Gradual Deconstruction

Golrokh Nafisi, Giulia Crispiani
Performance/Installation Beirut – Tehran 2017

I recounted the story of Apartment Number 8 to Giulia Crispiani, my collaborator, when we were sitting on the balcony of Beit-e-Sanayeh, staring at the construction tower across the street. For a moment, observing the scene in front of us, if what we were looking at was Tehran or Beirut.

Forever surrounded by scaffoldings, infinite numbers of tower blocks forever stuck in the future are recurring landmarks both in Beirut and Tehran. They flatten aesthetics, making of two cities one. The towers are moments of suspension, structures of the incomplete, not meant to be lived in yet. Beit-e-Sanayeh is a house doomed to be sooner or later scraped away by a building site. Beit-e-Sanayeh is a space of suspension, not destined for everyday living, but in itself a site for construction.

In this project, I attempted to offer gradual deconstructions of certain aspects of the city in order to push those around me to consider aspects of the memory and history embedded in the urban geography around us. Just as I described above the relationship of Beit-e-Sanayeh to the forever stuck in the future towers under construction around us, I created a map of Tehran and invited the audience to explore the urban geography through the memories embedded in it for me, both on the personal level and on the broader level of Iran’s modern social and political history.

Tehran is a city forever in motion, and the many changes of names across the city due to political reasons is a testament to these constant changes. For the audience, I pointed out how the names of many places were loaded with historical and personal baggage. I pointed out, I offered these to explore how our personal memories are caught up with larger political and social histories, and all of these are embedded in the urban landscape.

For the audience, the similarities of the stories I told from Tehran with Beirut everywhere to be seen. The building itself was a normal but quite old building being destroyed for new urban development, part of the constant building an rebuilding of Tehran so epitomized in those towers of the future that would now replace Apartment 8 as well.

Apartment Number 8 is the epitome of its own city, Tehran, a place suspended between crumbling and giving birth. Beit-e-Sanaye, standing steadfast in Beirut, is the house that was always and will no longer be. Like all the houses in Tehran, it is a space of fierce domestic resistance to fast rootless change. In this narration, Beirut met Tehran, as Beite-Sanayeh joined the last celebration before Apartment Number 8’s demolition.

I began my gradual deconstruction of the emotional geography of Tehran for the audience with the following poem that Giulia Crispiani wrote:

“Our bodies never touched, but our voices are crossing.
Our stories are distant, but we reckon sometimes, echoing.
Until the moment we visited each other, sat on the balcony, and started a conversation. Here, on this balcony, we realized we had many things in common.
We could not meet physically, but we met in the amygdala after turning into memories.
Senaye House and Apartment Number 8 never met.
Before tonight, the only place where they coexisted was in my mind”

Read it here