‘Nuclear war, loss of the ozone layer, the dissipation of families, wars between religions.’ As Mohsen Jamalinik recounts this list of catastrophes, the creeping detachment in his voice can’t be overlooked. He lists this collection of what he deems to be the ‘tragedies of the new millennium’, also the title of his new show at Total Arts, in a way that is both removed and oddly unspecific. It is dissatisfaction, but one that he can’t seem to pin to anything directly – an indefinite fatalism.
This translates onto the canvas. Lack of definition hangs over this collection of imploding voids, numbered and distorted faces, and gore-drenched world flags. There’s even a sense of confusion around the curiously titled ‘Hardon’ collection. ‘I believe that science and art combined is the only way that we can save the world,’ he explains from his native Tehran. ‘I looked at Hardon [despite his insistence on this pronunciation and actually titling the works as such, when we ask if there’s any meaning in his manipulation of the name, Jamalinik insists he’s referring only to the Large Hadron Collider project, which brought together scientists from 100 countries in 2008 to construct the world’s largest particle accelerator] and saw in it a mixture of art and science. Scientists from all over the world participated and I wanted to take part in this experiment with my art.’
Jamalinik believes that the spirit of international collaboration that the Hadron project represents is key to moving beyond the tragedies of modernity. ‘Science has no borderlines, and neither does art. When you’re an artist, you belong to the world, not Iran or Pakistan or wherever. This experiment was like this – it was an expression of what happens when people gather to do something well, there is a hope to finding answers to the bigger questions.’
It’s debatable how much hope is in these works, however. In one of the stronger pieces in the collection, the artist assembles row after row of crude mugshots, each are in varying states of completion and some still bear their construction lines. Some are simplistic to the point of absurdity, others just blank ominous ovals. All are numbered and, while Jamalinik suggests this reflects the systematic numbering and ordering of various bureaucracies that has society in a grip (‘You are down as a code or a number’ he says), they appear instead like a sequence of frustrated studies for rendering a dissatisfaction he identifies yet can’t quite capture. It’s as if he struggles even at the shape of the face, seeming to ask: how does the modern condition actually look? How can the artist render a collective and indefinable state that is at once dissatisfaction and also insecurity?
The literalism in the tragedies he acknowledges (nuclear war, pollution and so on) reflects this as well. Jamalinik searches as much for a verbal as a visual language to capture the sense of end-ness that is the modern condition. Occasionally he nears it. In one of the ‘Tragedies’, a black void crawls through the centre of the canvas. Lines of distortion swathe from its centre, while at the peak of the void is a dissipating, reclining shape crowned in indecipherable Farsi. Evoking a body that simultaneously evaporates inwards and outwards, Jamalinik goes some way to capturing the binding sense of frustration that he feels at the unrecognisable emptiness that we face. The void vibrates at the rhythm of the colliding particles in the Hadron, yet it remains a void. Outward forces, all those tragedies he acknowledges, collide with a being that remains a vacuum. Untouched and untouchable, the body can only contort in its narrow confinement.
So what of his ideal then? The Hadron series is certainly Jamalinik at his strongest: Carefully composed and rhythmic, at times looking like the vibrating sweeps of an oscilloscope, each piece focuses on multiple strands that meet to form an internal undulating harmony. It’s a departure from the scrawled madness of the other works and the pieces have a renewed strength of direction about them. Here, Jamalinik has a clear idea of the harmony he wants to reflect and achieves a depth of composition that doesn’t come quite to the same pitch in the other works. Still slightly literal in their idea – inspired, vaporous explosions fed into by endless tiny particles – they do work, and are visually impressive.
‘I don’t think it’s the end of the world,’ he insists as we talk, but there’s no doubt that Jamalinik has let his apocalyptic fears seep onto the canvas. We can’t help feeling, however, that his vision needs to be gathered. There’s something interesting about his fears for the new millennium, but they are fears we all know about. These devastated canvases suggest something more than a ‘ban the bomb’ placard, they suggest a nihilism that arises when all exits have been covered. The slight, literal ideas about reducing people to numbers, the superficiality of international relations and such are really only a confused cloud-cover for a disturbing and astute void that lies behind the artist’s works. One that drags all particles of idealism inward, to nothing.
Total Arts at The Courtyard (04 347 5050). January 13-February 5