to one of traveling caravan. Mother was born in Calcutta, brought up in Beirut and married in Tehran where I was born. On the other side my Finnish great grandfather was a Kalevala painter ( Nordic Mythologies ). I Grew up impacted by his art-deco representation of vikings fighting a mythical sea-dragon on stormy seas. My Finnish grandmother called it Sisu. I relate to that. It is a very positive mind frame. As my mother puts it : be open, be positive, fight on.
In a world where a growing number of us are proclaimed nomads, how do we embrace the mixture of cultures without losing touch with our roots?
You truly connect to your own roots if you open your heart to the roots of others. In a larger sense to cultural legacies, to the construction of identities. It is a mirroring game. You will always find universality if you look deep enough. What makes early 21st century essentially nomadic is the dizzying freedom of immediate transportation, physical or digital. We must not forget it and use that freedom constructively and not get totally frozen by some consumer-based marketing glaze.
Being a Nomad you often describe the process of creating a home as ‘setting up a tent’. What are your absolute essentials in a tent?
To paraphrase my statement out of the Poetry of the Tribe exhibit catalog, I present my identity as an internal process tied to notions of exile and displacement calling to the German notion of Heimat. Physically displaced but steadily rooted within a metaphorical home form. Thus - metaphorically- as I move from location to location I set up tent.
What characteristics would your ideal home have in terms of architecture and interior design ?
In the realm of the three years I spent in architecture I was captivated by Lecorbusier’s Villa Savoye on year one. The purity of lines and the outside-inside evanescence, that I also later found in Mies Van Der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion. In terms of architecture, a central characteristic would be a true connection marrying abstract form to surrounding nature. I have been reading Dutch architect-urbanist Rem Koolhaas. A complete body of work shown in London In 2013 ( Mews 42 Gallery ) stemmed from the reading of his Junkspace essay. A second characteristic would involve the intrinsic responsibility to recycle what we leave behind as our modern lifestyle ploughs ahead. Should be engraved as a new social contract. Inside I love my mess ( which drives my wife crazy ). I staple, tape, stack and sketch on any open space. I collect furniture I inherit. Design-wise I relate to Philippe Starck, but my heart is set in Knoll-style seventies vintage. Camilla and I spent our Sundays hunting the Paris fleas market. You can now see us roam Torremolinos dark alleyways or the Fuengirola Rastro :)
How do you know a work of art is finished ?
I make a difference between the work and the project, they enter different timescapes. A work is a completed approach to a study, a question, the possible exploration of an error turned into form. The project can enclose the vision of a series, but also spans further. It understands the research, written often, of an intellectualized projection. Under that roof content forms to finally come together as a body of work. But the philosophical current - the energy - has no end.
We all swim in chaos
IT IS ALL PROCESS
What is your greatest weakness ?
As a natural born hyper-active I am an impatient and irritable person expecting the very best from everything and everyone all the time. I sail through life exploring ways to liberate an irrepressible inner urge to create. Can be explosive. It is interesting to observe my years as lead singer writer-composer of Paris art rock band Playground in the 2000’s. The experience clearly helped me canalise the overdrive. Some of that is on my website :)
You re currently based in Marbella and Marrakech. What is it about the two places that made you settle ?
My parents divorced mid-eighties. They separated in Marbella. My mother stayed on. My father relocated in Marrakech early nineties. I grew up transiting between Marbella, Marrakech and Paris. Camilla and I adore living by the Gibraltar strait, we find it powerfully romantic to have the option to cross-over into continents at will. As a result our artspace, Nouvelle Vague Artspaces ( NVA ), is based in Spain and our agency, We R the Nomads is based in Morocco. The agency works on cross-cultural projects such as the production of
Memorandum go the Unknown Path installation and its prototype book at the Théâtre Royal de Marrakech that is to open for the 1-54 Marrakech 2020 public programme on February 21st 2020.
Memorandum of the Unknown Path at the Royal Theatre of Marrakech - What is the main idea behind it ?
Memorandum of the Unknown Path triggers the necessary question of a return to the source. If ecology of the planet is the restoration of a natural world order, then ecology of the spirit is a restoration of a link to our millenary archaic selves. It stems from an urge to create a Wagnerian ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, a total work of art. To illuminate unseen stories, traces, through a Tolstoyan sense of time, weaving its wheels. Unwinding into unknown paths, tribal entanglement knotting Moroccan and Persian millenary cultures in a sufi-like dance of sacred fabrics and post-tribal symbols sourced in-between the Atlas mountains and the Sahara desert. To use air and space, shadow and light, sound and movement to free an ensemble of imaginary banners under the iconic dome of the Royal Theatre of Marrakech. A site specific intervention mirroring Berber and Persian Bakhtiari cosmogonies held together by the baraka of raw camel wool, nomad tent elements turned into work of art. A circle of contemplation and meditation, a haven where different cultures can meet and reflect.
As in recent explorations into post-tribalism such as in Poetry of the Tribe ( Salomon Arts & Leonard Tourné Gallery - Tribeca, NYC / Oct-Nov 2018 ) and into the idea of Trace with Permanence of Trace ( We R the Nomads & Space 50 - Chelsea, London / March - May 2019 ), Memorandum of the Unknown Path works to build on a universal nomadic quality. Not unlike works of Corean artist Kimsooja or Colombian artist Oscar Murillo it attends to cross cultural thematics such as identity, memory and exile. The exhibition presents itself as a synthesis with a look set upon the uncertain path forward. The balance between archaic spirit and tech-age philosophies. The juncture of cultures crossing and creating new tribes. The unicity of our planet. Contemporary revolutions.
Access to process will be provided via prototype journal-book Cahier#1 published in a first limited signed edition displaying a selection of preparatory studies, photographies, drawings and writings. We R the Nomads agency produces the event with the backing of Shirley Elghanian’s London based Magic of Persia Foundation that has been a companion throughout the years and the Flora Family Foundation of NYC via the patronage of my dear cousin Dr. Amir FarmanFarma.