Chisenhale Gallery presents the first UK solo exhibition by Nasrin Tabatabai and Babak Afrassiabi. Seep is an installation of video projections, objects and prints. The exhibition is produced in partnership with Delfina Foundation and co-commissioned with the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona (MACBA).
In 2011, Tabatabai and Afrassiabi began a series of works that juxtapose two 20th century archives in the UK and Iran. One produced by British Petroleum (BP, then known as the Anglo Iranian Oil Company) documents the company's operations in Iran beginning in 1908 and ending with the nationalisation of the oil industry in 1951. The other is the collection of modern Western art acquired by the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art during the late 1970s and withdrawn from public display for twenty years following the Islamic revolution in 1979. The artists' approach to these archives considers their suspension, through discontinuation (in the case of the oil company) or removal (in the case of the museum).
One of the videos in the installation incorporates documents from the British Petroleum archive relating to a film that was produced by the Anglo Iranian Oil Company in 1948 to present the oil industry's modernising effect on Iran. Titled Persian Story, the film was produced in Technicolour and was an idealised account of Anglo Iranian's activities, in line with the narrative recounted in the company's archive, but its production coincided with political disputes around oil and the closure of the refinery, and these factors inevitably encroached on the film's plot. Tabatabai and Afrassiabi's video dramatises a letter from the archive in which the director, who was commissioned to make the film, complains about the 'unfilmability' of his subject matter.
Also included in the installation is a scale model of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art that shows only the passages leading to the basement where the collection of Western art is stored, omitting the representational spaces of the galleries. Although some works are occasionally exhibited, since its withdrawal in 1979 the collection has acquired a sense of non-presence. Tabatabai and Afrassiabi interpret this innate withdrawal as the means by which the collection is able to enact its contemporaneity as an 'Iranian' collection, and thus, conversely, re-enter history. This approach presupposes a subtractive notion of archiving and archival representation, which underlies the historiography proposed in this installation.
A second video follows the artists as they travel to different sites in south west Iran – the geographical site that the BP archive registers – capturing images of natural oil seeps as they ooze from the ground. The notion of the oil seep – crude oil materialising naturally, but beyond historical purpose, disregarding even the ground over and through which it spreads – informs Tabatabai and Afrassiabi's reading of these two archives and implicitly traces connections between them.
Tabatabai and Afrassiabi have collaborated as Pages since 2004, producing joint projects and publishing a bilingual magazine – also called Pages – in Farsi and English. Their projects and the magazine's editorial approach are closely linked, both described by the artists as 'attempts in articulating the indecisive space between art and its historical condition'. A forthcoming issue of Pages, titled 'Seep', will be published in Summer 2013.
Tabatabai and Afrassiabi live in Rotterdam and work in the Netherlands and Iran. Recent exhibitions include Two Archives, Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm (2013); Seep, MACBA, Barcelona (2012); Prairies, Les Ateliers de Rennes Biennial, Rennes (2012); Roundtable, 9th Gwangju Biennale (2012); Untitled, 12th Istanbul Biennial (2011); Two Archives, Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe (2011); Melanchotopia, Witte de With, Rotterdam (2011); Trust, MediaCity, Seoul (2010); The Isle, MAK Center/ Schindler House, Los Angeles (2009); They have contributed to publishing projects for Documenta 12, Kassel (2007) and Como viver junto, 27th São Paulo Biennial (2006).
Nasrin Tabatabai and Babak Afrassiabi's exhibition is supported by the Mondriaan Fund, Amsterdam and the Caspian Arts Foundation.