Critics’ Picks

Raha Raissnia, Fountain, 2017, charcoal on paper, 36 x 60".

Raha Raissnia, Fountain, 2017, charcoal on paper, 36 x 60".

New York

Raha Raissnia

The Drawing Center
35 Wooster Street
December 1, 2017–February 4, 2018

“All a blur”: We describe monotony the same way we describe chaos. Raha Raissnia’s drawings, despite their quiet consistency, have their genesis in revolution. Amid the 1979 uprising in Iran against Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the artist, then a child, accompanied her father to the streets of downtown Tehran, where he would photograph demonstrations. She inherited his interest in the medium, and in “Alluvius”—her debut solo museum show—Raissnia reckons with tensions of identity and form by rephotographing and then drawing found archival imagery amassed over time. Rather than contest the notion that the camera lays claim to utter truth, Raissnia unsettles distinctions between media to suggest how images are laundered into personal truths. Perception becomes a kind of skeleton key, one remade and remade again unto meaningful divergence.

“Alluvius,” 2016, one of two series here, consists of a dozen mixed-media drawings. One can make out urban architecture; a wraithlike face; and a spectral human hand cupped into a claw, reaching into darkness. The smaller charcoal drawings that form “Canto,” 2017, blurry and luciform, appear less drawn than impressed. Occasionally, shadows resolve into human silhouettes, slurred by Raissnia’s translation. The exhibition’s centerpiece is in the corner, where an analog projector relays a carousel of hand-painted, 35-mm slides onto a framed scrim. Slides depict faces and hands as time nearly stills, expiring in slow, satisfying ticks. The source image for a larger work, Fountain, 2017, was scavenged from the trash (a box of slides had been thrown out by a lab at Brooklyn College). The drawing, muddily Photorealist, depicts a seemingly abandoned mosque’s empty fountain. While a different artist might have used this backstory to evoke annihilative neglect concerning personal and national memory, Raissnia, through her process, suggests a more generative decay.