In Gratitude, two wooden wall constructions and modelplaster, 2.4m x 2.90m x 3.30m, 2021. Photo courtesy Natascha Libbert
Part of the self-initiated exhibition In Your Touch, I Remain in Omstand (Arnhem). In Your Touch, I Remain is the exhibition following the first residency at Omstand x sonsbeek 20→24. Artist-in-residence Narges Mohammadi presents new work and a performance in a group exhibition she initiated – with artists Riun Jo, Suyoung Yang, Solenne Tadros and Emmeline de Mooij after a 6-week artist residency.
Walking up and down the steps of Omstand, there are three in the front of the entrance and three in the back, reminds me of the three steps leading to the door of our temporary home when I was little. Later, when we could finally set foot in a real home, far away from the caravan houses in the asylum centre – we got a real staircase. Twelve whole stairs. Before those steps, I had had no idea of what I was missing. How could I have known the joy of running up and down those steps before actually being able to run on them?
In Gratitude shows the potential monument to these moments of transition. In the work, both metaphorical and physical passages are intertwined. Firstly, the audience passes through the space; while standing still halfway through the work, attention then becomes focused upon following the staircase steps leading up to a door on both sides of the walls. What defines both doors and staircases is not only their attendant material qualities, but their ability to separate different spaces as well as to connect them. Both objects, or symbols represent separation as well as opening between spaces.
The origin of the work comes from a transitory period in life where I suddenly found something that I never knew was missing. I now ask myself: what is a silent object that enables movement? Standing inside In Gratitude, the silent object becomes present through its very absence; the negative spaces of a mould. Perhaps some passages or histories are never to be captured in monuments? More than our minds let us, our bodies remember - the comforting warmth of our mothers, the feeling of being light as a feather in the arms of our fathers, the wrinkled soft skin of our grandparents’ hands, the smell of our beloved ones and all those little gestures and movements we will never forget. And how are we to visualise that which is not seen but felt?
In Gratitude is an unfulfilling attempt at making whole moments of passing by retracing the steps that no longer physically exist. Rather than representing a solid form, it is a plaster mould monument of imprints in our being. The creamy squishy textures of the plaster evoke a sense of warmth and loftiness. The swirly circling movements of the hand while applying the plaster were intended to invoke a sense of caring, like the act of rubbing someone on the back to comfort them. However, upon touching the surface, the plaster reveals itself to be sterile and hard as stone. As plaster becomes solid within a few minutes, the limited time doesn’t allow for care and comfort. Perhaps tangibility does demand a level of imperfection? The physical reality of this monument has become the opposite of the bodily memories it was meant to reprise. In its negative imprint the door can never be opened or closed. The mould can never be cast. The twelve steps can never be run up and down upon.
Still the sense of passage persists, in walking through the negative space – in traces of the caring motion, and in the memory of those three and twelve steps.
Many thanks to: Rob Groot Zevert, Ivo Rodrigues, Hans-Hannah, Sean Nelissen, Celine Caly and Suyoung Yang.
Made possible with the support of: In Your Touch, I Remain is a collaboration with Omstand x sonsbeek 20→24 and is supported by Stroom Den Haag, Mondriaan Fonds, Provincie Gelderland, Gemeente Arnhem and Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds.
Attempts for refuge, hallway; 3,5m x 2m x 0,6m, tower of matrasses and pillows and a 8:22 min voice-over in a loop; 2,5m x 2,5m x 2,6m, loam, 2021.
Sound Design: Marne Miesen
As part of the exhibition Who Wants to Live in A World Without Magic? curated by Katayoun Arian in TENT (Rotterdam). Photo courtesy Aad Hoogendoorn.
In Attempts of Refuge, two moments carry the childhood stories of a far past.
As a child, I was fascinated by the hallway, the in-between space of home, and the outside world. I remember my longing to hide in the wardrobe, to crawl quietly inside, and to imagine other realities to wander in. Once out of the cabinet, I would pace up and down the hallway; I would feel sorry for the clothes rack who had to carry many oversized coats, sometimes up to twenty or thirty when we would have guests over. And feel frustrated having to be careful not to stumble over the big shoes placed recklessly all over the floor. But I always wondered; would I feel more protected, safer, wearing the enormous coats and the colossal shoes?
Where there used to be the interior of the hallway, there is now only empty space. The impressions of interior objects; a wardrobe, clothes rack, clothes hangers and coats, a table, mirror, and many shoes – are left behind in loam (a construction material containing sand, clay, and hay). The impressions of the human touch, be it in the coats, the shoes, or the softly effaced fingerprinted surfaces of the loam, suggest a longing for being freed from the rough stones.
You are invited into the tower of mattresses through the empty spaces - a monumental artifact of a memory from a long time ago. On a late and tiring afternoon many moons ago, my little brother and I decided to take a nap in my mother’s bed. The place where we could still smell her perfume while she was away for work. Crawling in her bed and covered under the large white sheets, suddenly fear came over us. What if there would be a monster under the bed to attack, now that no one was near to protect us? We moved closer to each other, and I quietly asked my little brother to hold hands. I was too afraid we would lose each other in dreamland. Where I could not protect him from the monsters there. With our hands intertwined, our minds wandering off to the ticking sound of the clock, and our breaths slowly calmed down, we drifted off to the world of imaginations.
