Interview by Kiriakos Spirou
Young Athens-based artist Babak Ahteshamipour works with video, painting, sculpture, AR and music to voice the shared concerns and questions of a whole generation of twenty-somethings who are caught up between climate change, endless imperialism, a new era of far-right politics and a pandemic. In his work he mixes pop references with dark humour and fractured forms and narratives to comment upon consumerism, capitalism, war and our position within the modern world. His music deals with the same issues, characterised by a darker, noise-inspired sound, the use of free improvisation and exaggeratedly weighty lyrics inspired by philosophical texts. His solo project Post-Coded Thoughts on the Never-Upcoming Foreshadowed Li(f)e is opening today at Sub Rosa Space in Athens with a sound performance. On this occasion, we spoke to Babak about his work and the wider themes he chooses to engage with.
Hello Babak! Happy to have you on und. for this interview. Tell us first a few things about you, your background, your artistic practice.
Hello! My name is Babak Ahteshamipour, I was born in Arak, Iran, I moved to Athens, Greece when I was 6 years old and I have studied Mineral Resources Engineering at the Technical University of Crete. I am self-taught as an artist; my practice is based on irony and criticism on socio-political, ethical and existential concerns. I work with painting / drawing, music / sound, writing, video and objects.
Your work is very diverse in terms of media and disciplines. What would you say is the common thread that connects everything you do?
There are certain thematic elements that can be traced in the works, which could be seen as a common ground; these elements are sometimes depicted in multiple media, for instance an object in painting that becomes a 3D object in a video or vice versa. Another thing is that there are unrelated elements in the works that are connected indirectly with each other based on a fragmented discourse.
Could you give us an example of this fragmentation in your work?
The video entitled The Moment You Accidentally Kiss a Monster & Realize it Has Yummy Lips (2020), is an example. It combines an object that is placed on my head, a text, 3D objects, a musical composition and a plastic toy which represents a microphone. The fragmented narrative is visible via a small screen at the left side which pops up around 1:04. Based on which part of the text is sung, the small screen shows a different animation. In addition, the transitions between the parts of the composition happen abruptly.
You’ve recently completed a series of paintings called Politics of Esoteric Imaginaries. There’s quite a lot of stuff in there: video game characters, fantasy figures, monsters and more. What is the idea behind these works?
The idea behind those works was to deconstruct various mythical creatures and supernatural entities which appear in literature, video games, cinema and language in forms of metaphors. Some examples are the boogeyman, ogres, dragons, ghosts, the unicorn and the reaper. I believe that these creatures are haunted by the symbolic, due to the anthropocentric interpretation of their nature and their origins. I don’t think they can ever be what they really are but only what we want them to be. I noticed that in most video games these entities appear as the villains and the player never experiences their perspective. We only experience one narrative, that of the hero. I considered that a one-dimensional approach that has a connection with real life. For instance, the narrative of the hero which overshadows other stories, the anthropocentric interpretation of other organisms and the stereotypes or prejudices that force us to be something that we might not be. And in case we don’t fit a stereotype or prejudice, we become a dark wizard or a dragon that needs to be chained.
You mentioned earlier that contemporaneity is also part of your work. So in a sense we could say that your work is not just about fragmented narratives, but also about the fact that they happen at the same time. What is your comment on this?
I agree. We could say that, if a certain fragment is depicted as a line throughout space-time in the form of a developing event, these lines are all parallel to each other and tangents in occasional moments of space-time; events that are all happening concurrently that may have direct or indirect connections and inform each other.
So for you this is not so much an issue of identity, and specifically your own identity as an immigrant, but about a more abstract concept that applies universally.
It is a quality of an identity that is not imposing, patronizing, absolute or loud. It takes into account the relativity of historical events and scientific facts, since they are subjective perceptions and interpretations of reality from organisms with limited sensory capacity. There might be a common body which organisms have as a foundation and develop differently based on their surrounding environment. Hence the cultural differences between civilizations due to different geographical regions, or the various organisms that evolve only at certain geographical zones or biological families (such as the Camelidae) that immigrate to several geographical areas and thus acquire different characteristics.
As we can see in the Eastern Mediterranean today, migration makes these cultural differences more pronounced, even among neighbouring countries. How do you think we can overcome this?
I don’t know, but I believe it is a really complicated situation. Specifically in the Eastern Mediterranean, migrants and refugees originate from areas where there are either ongoing conflicts – in which foreign forces are boldly entangled – extremist groups rising, their education system being controlled by corrupt governments, there is economic decline, and have been affected by environmental disasters or the climate crisis. Most of these have resulted from the exploitation by former colonial powers or the constant interference of the West in those areas driven by geopolitical and economic interests.
So in your opinion, cultural differences can never be surpassed?
I don’t think they can be completely surpassed. Different cultures inform and help each other to develop. The result of one culture surpassing other ones might be dangerous. The danger is that it might devour other cultures and impose itself on them. That is problematic, and perhaps is something that is visible in the pop culture that dominates through the internet, digital media, subreddit forums, ready-to-be-consumed packages of aesthetics and mentalities that dominate academically and commercially speaking. And with “pop” I mean whatever has conventional, conservative and commercial elements and is easily accessible, because it meets the conditions of what society considers acceptable, meaningful, important and successible.
You have a solo show opening at Sub Rosa Space in Athens this weekend. It includes paintings and performance, am I right?
Yes, I am going to present an installation called Paleontology of Nonexistence with a couple of paintings accompanied by a free improv sound performance and an open house discussion on the opening day (02/10/2021) and a new video showcase entitled Post-coded thoughts on the Never-upcoming Foreshadowed Li(f)e on the closing day (16/10/2021). The installation will blend with the remnants of the previous show at Sub Rosa Space. Both the installation and the video are about the sudden arrival of doomsday which results in digital remnants being left over and acquiring autonomy. As a result, they develop existential and ethical concerns, becoming “geologists”, studying and digging databases in an attempt to find remnants of life before their awakening. This whole concept is a comment on the fetishized dependence on digital media, software, electronics etc. as opposed to the immense carbon footprint they emit, the material waste that is produced from their replacement parts and overproduction, and the socio-psychological side-effects that they cause.
Let’s wrap this up! What are your future plans? Any new projects coming up after this show?
Yes, I am participating in a free improvisational series called Mid-West / Improv by the independent cassette label Industrial Coast based in North Yorkshire, UK. My participation is via two recorded improvisations which will be released as a tape, with one improvisation on each side. I also have an album entitled Specter, Spectrum, Speculacrum, which consists of 7 tracks and is also going to be released through the label. They are both planned to be released in autumn / early winter.