Mina Zarfsaz presents ‘Dead Ringer,’ a house of mirrors at Vox Populi Gallery
Carl(os) Roa visits Mina Zarfsaz’s Dead Ringer, a multimedia installation on view through January 21st at Vox Populi Gallery. An assemblage of found objects and recorded voices sandwiched between two mirrors, this absurdist sculpture begs for audience participation, and Roa puts himself right in the scene.

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Mina Zarfsaz and I spoke over the phone the day before Christmas Eve about her latest project, Dead Ringers, which is currently being presented at Vox Populi. Our conversation revealed a mutual love for the interdisciplinary, reality-bending art, and cyclical streams of thought. We’re also huge fans of non-sequiturs. Linguini is an incredibly lucrative designer fabric that the SUVs claimed would heal my table. That’s my brand of non-sequitur, but Zarfsaz’s is a bit more particular.

Mina Zarfsaz, “Dead Ringer”, Installation detail.

Influenced by both Gertrude Stein’s novel The Making of Americans and The Conference of the Birds, by Iranian poet and theologist Attar of Nishapur, Dead Ringers is a series of identical sound sculptures made with found objects that are lined up across the gallery. The installation gives the illusion that there are several mirrors in the space, when in fact there are only two, and in the process allows viewers to let go of concerns about meaning or intention in favor of a more self-reflective experience.

It’s a little embarrassing how seldom I seek out visual art. I consider gallery settings to be a little esoteric for someone like me — and by that, I mean the way in which my theatre background has hindered my ability to think about art against the confines of narrative. Which is precisely why I decided to challenge myself to write about it in the first place.

What I discovered about this exhibition was that I didn’t really have much of a need for a “visual arts perspective.” In many ways, I consider Dead Ringers to be as much a performance as anything I’m used to seeing onstage — the performers in this case being the symmetrical junk-birds lining themselves across the middle of the room. They spoke not through their balloon-tied mouths, but through the bowls of popcorn on their hips.

I found myself squatting down to hear what all the popcorns had to say, only to realize that they were more-or-less reciting the same passages from Stein’s The Making of Americans. Zarfsaz’s work is fixated with an infinity mirror type of repetition, an element that is also found in Stein’s writing. It felt like a repetition that I was disrupting by simply letting myself be in between two sculptures — as though the sanctity of the space was dependent on the row of birds completing themselves in the way she intended.

Something worth noting: I describe the sculptures as “birds,” but this outcome of her sculpting was a happy coincidence. The Conference of the Birds, a foundational text for Zarfsaz’s process, describes the journey of a flock of birds attempting to find a new king who will lead them. What was fascinating about this was how the form of the bird embedded itself into Zarfsaz’s mind, without her even realizing it. I’m going to break the stiltedness of my writing (have I tricked you into thinking I’m legitimate yet?) to offer a cliché: Zarfsaz’s process was just as bird-like as the fowl you can encounter in Attar’s text.

The exhibition was begging for a participant to explore more of its features. I was perfectly satisfied with all the non-sequiturs that were being sent my way: the baby feet protruding from the back of their heads, the hair hanging from the air vents, and the overall lack of reality that she had created for the viewer. On occasion, the lights would go out, and I couldn’t tell if this was intentional or an issue with the lighting. I decided that it didn’t really matter. She constructed an entire space based around the expectations we have for the world in front of us, and all the ways these expectations can be defied.

Zarfsaz’s exhibition runs until January 21st at Vox Populi, alongside instillations by Jay Muhlin, Shana Hoehn and Ellie Hunter, and Kristen Neville Taylor. It was a pleasure to enter her world, and you should find the time to pay a visit before it closes.

Tags

Attar of Nishapur, dead ringer, gertrude stein, Mina Zarfsaz, vox populi gallery

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