Once more with peeling

Intimate oranges and fruity animations might just make Laleh Khorramian some sort of genius. We take a closer look at his Third Line gallery exhibition.

‘I’ve found, through these animations, ways to make something at a very intimate level. There are two figures and here’s what they’re encountering in their lives. From that we can move out to a very dark dimension.’

As Laleh Khorramian says this, in her New Yorker-influenced accent, there’s a sudden low rumble from the corner of The Third Line gallery. ‘I collected my own sounds for this, you know. Like the heartbeat is a washing machine.’

If you’ve missed Khorramian’s stint at The Third Line so far, the centrepiece of the Iranian-born artist’s solo show is a video work, ‘I Without Me’, that shows two figures making love in a stained-glass tinted sacred space. We see them embrace, collapse in exhaustion and eventually, almost chillingly, they end up alone and broken.

The thing is, they’re both carved out of orange peel. Khorramian, from a makeshift studio in her bedroom, carved the shapes of two figures. Then she built a house to put them in, complete with stained glass windows and a bed, set the figures in shape and left them. What might not be apparent at first is that there’s no manipulation from the artist once the camera is rolling. As the peel loses its moisture over time, the material begins to contort and to form some of the most moving seconds ever rendered in fruit. ‘The idea came from a friend, who was peeling an orange at the time and said she’d watched Louise Bourgeois do this once. My friend threw the peel in the garbage, but I fished it out and put it on my wall. Unconsciously I watched it morph and change and became conscious of how sensual it was. I thought: how would it look if there were two oranges? It makes so much sense to the way people move.’

As the peel dries out and the film progresses the sensual movement of the two figures is so convincing you quickly forget the absurdity of the material it is rendered in. As the lovers exhaust, the fragility of their bodies and the raw vulnerability of their situation howls. The final scene rolls, and we see one of the figures collapse in exhaustion before a naturally lit window while the other falls from a chair and curls into nothingness.

‘There’s a fluidity to it, the pain that becomes apparent in the way they move. They contort in a very severe way. What we go through in love, for love – it’s a very compact world that takes place in a very natural material.’

There’s something sacred about the space that the characters move in. Stucco walls and stained glass (made from bags used to keep avocados in, she tells us) carry an atmosphere of asceticism, of ritual, of a hermetic space reserved for the essentials of living, wasting and dying. ‘That’s where polarity comes in,’ she tells us. ‘There’s a connection with mortality and perhaps that’s the darker side of what we’re seeing. I think the religious atmosphere is already in the film before we look at the window. There is a sense of sensuality and mortality here, violence and the history of taboo.’

Complementing the two videos in the show, is a collection of monotypes that she created while putting together the animations. These appear like heavy landscapes, with textures and layers similar to a Hokusai woodblock print, but are also storyboards or studies for the animations. The spontaneous effect of painting onto glass and printing straight onto paper provides a canvas of raw imaginative material that she can use to mould her works. ‘Perhaps I find a tiny shape within these monotypes that I might use in my films. Everything is building up to the animations. I see a shape, I write ideas straight onto the monotypes. It’s an easy dialogue.’

One scene in ‘I Without Me’ really stands apart from the whole sequence. As day becomes night in the time lapse, the self-contained house of the lovers appears in full: dwarfed by the immensity of the night sky beyond. It’s a scene that pulls together what Khorammian is exploring in this show. Zenith And Nadir takes its name from the two polar points of reference, the zenith – the heavens directly above us, and the Nadir – the point directly beneath us. As we talk, Khorramian keeps coming back to this idea of polarity, of extremes colliding in ‘a moment’: love and pain; the expansive and the intimate; sensuality and, ultimately, mortality. ‘I had to end this film somehow. The last scene is significant, though, because in it we see one person, not the couple. We basically come down to one, ourselves. Alone. We come into this world alone, and we go alone.’

The Third Line (04 341 1367), Al Quoz 3, behind Times Square. Until November 6.

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