Hossein Valmanesh Ė Review of Tracing the Shadow

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Published Friday, February 22, 2002

This is an exhibition as much about the nature of love as it is about the love of nature.
At the MCA (Friday 15 February - Sunday 28 April 2002)

Perhaps as an indication of the spiritual thirst that the curators from our two prominent art museums have perceived in Sydney, we have been lavished with two quite beautiful exhibitions that reflect on the inner life. There is the Buddha exhibition at the AGNSW, while on the other side of Circular Quay the MCA has on show an exhibition by Hossein Valmanesh.

Hossein has been in the public eye during the past six months with an exhibition at a private gallery in Sydney and a large exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Hossein left Iran in 1973 at the age of 24 and not long after arriving in Australia spent some time the following year (1974) at Warburton and Papunya. While much controversy rages about this Federal Governmentís handling of international refugees this exhibition goes a little way to support the average Australianís belief that our society is the richer for sharing our land with people from outside cultures. The impact of all these influences emerges in a number of the works on display.

In Dot painting for beginners, 1 two panels sit adjacent, one a series of dots on linen and beside it, a second panel comprised of apricot leaves cut into regular sized squares adhered to linen. Leaving aside any interpretation of this exhibit it is beautiful and harmonious object, with obvious references to the dot paintings, the desert on one side and the thin veil of our physical pleasures on the other. And so a dialectic is constructed and maintained throughout the exhibition.

The hallmark Valmanesh works in this exhibition are those constructed from regular pieces of leaves cemented to cloth or linen and often being complimented tonally with sand cemented to an adjacent canvas, stunningly beautiful, their symbolic message and their aesthetic merit intertwined like a poem. When encountering one of these pieces for the first time it is thrilling to realize that the surface isnít painted with a decorative pattern but covered in tens or hundreds of uniformly trimmed leaves of spring greens, summery olives and ochres or the russet tones of autumn. The thin but beautiful veil of leaves carries messages of the fleeting nature of our physical life, that while beautiful is also fragile. And in this exhibition we have many symbols referring to our physical fragility and our quest to reach an enlightened spiritual life.

These images include ladders with their references to moving up to different levels, flames with reference to our consciousness or spiritual life and sand which makes reference to our physical end game. However, I was not overly convinced by the darkened room complete with sound sculpture, flaming branch and ghostly apparition under a pockmarked coffee table.

Hosseinís work is governed by his love of poetry, his unerring eye for tone and metaphor, and his personal history and he combines these strands into works of great beauty. This exhibition presents his smaller pieces as well as photos of larger installations. On the lawn in front of the MCA is Earth work (1981/2002) when seen from the 4th floor of the MCA is clearly based on the artistís finger print but which becomes more indistinct the closer one moves to it, so that at ground level it is just a jumble of sods on the lawn. And really, there is more than just a personal metaphor here, for the value of any artistís work is far than just the collection of works themselves.

By Martin Shub, February 2002

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