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Etemad Art Gallery Martin Werthmann Sep Oct 2012 Folie Deux 02
Tehran

Folie à deux

“Folie à deux” is identified as a medical term, basically meaning “a madness shared by two” or shared psychosis. It is a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief are transmitted from one individual to another. The Berlin based artist Martin Werthmann’s use of this term as the title of his exhibition connotes cultural and ontological commentaries: a possible common disorder, and suggests shared commonalities that may be found in different contexts. It refers to widespread disorders that might exist in any society and generally in contemporary life. This way as if the artist shares his ontological questions about human being with his Iranian audience. 

When one encounters the actual exhibition, she would see a set of eccentric materials in different sections. The Diamond-Breathing-Machine is placed next to large woodcuts which shape an installation representing functional process accompanied by aesthetic reflection. For example, the way the plinth, the bucket, boxes and tubes are connected and arranged could create a three dimensional collage. However, the facts given in the construction of the machine reveal that it is not only an installation that symbolically indicates a certain process, but a machine with an actual function: it produces diamond from the artist’s exhaled air. The encounter with this complicated installation would face the viewer with different puzzling questions. First of all she may be confused to see such a “laboratory” in the context of an art exhibition. But then she will come to understand that the arrangement is by no means accidental: starting from the chair to the highlighted equipment on the white plinths to the large-scale woodcuts in the background. Everything seems to be carefully staged.

Here the equation is simple: carbon + heat + pressure = Diamond! The product of this “alchemistic” process of oxidations and reductions of the pure carbon out of exhaled air, is put into a final stage for the purpose of another conversion by a hydraulic heat press. The whole process refers to an alchemical narration – a long standing desire of human being to achieve the ability to transform base metals into the high value metals like gold or silver or to make an elixir of life conferring youth and immortality. Was the “philosopher’s stone” found, what the alchemists searched for centuries? Does the artist question the idea of value by using a “magic” trick that transforms air into diamond? 

The whole procedure relates to the life and its associated conscious processes. The process in the Diamond-Breathing-Machine is associated with the fundamental processes of life and the need for a constant exchange of materials. The reduction and oxidation processes in human body make in fact one’s life possible. In this machine something organic is transformed into something crystalline, something formless is taking shape, something dynamic solidifies and finally the softest possible material – the air we breathe – becomes the substance with highest hardness on earth: the diamond. It also implies an ironic existential meaning. The artist is creating something of the highest value by using his used exhaled air. In other words, he creates the diamond with the “divine breath” like the Creator.

In addition to the technical and theoretical perspectives, the work can also be seen from an aesthetic point of view. Apart from aforementioned implications, it is aesthetically an attractive installation when one sees equipments from a laboratory are transformed into art objects. So at the same time when it is seen as an entirely technical and purely chemical process, the focus may be led from the shapeless black carbon to the beauty and purity of the diamond, associated with glamour and fashion.

The other part of this installation consists of series of woodblock prints. Werthmann is particularly interested in the cartoon-like figures. Although the artist believes that he is merely referring to a single figure or phenomenon rather than intending to include extensive references, cultural and historical references can be found in this series of works. This can for example be seen in the image ensemble with the intrusive-unfriendly-looking clown (not presented in this exhibition) who could have sprung from a horror novel by American novelist Stephen King or the portrait of Alex de Large from the film “Clockwork Orange” and the background figure, the German artist Martin Kippenberger, who stands in a corner. Werthmann explains his woodblock prints as a poetic counterpart to his conceptual works. For three years he worked on the two-dimensional picturesque “Scenery” series. The areas of colour and organic forms of fragmentary and often centrally positioned figures are reminiscent of plants, newly hatched birds, skulls, science-fiction creatures, and more recently landscapes. 

Dr. Hamid Keshmirshekan

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More About Tehran

Overview and HistoryTehran is the capital of Iran and the largest city in the Middle East, with a population of fifteen million people living under the peaks of the Alborz mountain range.Although archaeological evidence places human activity around Tehran back into the years 6000BC, the city was not mentioned in any writings until much later, in the thirteenth century. It's a relatively new city by Iranian standards.But Tehran was a well-known village in the ninth century. It grew rapidly when its neighboring city, Rhages, was destroyed by Mongolian raiders. Many people fled to Tehran.In the seventeenth century Tehran became home to the rulers of the Safavid Dynasty. This is the period when the wall around the city was first constructed. Tehran became the capital of Iran in 1795 and amazingly fast growth followed over the next two hundred years.The recent history of Tehran saw construction of apartment complexes and wide avenues in place of the old Persian gardens, to the detriment of the city's cultural history.The city at present is laid out in two general parts. Northern Tehran is more cosmopolitan and expensive, southern Tehran is cheaper and gets the name "downtown."Getting ThereMehrabad airport is the original one which is currently in the process of being replaced by Imam Khomeini International Airport. The new one is farther away from the city but it now receives all the international traffic, so allow an extra hour to get there or back.TransportationTehran driving can be a wild free-for-all like some South American cities, so get ready for shared taxis, confusing bus routes and a brand new shiny metro system to make it all better. To be fair, there is a great highway system here.The metro has four lines, tickets cost 2000IR, and they have segregated cars. The women-only carriages are the last two at the end, FYI.Taxis come in two flavors, shared and private. Private taxis are more expensive but easier to manage for the visiting traveler. Tehran has a mean rush hour starting at seven AM and lasting until 8PM in its evening version. Solution? Motorcycle taxis! They cut through the traffic and any spare nerves you might have left.People and CultureMore than sixty percent of Tehranis were born outside of the city, making it as ethnically and linguistically diverse as the country itself. Tehran is the most secular and liberal city in Iran and as such it attracts students from all over the country.Things to do, RecommendationsTake the metro to the Tehran Bazaar at the stop "Panzda Gordad". There you can find anything and everything -- shoes, clothes, food, gold, machines and more. Just for the sight of it alone you should take a trip there.If you like being outside, go to Darband and drink tea in a traditional setting. Tehranis love a good picnic and there are plenty of parks to enjoy. Try Mellat park on a friday (fridays are public holidays), or maybe Park Daneshjou, Saaii or Jamshidieh.Remember to go upstairs and have a look around, always always always! The Azadi Tower should fit the bill; it was constructed to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire.Tehran is also full of museums such as:the Contemporary Art Museumthe Abghine Musuem (glass works)the 19th century Golestan Royal Palace museumthe museum of carpets (!!!)Reza Abbasi Museum of extraordinary miniaturesand most stunning of all,the Crown Jewels Museum which holds the largest pink diamond in the world and many other jaw-dropping jewels.Text by Steve Smith.