Late Poem Surrounded by Friends
May 21 – June 10, 2018
At Louise Dany, Oslo
Text by Ina Hagen
Photo by Istvan Virag
A series of publications aptly named white-cover books began spreading on the streets as the Islamic Revolution unfolded in Iran. Mostly published between 1978-79, they could be recognised by their plain white covers and simple black letter-press titles. Seemingly chosen and translated in an instantaneous, completely intuitive way, they were boot-leg copies of whatever piece of literature or theory that might have been within reach at the time. As objects 40 years later, they make visible this urgency with which they were published, distributed and collected.
In the audio work Mom likes politics too (2018), Ronak introduces us to the white cover books as a phenomenon through the memory of three people connected to them during that time. How these individuals came into contact with revolutionary literature are all quite different; one was a writer, one a university student, and one while working as a horoofchin – a letterpress operator in the publishing industry. The interviews have been translated from Farsi into English, read out loud by people who are about the artist’s own age, and then recorded.
A collection of books, when sitting side by side on a bookshelf, are more than their individual content. Together they are an assemblage of what has come of the circumstantial urge to collect, and of things that have happened to fall into one’s hands through life. Beyond its nostalgic value, this conglomerate is the knowledge one chooses to be exposed to — and that one chooses to surround ones children with. A parent enacts their politics everyday in this manner; through a library that—though full of hidden obscurities—hold collected teachings of moral, ethics, history and culture.
As material for the photo collage Untitled (2018) the artist has used a photo from her own family album. It is one of several where friends, relatives and visitors have been portrayed while posing in front of the library. After being digitally altered and collaged it has been printed back and juxtaposed with itself, in a set of five, behind glass and frame.
Ronak writes: “What we inherited was a visual aesthetic and conceptual language that we continued to build things on top of. And I couldn't even read yet (!). Our small library of knowledge—consisting of a few illegal films, books, posters and nude paintings on the upper shelves—had something in common with the public library at school: They were both collecting the ‘Culture of Resistance’ whereby certainty, beauty, violence, revolution and death were the main discourses of life.”
The title Late Poem Surrounded by Friends evokes the image of a distinct scene of such a legacy: the deathbed. The poem is referred to here as if a ‘late wife’ or ‘late husband’. Are we one of the friends together at this scene? As a ‘poem that was’ one can only wonder what it used to be and what it now has become. Conversely, the poem was late. It arrived at the wrong time. Still, it is not judged harshly for this faux pas, as it is surrounded by friends. A far more light-hearted look at the timeliness or untimeliness of language. Either way, as passed on or passed out, a house is built brick by brick and memories are told by new and other mouths.