For the first exhibition of Nairy Baghramian’s work in North America the Contemporary Art Gallery presented Class Reunion, an ambitious eighteen piece sculpture comprising a variety of abstract forms. Consistent throughout her practice, it references literature, theory and modernist design to comment on current issues of materiality, manufacture, and display while examining aspects of social and political relationships encompassing questions of context, institutional framing and the production and reception of contemporary art.
Made from a range of materials, varying in size, shape and texture, each individual piece is unique, but reliant on others, combining like a cast of characters to create an oddly theatrical scene. Taking on human characteristics, accentuated by their proximity and placement, such qualities are suggested in their titles, for example The Slacker, The Dandy, and Please, After You as well as in their poise and structure. A sleek and slender black pole, supporting a bulbous white form seems to be the centre of a small grouping, holding the attention of the others. The simple curve of a line gives an air of confidence while a fold of metal might insinuate shyness.
As a collection of posed characters Class Reunion forms an uncanny tableau, the stage shifting between the immediacy of the inherent material qualities – surface, shape and colour – to a more speculative consideration of meaning and content. It opens up the potential for the viewer’s experience to move from a consideration of physicality to an examination of social mores. The specific objects in Baghramian’s piece become subjects, creating a human experience where discrete variations evoke a multiplicity of personalities and social identities.
Working primarily in sculpture Baghramian brings together a myriad of references – the formal language of Minimalism, Surrealist juxtaposition, stylistic features from interior design and suggestions of absurdist narratives. This mix gives her work an enigmatic quality whereby it is not easily characterized; yet subtle political readings are inferred through the nuanced relationships between singular elements, the very nature of these as objects and their relationship to architectural settings.
For La Colonne Cassée (1871) [the Broken Column (1871)], Baghramian placed almost identical elements back to back, sandwiching the plate glass of the museum windows and uniting the interior and exterior of the exhibition space. Two curved metal panels, each supported by a white square base, create a mirroring effect, their vertical surfaces perforated in differing patterns, breaking the illusion of symmetry and establishing a sense of uneasiness. What appears whole and solid is fragmented; this fracturing also seen in Spanner (Stretcher/Loiterer), a long chrome-plated brass pipe jammed horizontally between two walls, generating tension at the limits of the room. The question of inside and outside is not one of either/or.
This hovering between the part and the whole continues in Class Reunion, here the notion of the collective presented but from an assembly of pieces, united in shared materiality but separated as individual entities. The word ‘class’ can signify formal categorizations as well as social and economic structures. While the coming together of forms is familiar, resembling social encounters and playing with our desire to classify things, Baghramian seems to suggest the specification of types, division into groupings and ideas of personality or identity are as fabricated as the individual sculptures we see.
Amber Frid-Jimenez is an artist and recently appointed Associate Professor at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Her talk explored the latent intersections between design, technology and contemporary art. Trained in design and media arts at the MIT Media Lab, her current and recent research and teaching affiliations include the Jan van Eyck Academie in the Netherlands, the MIT Program for Art, Culture and Technology, and the National Academy of Art & Design in Bergen, Norway.MORE