The tower of mattresses refers in material and form to this moment; the mattresses placed close to one another hold hands. In an attempt for security, the earth-tinted walls are raised high to the ceiling. Inside the tower, the ticking sound of a heartbeat captured in loam continues to echo. Similar to how mattresses and pillows carry the traces of life and safely guide nightly travels to the places of dreams, the loam is like stonified skin carrying the gentle touch of my hand.
Many thanks to Lizzy Bax, Iver Uhre Dahl, Philip Groubnov, Erik Kameletdinov, Alex Webber and Yannik Güldner.
Kindly supported by Stroom Den Haag, Stichting Stokroos, The Real Officer, Kunstverein Wagenhalle and Karin Abt-Straubinger Stiftung.
Schoon Verlangen, 77 cm x 38 cm x 22 cm, approx. 70 kg of dove regular cream soap bar, permanent collection of VUMC/AMC Amsterdam, 2020. Photography by Julia Sterre Schmitz
In a time where washing our hands repetitively has become part of our daily reality, the personal effort embodies a shared collective effort of care. With the smell of soap lingering on our hands, we remain in the comforts of our homes. Longing for a moment of tranquility in the warm summer sun far away. Schoon Verlangen embodies a journey of an intimate encounter with soap. 200 kg of the todays’ well-known, wide accessible and price friendly dove regular cream bar is hand cut, liquified, hardened and slowly hand carved. While washing by hand and scraping by fingernails the shape of the suitcase slowly emerges from the soap. As the suitcase is marked by impressions of washing and scraping, the body carries the traces of the repetitive effort. Leaving the million little fingernail scratches and hand movements visible on the surface. Captured in-between stillness and movement, Schoon Verlangen imagines a firmness of marble yet is remarkably sensitive to the warmth of water. And its smell gradually fleets with the passing of time.
Many thanks to: Paulien Bekker (soap artist), Philip Groubnov, Sophie Beerens, Alexander Jermilov en Erik Kamaletdinov.
installation with 350 kg of loam, on view in Amuse Bouche, Academiegalerie (Utrecht, 2020).
With time comes reflection, and with encounters comes understanding. Last year, a work trip to Marrakesh evoked feelings of immense restless homesickness. Considering the fact that Morocco is not my country of heritage, I wondered where or what I was exactly homesick to. Was it the presence of loam – consisting of clay, sand and hay amongst other things – that triggered this yearning for belonging? And what does it mean to feel ‘home’ in the first place?
In many warm, sun-kissed climates, earth has always been the most prevalent building material due to its large availability. Earth, mostly referred to as loam, was used as the building material in many ancient cultures for a variety of buildings. The Citadel of Bam in Iran, the fortified city in the Draa valley in Morocco and the Heuneburg Fort in Germany are just a few examples. Today, more and more people seem to acknowledge the versatile qualities of earth over industrial building materials such as concrete, brick or limestone. Earth meets the current demand for an energy- and cost-effective, easy to use building construction method that emphasizes a healthy and balanced indoor climate. Its advantages are hard to compete with; it absorbs humidity faster and to a greater extent than any other building material, stores heat, saves energy and reduces environmental pollution and can be recycled indefinitely over an extremely long period.
With Almost There I emphasize the contradicting, undefining qualities of loam. Even though it is present in many cultures, contexts and landscapes, it is remarkably site-specific, depending on the main ingredients’ availability. It is a strong and heavy voluminous material, yet it cannot stand water. With its soft earthy tones, it reminds of warm Mediterranean summers and in our lingering to sun-kissed lands we tend to forget about its long history in the Netherlands, Germany and other West-European countries. It is a material determined by its roughness, yet can be soft, detailed and delicate depending on how kindly you treat it. Loam can be as naked as a brick wall, and it can be used as pompous as in times of the Baroque. It can serve as the foundation of a structure, as that it can be used as a protective layer. More importantly, with its warm earthy tones and soft shining texture it reminds me of home, whatever that may be.
19:07 min video (installation) at Ron Mandos Gallery Amsterdam
Video, edit and direction: Julia Sterre Schmitz
Camera assistance: Diane Mahín
Color grading: Mayis Rukel
Sound: Yannick Verhoeven
Title design: Alfonso Yordi Martinez
Made possible with the support of the Stroom Encouragement Award and the Fine Arts Department Prize KABK
Passing Traces, 700 kg of Persian halva (flour, sugar, butter and cardamom) and two wooden constructions of 2.15m x 4.78 m x 0.80 m.
