MOHSEN KHALILI, Dysfunctioned Tools
Gallery Jones, Vancouver BC
Feb 2 — 25, 2006
By Ann Rosenberg
I first met Mohsen Khalili in 1998, not long after he relocated from Tehran to Vancouver where his work was included in a Show of Hands exhibition I curated for the now-defunct Community Arts Council Gallery on Davie Street. Khalili's contributions to that exhibition evoked Picasso and European Modernism. When I was asked to write a review of Dysfunctioned Tools, I eagerly looked forward to the opportunity to catch up with this remarkable Iranian artist — and happier still when my response to his current show of drawings and small bronze sculptures was an audible, involuntary Wow!
On the walls of Gallery Jones are dozens of black and white drawings from a series called Studies for Making Idols (also showcased on the artist's website — www.mohsenkhalili.com. These graphics, executed principally in 2003, were the visual exercises, the warm-ups, for the accompanying 60 small, dark bronze sculptures Khalili made in 2004, although the two-dimensional drawings are not direct counterparts of the three-dimensional pieces.
All the drawings are executed with great vigour using a variety of materials such as ink, acrylic, and enamel on pages taken from the bibliography of a book on Oriental art. Partially bleached white and substantially covered with the artist's marks, the pages become suitable backgrounds for Khalili's personal art symbols that make connections with the vocabulary of twentieth-century surrealists and abstractionists, and, more generally, with Sumo painting and Oriental calligraphy.
Arranged on three long, wide, faux-marble topped tables in the centre of Gallery Jones's main display area, the bronzes appear from a distance like words in an Arabic manuscript. Up close each of the small sculptures in this long parade are revealed as lugubrious, elastic creatures formed of body bits that could have stepped out of a Dali painting to have a conversation with a Max Ernst totem. Individually they weigh about two pounds, about the same heft as a hammer, but the resemblance ends there.These are objects you might pick up but would find no use for. Scrotal, eye, and hand images abound, but nothing hints at functioning sexuality.
The framed works appear to encircle the small sculptures (which Khalili punningly calls "Idles" on his website), culminating in paired images of a foot and a hand. These realistic, colour drawings are memories of a hospital stay related to Khalili's chronic and increasingly debilitating psoriatic arthritis — a reminder that, alas, this 40-year-old artist's physical tools are becoming dysfunctional.
A poem, To Gillian, is the artist's statement for this solo show. It bids goodbye to "endless pages of solitude" and "to twisted naked beings."