at Advocartsy, Los Angeles (thru 5 November 2022)
Reviewed by Christopher Ian Lutz
Fantasy requires a symbolic vehicle to transport a character from the real world into the imaginary realm, where the laws of reality are subverted or obscured to justify an otherwise absurd event. The artist might depict the vehicle as a real object or an abstract phenomenon, but within the narrative context, a vehicle functionally serves as a symbol. The symbol is required because fantasy is not merely about the sensational physical immersion of the character but is more about the subjective experience the character undergoes while on their adventure. The otherworld represents the character’s unexplored subconscious mind and deeper emotional state. Furthermore, the entire narrative itself is symbolic for the audience. Within the narrative, the fictional “real” world and the fantastic world function as symbols to immerse the audience in their unmanifest subconscious.
The audience can do what the fictional character cannot by stepping back from the sensations of the fiction’s topography and interpreting the meaning of whom the characters represent, the vehicles they use to transmigrate, the environments they enter, and the personalities they encounter. Analyzing the nature and the design of the otherworld will bring the audience out of the phenomenon they vicariously experience through the fictional characters. However, it will also allow them to contemplate the underlying philosophical and often social, political, and spiritual commentary interwoven into the fabric of the author’s invention. Furthermore, the audience can expand their sense of identity from these contemplations.
Mohammad Barrangi’s Dreamscape exhibition at Advocartsy, Los Angeles, invites the audience into two-dimensional fantasies of multi-dimensional cognitive landscapes. Barrangi’s large-scale print works on handmade paper and canvas are reminiscent of traditional Iranian miniature paintings. The distinct color palette, composition, style, flora and fauna patterns, and hybrid creatures represent historical and contemporary Iranian material culture. Although the works are fantasies in the sense of their symbolic narratives, their symbolism is true. The visual arts are what partly constitute culture. Barrangi displays contemporary Iranian culture, but he also signals a universal human experience using the language of dreams.
As the audience immerses themselves in Dreamscape, they transcend their own and Barrangi’s culture by moving across geographical and temporal boundaries. Transcendence does not equivocate to erasure or absolute severance from one’s physical identity and culture. The culture Barrangi depicts does not dissolve through transcendence. Instead, he sustains Iranian culture through a visual legacy. The medium that carries the audience to a new landscape of consciousness anchors them to the physical space they transcend.
Transcendence and anchoring are also visually depicted in Barrangi’s works. In Dreamscape, the characters ride the backs of animals that serve as vehicles. In Shahrzad in the Garden, a woman is standing on a ball. In Sleeping in a Boat, a woman is lying in a boat. Barrangi’s characters are not grounded. They are elevated above the physical plane. They are in suspension, but their identities are not lost by merely floating aimlessly in space.
The vehicle also serves as a symbol of transcendence and dominance. The men riding on the backs of beasts in Quest of the Sun’s Children display the human spirit’s control over physical nature. Yet, the human spirit must be contained in a natural framework that provides space to exercise free will.
Another common element in fantasy, especially children’s fantasy literature, is that the whimsical characters and the otherworld are structured by law. The fantasy paradigm typically reverses the power dynamics and gives agency to the child, causing the otherworld to appear in disorder. However, rules to every story are established to create a logical space for the audience to suspend their disbelief. Despite the playful activities within Barrangi’s Dreamscape, the works are also designed to disengage the audience’s objection. The decorative floral patterns provide a corporeal texture to the imagined space. Furthermore, geometric shapes frame the scene, and the overall balance of the composition reflects the logical order of the audience’s world. For the audience to immerse themselves in the surreal, they must see themselves in the characters and settings. Our world is ordered, and for the most part, arguably, we are logical creatures.
The creatures in Barrangi’s works are humanistic because they represent a part of us. Facing our reflection of humanity in a fantasy can be melancholic, for the fantasy is an illusion destined to disappear. Barrangi captures this illusion of time. Piece by piece, he fabricates a snapshot of a world and a time that did not exist but is timeless in his identity. Each piece is deteriorating, but on the whole, the image is complete. There is negative space between the panels. The audience is meant to contemplate empty space. The viewer finds themselves in the white space that encroaches on the image. As we realize the white space, the dream slowly dissolves back into reality.
Our reality, our world, and our identity are dreams. We see ourselves disappearing in these dreamscapes. We are reminded of our mortality, of our ephemeral existence. We become nostalgic for a time that never existed. The tension between reality and fantasy tears these works apart. The relationship between the local and the universal, the part and the whole, the individual and society, is a dream. Barrangi’s fantasies are naturally flawed because the truth of reality is how he perceives the world. He cannot divorce the transformations of living from the utopia in his mind. And so he tears the world apart and puts it back in order.
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Featured Image: Mohammad Barrangi, Guardians of Eden (Dreamscape #8)
Christopher Ian Lutz is a Los Angeles-based contemporary art writer with a focus on the occult, the Middle East, and Africa. He has written for several art publications, including exhibition catalogs for Stephen Romano Gallery and the Morbid Anatomy Museum.