‘Through an unknown email, you are informed of a call for artists different from all you have seen before. Inspired by a short-short story by Peter Handke you are asked to provide an idea that can fit into a box measuring 40*40*30cms. The time is too short and nothing comes to your mind,’ writes Nima Emrani, an artist participating in Performance Box Curatorship held at Mohsen Gallery from 1 to 6 Oct. 2010. ‘You read the short story over and over again. You refer to the instructions to hopefully find a way. According to the instructions you should not try to be too complicated or incomprehensible. The text says the viewer is condemned to watch. You believe it not. You are confident that it is you who is condemned: condemned to create.’ We had brought our own gallery space to the gallery: a cardboard box for a single audience sitting on an adjustable chair who could view the content of smaller boxes attached one after the other to the performance box. The artworks were in different media: videos, paintings, sculptures, installations, sound art, interactive pieces, found objects, etc. Even the text quoted here was submitted by Nima Emrani to the exhibition as an artwork:  ‘What if you do not participate at all? You feel stupid and are overwhelmed with a sense of inability and absurdity. You stubbornly dismiss all ideas that come to your mind. Time is running. You are angry with yourself. Gradually, you become angry with the organizers of the exhibition. You sneer at their idea of democratizing the exhibition but it does not make you feel better. You try to convince yourself not to participate at all: the main idea is impossible. It is stupid to work under such conditions.’ The idea was to hold an exhibition, in which no artworks is excluded but not all artworks are seen either; one in which any artist could present her work and curate without the guarantee if, or how many times, her artwork would be seen: the viewers where free to choose their curator or curate for themselves according to artwork descriptions: viewer chose the person who would choose for him. ‘You torture yourself. You think of sale so as to feel better. You think of a magnificent idea that can earn you lots. It soothes you not. You think the money you receive measures not up to the pleasure that the organizers experience by torturing you. You did not expect this. You were expecting a better opportunity and they have caught you off guard. You think it is not fair; you have been oppressed.’ The idea of choosing a short story as the theme or subject of the exhibition was actually based on good intensions. The artists were free to do whatever they wished with it and we made sure the viewers would read the one-page-long text before entering the performance box. The artists were actually creating a context for a particular text. We meant any harm. ‘You think you have been insulted both as an artists and a human being. You feel offended. All this has been intended to tease you. You are confident that you were not expected to design anything in the first place. You were not supposed to do anything. It is all a game. This drives you mad.’ Many viewers too, saw it as a (serious) game which was where the performative element would step in. Viewers had to go through a ritualistic procedure for attending the show. After an online booking way in advance through our website (www.cutartists.com) they would be contacted by phone and an appointment would be set. Once in the gallery, they were asked to read the instructions and finally choose their curator. Then their height was measure so that the performance box could be adjusted accordingly. ‘You have voluntarily stepped into a game designed for tormenting you. You were not aware of this. Nobody had alarmed you and this is unfair. You are stuck and have no way back. You are angry. You wish you had never opened the email.’ Once in the Performance Box, they had their picture taken. Then they were given less than a quarter of an hour to watch and participate in their chosen curatorship. The sash-windows would open one by one, and viewers were exposed, according to their choice, to all sorts of artworks: one artwork might have asked you to take in, for a particular number of minutes, a very bad smell whilst listening to the artist’s voice addressing you, or another would require you to save a life of a gold fish dying in front of your eyes by sucking water out of a straw from a bowl containing a frog!

The exhibition tried to mimic gallery procedures as closely as possible bringing them to the foreground: boxes were salable and the gallery, the corresponding curator, artist and performer had a share. (Look at the graph.) The whole ritual was supposed to be undertaken and taken seriously despite the temporariness of the material or the idea behind the exhibition. Publicizing was done through social networking. We also tried to test how artworks work on viewers when they are in a one-to-one relationship with the audience. The influence of viewer comments was removed to a great extent: every viewer experienced the exhibition individually and in a different manner and could not discuss it with others.

The exhibition itself was a result of a group work. Originating from my performance classes at Mah-e-Mehr institute in Tehran, the performance group organizing the exhibition had the objective of ‘thinking and creating together’ as its first priority. /a:t/BrE  (or the British pronunciation of the word ‘art’) is the ironic name of a group which, once its current registration process is over, will become the first official Iranian performance company.

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