'Perhaps even through the initial simple acts of flickering though, browsing and selecting and saving images some degree of partial personalisation and ownership is achieved by each and every one of us.'
The Lacemaker is the third solo exhibition of Farhad Ahrarnia (b. 1971) at the gallery. Comprising images drawn from a diverse range of sources and media – the internet, printed or painted material, and composed with embroidery, painted metalwork and grooming items – the exhibition gives new insight into this Iran and UK based artist’s intriguing eclectic practice.
Role-playing and performance, the perception of surface and the notion that appearances are skin deep are recurrent themes in Ahrarnia's work, here expressed in four distinct groups of Embroideries: faked portraits of Boko Haram brides depicting much older, attractive individuals in order to gain attention and sympathies; various white film actors in “Arab dress” portraying TE Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”), along with the Italian actor Franco Nero dressed as silent film star Rudolph Valentino as “The Sheikh”; and the performance artist Nasim Aghdam, the “YouTube Shooter”. Each of these characters stand for a set of entangled, interrupted, failed or manipulated ideals and desires. Alongside these, a final group shows covers of Harper’s Bazaar magazines superimposed with images of actual bazaars.
Exhibited with these Embroideries are works of a type Ahrarnia has never shown before, yet which have been in development for the past six years. Working with a brother and sister team of commercial painters in Hamdan, Western Iran, Ahrarnia uses Soviet social realist and 19th century European style paintings as the basis of his compositions. Adding objects acquired from the bazaar directly to the surfaces of the artworks, Ahrarnia's compositions are a direct challenge to the hierarchy of painting vs. found objects. His sourcing of these objects and inspiration comes from the antique shops he trawls, the bazaars of Iran and the many car-boot sales that he used to attend in Yorkshire, almost religiously every Sunday morning regardless of the weather.
Ahrarnia is aware of the implications of appropriation and its conceptual potentialities: through the creation of reproductions a new set of qualities emerges. The applied brush strokes and the painterly marks achieved are always different from the originals, sometimes slightly more crude or coarse, or more rigid and self-conscious. Ahrarnia's interest in these qualities, the notion of cultural mimicry which never feels "authentic", which runs deep in many aspects of our cross-cultural multiple realities, and our state of selecting and editing images, and to some degree reinforce our status, interests and ambitions. Through the additive process of embroidering, creating a texture otherwise lacking from flat digital images, and by fixing objects to paintings made by commercial painters, and thereby questioning notions of originality, Ahrarnia makes these images his own.