Since 2004, Nasrin Tabatabai and Babak Afrassiabi have been working under the name Pages on joint projects and produce a bilingual magazine in Farsi and English. Their projects are based on research on the historical conditions of politics and cultural production and their re-articulation through art. The exhibition Two Archives is the first part of a three-stage project, which takes place throughout the year 2011 and includes - along with the exhibition - an international workshop and a new edition of the magazine Pages.
In Two Archives the artists follow their interest in historically unresolved features of modernity. The new works produced for the exhibition depart from two archives related to the construction of modernity and modernization in Iran and include various materials, objects and photographs.
One is the collection of Western modern art from the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art - a large collection that was inaugurated in 1977 together with the opening of the museum as part of the government's rapid modernization project in various fields, including culture. The other archive is that of the British Petroleum (BP) related to the company's origin in Iran from 1901 to 1951, when it found the first oil in the Middle East. This archive was produced simultaneously with the company's rapid growth in Iran as Britain's biggest foreign asset and the building of the city of Abadan for its employees. Abadan was at the time Iran's fifth largest city and model of a modern industrial city in the Middle East.
Both of these archives developed parallel to the fulfilment of the desire for modernity's universalization or industrial growth. However, they were created with a structural disjointedness from their actual historical situation and were subsequently interrupted by a change of events - in fact the contemporaneity of both archives is rather to be sought in their very interruption: the Iran section of the BP archive does not go beyond 1951. In 1951 the British oil company had to stop its operations and evacuate its staff as a consequence of strikes in the company and political dispute with the nationalist government - followed by the nationalization of the oil industry. With the 1979 Islamic revolution, the museum's relation with its Western collection too became an unsettling one - and remains so even up to the present.
For this exhibition Tabatabai and Afrassiabi do not simply display materials from the archives, but rather appropriate some of its features into new objects and images. In returning to these two archives, they seek to retroactively reenact an open-ended and indecisive historiography of modernity.
The work of Pages has been featured in solo and group exhibitions in Latin America, the United States, the Middle East, and throughout Europe. For more information please visit http://www.pagesproject.net.
With the kind support of the Mondriaan Foundation and the cultural office of the city of Karlsruhe.