Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

Trio of Dubai-based artists on the importance of having fun while creating art

Dubai-based artists Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian were commissioned by Liverpool Biennial to create a show based on the idea of voyages in time and space. We meet them in the English city and finds out that having fun is a vital part of their work.
Works by Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian on display at the Liverpool Biennial. Photo by Mark McNulty
Works by Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian on display at the Liverpool Biennial. Photo by Mark McNulty

It’s a blustery day in Liverpool, the spray from a pop-up car-wash business drifting across an abandoned brewery on the fringes of the English city’s famous waterfront. In usual circumstances the location, one of the sites for the Liverpool Biennial, might be a somewhat bleak scene – but as Dubai-based artists Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian poke their heads inquisitively through the small door leading to a cavernous warehouse full of their work, there is immediately an air of sunny mischief.

Not surprising, really, when one of their first pieces appears to be a car exhaust dangling from a gallows, adorned with fairy lights, decorative woodwork – and a shaving mirror. Behind the structure is a video playing in which, dressed as nightmarish animal characters, they are packing up King Above Us All ready for supposedly illicit shipment.

“Fun should be a part of the process,” says Rokni Haerizadeh. “In fact, if you don’t have fun, as an artist you become a clown.”

“We can laugh at the video now, because those creatures aren’t us,” adds Rahmanian.

“We never say we did this work – the creatures did. They are the smugglers.”

Welcome, then, to the weird and wonderful world of brothers Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian. King Above Us All is just a small part of a sprawling collection of their sculptural objects, paintings, videos and installations on this site and three others around Liverpool, broadly fitting into the Biennial’s theme of voyages through time and space.

The idea was to gather together as much of the artwork from the villa in which they live and work in Dubai, hide the works within each other and notionally “smuggle” them by sea from the UAE to Liverpool.

“It was as much about seeing what arrived,” says Rahmanian. “When the Biennial called and said it had been scanned, it was like the project was complete.”

Except, of course, they then had to put it all together. As much as the smuggling aspect feels a bit forced – the three “semi- submersibles” called Anti-Catty, Princess Rambo and Space-Sheep used to “hide” the artworks came in an official crate – it is the trio’s style to improvise with the materials, and the people, they have to hand.

“The way we collaborate is to become creatures, and then those creatures start to define the environment we want to look at,” says Rokni. “We don’t call our house a home – it’s a film set, a studio, a library, a research centre. So we started to find objects and even buy artworks related to those creatures, and we performed every day. For us, the creative process is not about refining work to reach the end result or some kind of understanding, it’s about augmenting and accumulating.”

So a trombone becomes a crutch or a radio-signal receiver. A wheelchair is also an ironing board. A papier mâché head is crowned with a plastic jug and chicken. What it all “means” is barely the point – although if someone wanted to impose a narrative about the reliance of the world on petrochemicals onto King Above Us All, they probably could.

“People will always have different interpretations,” says Rokni. “They might be political, they might be religious. We had this amazing evening in Dubai last year where a completely arbitrary audience turned up with all these crazy ideas about our work – honestly, it contributed to our vision as artists. That made us happy because we want a reaction, whatever it is. But maybe also you don’t have to understand or comprehend everything, too.”

In fact, it’s arguable that for this trio, exhibiting anything at all gets in the way of what they might learn from the creative process. They live and work together, bound by a set routine that allows them a movie every night but also “serious conversations before we start the day”, about their next work. They also invite collaborators from outside the Dubai art world to help realise their visions, offering some much-needed reality and normality.

“The result isn’t always important – it’s what happened in the process and how we experienced the life of others and understood their attitudes,” says Rokni. “We like working in this way because it makes you question yourself.”

Perhaps, too, these collaborations were initially impelled by the trio’s circumstances when they arrived in Dubai in 2009. The art scene in the UAE is, of course, very different now – through Gallery IVDE, the Haerizadehs and Rahmanian are at the very centre of a thriving community.

“We were one of the first artists to come to Dubai from Iran, and it was like an open door,” says Ramin. “The energy of the people was something else and it became a really good place to build an ­art practice.”

“We just love the soul of Dubai,” adds Rokni. “It’s always very positive and it wants to build something.” Which is just about the perfect way to describe this intriguing trio’s work, too – whatever that “something” might actually be. “It’s a constant process of giving birth to another work,” says Rahmanian. “Look at this here.” He points towards King Above Us All. “It’s a project that will never be finished – it’ll just transform its shape into something else, somewhere else.”

Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian exhibit at Liverpool Biennial until October 16. For more information, visit www.biennial.com


Updated: July 17, 2016 04:00 AM