• Film: Shirin Sabahi

Borrowed Scenery (2017, 15’)

Mouthful (2018, 36’)


Curated by Murtaza Vali in conjunction with the exhibition ‘Crude’, this programme brings together two recent films by artist Shirin Sabahi exploring the work of artist Noriyuki Haraguchi and the life of his permanent installation Matter and Mind at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.  

In 1977, the Japanese sculptor Noriyuki Haraguchi was invited to install an iteration of his sculpture Matter and Minda rectangular steel basin filled with used engine oil—at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA). Situated in the museum’s central rotunda, visitors have over the years turned the sculpture into an inadvertent wishing well, throwing coins and other things into it as they descend the building’s signature spiral ramp. The history and curious afterlife of Haraguchi’s minimalist sculpture are the subject of Shirin Sabahi’s films.

Forty years on, Sabahi met Haraguchi at his studio in Iwate, Japan. Inspired by this encounter, Borrowed Scenery (2017) is a quiet portrait of Haraguchi, traced through his thoughts, words and works. Anchored by the gentle cadence of his voice, which discusses his aesthetic philosophy, his choice of materials, and the story of his commission for TMoCA, the film visits sites important to the artist and his approach to art making. Playfully interspersed between footage of some of his oil and water pools in Tehran, Tokyo and elsewhere, are shots of wishing wells and coin-operated objects. The film is named after shakkei (借景), an East Asian principle of integrating the surrounding landscape into the composition of a garden, a site-specificity integral to Haraguchi’s oil pools. 

 In Mouthful (2018), Haraguchi, upon the invitation of Sabahi, returns to TMoCA to supervise the restoration of his work. Tapping into art’s potential to catalyze events otherwise deemed unnecessary or impossible, Mouthful became both the means and the end of the restoration project. Unobtrusively documenting the process, and the subtle changes in the oil pool resulting from it, the film recounts the sculpture’s history and biography through sparse poolside conversations, rumours about the causes of its deterioration and the debris fished from it. The film encloses the sculpture, which itself holds an ongoing assortment of keepsakes. Hinting at the proximities of art to religion and other belief systems, it suggests how artistic research can engage with the work of another artist, the institutional and material history of a nation, and the internationalism that existed prior to the current conditions of globalization. 

 Together Sabahi’s serene films meditate on the undeniable seductive materiality and magic of both oil and art.

 Shirin Sabahi (b. 1984) lives and works in Berlin, Germany

Shirin Sabahi is an artist and filmmaker. Her works often derive from a physical place and include films and its byproducts around artefacts and architecture and their legibility and outreach. Selected 2019 exhibitions and screenings include Centro Botín (Santander), Mosaic Rooms (London), ITALIC (Berlin), and Montréal International Festival of Films on Art. Her monograph Pocket Folklore was published by Edith-Russ-Haus and Roma Publications in 2019.