W139 art space was first squatted by a group of young artists in 1979. Later the group managed to buy the building, and the art space continued to flourish to be what it is now. The history of this building, and what has happened in it during the course of forty years is inspiring as it has hosted many artists throughout generations, and has provided space for the evolvement of their practices, as well as room for experiments by remaining relatively an independent art space.
On 22nd of November 2019, W139 opened its doors to visitors with “ampersands”, an exhibition celebrating forty years of W139. For this exhibition, I decided to work with the elements from the building itself. I focused on the two pillars in the space. The only unchanged objects which have been there since 1979 and standing tall in the middle of the big room. The concrete pillars have a specific shape that really interests me: a simple cylinder with a reversed triangular shape as the crown of the pillar, holding the ceiling.
Linking the two pillars to the number 40, I could not help but think about the famous palace of Chehel-Sotoun / چهل ستون in Isfahan, Iran. Chehel-Sotoun (meaning forty pillars) is a monumental building made by the order of Shah Abbās the Great during the Safavid era. The building has twenty pillars at the front side, and there is a wide pool in front of the building. One can see the reflections of the twenty pillars mirroring in the water. Which in total, will be forty pillars, enabling the name Chehel-Sotoun.
Being invited to make a work that can reflect on the past, present, and the future of W139, while celebrating the 40th anniversary, I decided to make candles in the shape of the pillars. Candles burn to enlighten the path but also seize to exist while doing so. I chose candles thinking about sacrificing the representative object (the artwork) in order to save the real ones (the art space), which would be the two pillars holding the ceiling.
For the opening, and as a piece for the main exhibition, I stuck two mirrors onto the surface of the pillars, and put a candle on each mirror, upside down. By looking into the mirror, one can see the candle in the correct position, while of course seeing the candle itself touching the surface of the reflection of itself. The two candles were lit during the opening, and on some other occasions during the exhibition. Slowly burning away.
On Friday 29th of November 2019, W139 organized a grand dinner, inviting all initiators, organizers, and founders of the space since 1979, me included. The dinner hosted several speeches and of course the meal. During the night, I presented the main piece of the work “Forty” as a short performance. The piece consists of twenty pillar-shaped candles on a long mirror resting on a board with two long handles on the sides. The sculpture was placed on the wall and in the “Polar Room” next to the bar during the entire exhibition. During the performance, I asked Nadia Benchagra (team member of W139), Fraser Stewart (fellow W139 former initiator), and Nasim Razavian (my life partner) to help me undertake the long sculpture. We carried the sculpture to a table in the middle of the space, and then I lit one candle. I then proceeded to announce that all are welcome in lighting the remaining 19 candles. The 40 flames of the sculpture were soon lit and lighting the dinner tables.
The mirror surface acts as now, the candles act as the past, and the reflections are the future.