Critics’ Picks

View of “Mahmoud Bakhshi,” 2017.

London

Mahmoud Bakhshi

narrative projects
110 New Cavendish St
January 26 - March 11

Mahmoud Bakhshi’s installation The Unity of Time and Place, 2017, is chilling and timely, reminding us of how history ineluctably repeats itself. The show pivots around two key moments in Iranian history: the coup d’état of 1953 (orchestrated by British and American intelligence agencies to overthrow Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in favor of Fazlollah Zahedi) and the 1978 arson of Cinema Rex, which led to about four hundred fatalities—the tinder that set the Iranian Revolution alight. Both occurred in the city of Abadan on August 19, twenty-five years apart.

Bakhshi inhabits this historical circularity by screening a pair of videos on either side of a thin dividing wall. The gallery space becomes a butterflied, mirror-image movie theater: two screens, two rows of old wooden folding chairs, two carpeted spaces with bric-a-brac piled into corners. On one side of the wall we see actors in a play, performing for a laughing audience. It is a moment from the 1974 film Gavaznha (The Deer)—the film was being shown at Cinema Rex the night it burned. Bakhshi believes that particular scene was the backdrop to hundreds of bodies being consumed by flames.

On the other side of the wall we are confronted by Gavaznha’s director, Masoud Kimiai—his head stretches from floor to ceiling. His watery eyes and lined face react as he too confronts the grisly legacy of the film that made him famous. The two videos play while traditional mourning songs from Abadan waft throughout the space. The music seeps into everything, especially you. Bakhshi’s work is a play within a play, a Russian doll of nested stories. Time keeps turning in ever-widening circles.