700 kg of halva – hand stirred flour, butter, shivering hot sugar syrup and soft cardamom flavoru prepared by many strong hands. A Persian sweet traditionally prepared at funerals, collectively eaten it comforts the bereaved. Passing Traces is a room of halva in a narrow passage-like space. The walls depict impressions of a sober bedroom interior. The furniture leaves traces of a long-lost presence. Just as life is finitely ungraspable, Passing Traces follows its own lawless path, slowly decaying and visibly cracking due to gravity’s weight
Forever grateful for the contributions of Suyoung Yang, Flora van Dullemen, Isabel Pereira, Berk Duygun, Iver Uhre Dahl, Frederica van Mastrigt, Bo Wielders, Tamim Mohammadi, Nagim Mohammadi, Siadhail Augusteijn, Lui Macrae, Philip Groubnov, Erik Kameletdinov, Naomi Moonlion, Jeremi Biziuk, Niam Madlani, Fatima Jabor, Shirin Mirachor, Reda Senhaji, Lema Ahmadi, Ella Wang-Olsson, Leonardo Scarin, Diane Mahín, Julia Sterre Schmitz, Io Alexa Sivertsen, my mother and my grandfather. Thank you, without you it wouldn’t have been the same.
Give a flour, drawing with felt tip pen, 700 x 1000 mm, installation view on NEST x MELKWEG EXPO, 2020.
In a longing for halvah, one of the oldest delicious Middle Eastern sweets made on a flour base, I found myself enclosed in a search for its ingredients. The iconic AH BASIC flour that my mother and grandmother use for his heavenly sweet is impossible to find these days. Sold out or with a maximum amount per customer.
For my graduation work, I am inspired by halvah – its grainy texture, its sand color and soft shining surface. And it consists only of flour, butter and sugar. Traditionally, women prepare halvah at funerals, as this is the ceremony it is mainly associated with. Halvah, with its warm, sweet and nutritious value, comforts. Eaten together, the weight of sorrowing sadness becomes bearable.
Physically unable to get the iconic flour, I draw. Not being able to share art normally in these pandemic times, I imagine a moment of exchange through an open call asking for flour. To embody the intimate relation between the audience and my work with halvah, in an act of exchange with the ones offering flour.
installation with loam and furniture, 2019.
social sculpture made out of metal situated in between an art institution and a playground used by the children around the neighborhood, Helena van Douverenplantsoen 3 (The Hague), 2019.
The building at the Helena van Douverenplantsoen 3, also called The Helena, a former high school now hosts the artist-run-gallery Billytown and the artist initiative Stichting Ruimtevaart. The Helena is located at the borders of the city center and Schilderswijk, one of the known neighbourhoods in the Hague housing many different migrant communities. Wandering around the neighborhood, I sensed a particular ‘fourth wall’, a social and cultural distance that seemed to divide the neighborhood from the established art institution The Helena. The two worlds seemed to move almost independent, separated and unaffected.
Being touched by this so-called invisible fourth wall, I wondered if the kids from the neighborhood had ever been invited to the art institution, if they would have ever felt the freedom to enter the building at all actually. With recreating a functional and recognizable replica of one of the swings from the playground, I hoped to engage with the neighborhood communities in a natural and honest way. My cultural background, skin color and gender enabled me to playfully move around the so-called fourth wall through personal engaged encounters. Making a life size replica of the swing with metal, was an opportunity to ask for help from boys chilling around the playground. With putting myself in a vulnerable position – it was truly impossible to install the swing myself – I hoped to establish a first contact based on care and support.
The resulting encounters were of a kind and engaged nature. We talked, sometimes for hours, about (art) school, their lives and my life as an (female) artist and DJ. Funnily, many really hadn’t expected me, a small woman, to be able to build such a heavy metal construction. Over the course of a few days, we bonded more than I could’ve imagined. And, indeed, most of the children and youngsters hadn’t set a foot in The Helena. They were curious nevertheless, interested to know what the building was and what the people working in it were doing. They accepted my invitation to show them around with great enthusiasm. In turn, it was a true joy to guide them around the exhibition and The Helena. And, at times, they would even enter The Helena on their own, wandering through the exhibition and enjoying the art works.
This social sculpture embodies an act of movement, metaphorically swinging the neighborhood over the imaginative fourth wall inside The Helena and swinging the art audiences out of its safe dwellings into the real world.
In turn, replication, recognizability and representation enabled sincere and engaged encounters. My functionable and site-specific handmade object in-between a sculpture and a playset, placed in-between the art institution and the playground, was built as a means for communication and engagement. More than the object itself, the encounters and the shared stories should be seen as ‘the work’. My swing, a social sculpture, took place in the social realm, and was built around social engagement and the participation of the audience.
sculpture with wood, plastic, cardboard and wool, 2016.
3,5 x 5,5 m
commissioned poster for Cairo Liberation Front, 2017.
installation in loam and furniture in elevator,
Helena van Douverenplantsoen 3 (The Hague)
sugar tabletop, sugarcanes as table feet, rice paper wrapped little fruit delicacies on pomegranate flavored plates of ice
collaboration with Annastina Eyjolfsdottir, 2019.