The second solo exhibition of Reza Aramesh, “At 11:57 am Wednesday 23 October 2013”, presents a new body of work, exploring the role that images of violence play in the contemporary moment: on this date, October 23, 2013, it was reported by media that in the southern province of Helmand, Afghanistan, a young couple that had eloped together was lured to the woman’s family home, and were later found decapitated. Though marginal in the history of contemporary conflict, it is a telling personal anecdote that addresses the central position of the body in question of violence.
Aramesh has long conducted archival research on images that portray the violated body, forced into the multitude of public scrutiny, bereft of any characteristics. His work, however, is not that of a documentarian, but rather an intervention on these images against the background of the relationship between acts of violence and the history of representation.
Decapitation forms the core of the exhibition but what Reza Aramesh is looking at, however, isn’t the latest wave of decapitations taking place in the Middle East, yet something larger: judging from the history of beheading, particularly from the viewpoint of Western art, what makes the severed head a symbolic and almost ritualistic element that we cannot look away from?
The series of marble heads in the exhibition, based on photographic testimonies from contemporary events, belong in a larger conversation about the aesthetic fascination of art with torture and execution, now at the very center of our media culture. Sculpted out of marble from the Pietrasanta quarries, the marble heads are delicate and sensual objects, carved out voluptuously, against a solid surface.
In the second part of the exhibition, Reza Aramesh presents a series of pottery vases, crafted by hand and fired in a traditional kiln in Iran, in the manner of the Greek narrative urns. They enable us to navigate the cross-references between classical art and the violence of the contemporary moment as a strategy to dislocate political history from the grand Western narrative.
The photographed plaster heads which make up the last part of the show, also severed, and set against the idyllic landscapes of the south of England, subvert the process of image production and memory. Based on journalistic sources, they have been entirely dislocated from their original context, and transferred to the realm of photography again, into fragile silver gelatin prints.
The haunting drama of public execution is concealed through aesthetic gestures, and presented as an epic. “At 11:57 am Wednesday 23 October 2013” is a cross-cultural examination on both sensibility and perception, presenting our own media realities as a theater of the human condition in which representation becomes the latency of trauma.