NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 43


Sculptures To Wear; A Review Of Ornaments Designed By Parviz Tanavoli

Ali Bakhtiari

Throughout his career, Parviz Tanavoli has continually pushed the structural and conceptual boundaries of artistic media. Beginning in the late 1950s, his work has explored a wide variety of mediums including poster design, print making, painting, mixed media assemblage, to tremendous cast sculptures, always straddling the line between art and design. At times Tanavoli might be considered an artist, a researcher and scholar, an art collector, or even a designer. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he created invitation cards and posters for his own exhibitions as well as others1, authored numerous books and articles on the informal and formal history of design in Iran, and produced hand-made book in limited edition. He also designed Gabbeh, Kilim (traditional rug), and carpets, chairs and benches, as well as designing of ornaments or jewelry, often referred to as his ‘wearable sculptures’. Contrary to the Western atmosphere of visual art, which has always kept interdisciplinary relations with various artistic media (performance, music, design, film...) extensively, designing ornaments in the history of modern Iranian art has been tangibly far from the visual arts’ scene and even designing atmosphere. Except for Parviz Tanavoli and a few limited samples from Bahman Mohasses and Parvaneh Etemadi and Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, no other modern Iranian artist has ever done ornaments designing.

After completing academic studies of fine art in Italy and America throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Parviz Tanavoli returned to Iran. His approach blends conceptual principles of Western sculpture with traditional craftwork of Iran with a keen understanding of their respective historical contexts. Working within this framework he sometimes refers to himself as a ‘wall-maker’ or ‘nothing-maker’. In his oeuvre, Parviz Tanavoli both implicitly and explicitly references traditional beliefs and literature, visual traditions, as well as architectural and object-making traditions of. In addition to his intense interest in collecting ancient Persian objects such as jewelry, ornaments, metal objects—and in particular locks and spells, vernacular textures, and generic graphic arts—his work is also heavily influenced from nature. While he has had brief experience designing adornments since 1970, he has been continuously designing and creating small sculptures since 2002. Tanavoli considers this practice of making ornaments to be the same as sculpture, albeit in a much smaller dimension.
“... If we take the very tiny sculptures that were created in the millennia BC in different regions of Iran made of bronze and stones and other materials into consideration or pay careful attention to the small pieces used in the horses’ harness, the quality is similar to that of the jewelry. These pieces, which often do not exceed the size of a knuckle, have fascinated me for many years. Although, some people believe that the sculpture finger objects of Lorestan, Kerman, and Khazar Area have not been utilized as the jewelry, and had other usages beyond what we know, maybe for the purposes including touchstone or some games or religious and ritualistic goals, however that does not diminish the quality of them to be like a jewelry. Of course, I did not intend to imitate the works of ancients, nor did I believe in the repetition of traditional jewels, but my intent was to follow my work on a small scale”.2
The physical and graphical structure of spells and their application as a product that is always with its owner is evident in the formal and functional structure of Tanavoli’s ornaments. The deconstruction and manipulation of the written compositions of these spells along with simplifying their forms lend a very primeval quality to some works of Tanavoli. The representations of religious faiths and common beliefs can be found in both sculptures and ornaments made by Tanavoli. These often take the form of Zarih a public prayers place (known as Saqakhaneh) and include windows, a lock, an amulet, a talisman, prayer hands, and cedars and latticework. Other important sources of inspiration for Tanavoli are the components of flags (Alam and Cotal) in the Shiite beliefs, along with prayers and Orad motifs. Birds of flags, lions, paws, cedars and palms, all are elements that are seen in Tanavoli’s ornaments frequently via a simplified aesthetic.
A large collection of his ornaments is based on the form of the word ‘nothing’ like his sculptures. ‘Nothing’ has been sometimes mounted on a ring, sometimes a belt clasp or a sleeve button, and sometimes bracelets and necklaces. There are a variety of ‘nothing’ forms in the collection. The shapes can be curved, asymmetric, geometric, or linear. The manipulated ‘nothings’ have been simplified to the point that they can only be identify by the shape of their ‘H’ apertures (in the Persian alphabets, it appears as:‭ ‬). The structural contradiction of these ‘nothings’, (hands and birds with high bends and arches along with the depth of their regular linear lattices) are quite striking. The early design of this collection—performed with an attention to aesthetics and styling through painting and drawing directly on the paper—are an important legacy in design history. The prevailing materials used by Tanavoli in making these ornaments were bronze and silver, although he sometimes created these sculptures as intimate pieces of jewelry by adding semi-precious stones and jewels such as turquoise and ruby.

 1 Read “Museums Archipelago of Graphic Design”, Neshan 41.
 2 Jewelry by Parviz Tanavoli, Bongah Publishing, 2008.

Ali Bakhtiari

is a Tehran based curator focused on cultural studies and modern and contemporary art. He collaborated with many international museums and centers such as Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, British Museum, Museo MAXXI and Centre Georges Pompidou. He founded ABBookness project in 2011 which is the first Middle Eastern project collaborating with artist on publication of Artist Books. ABBookness already publishe d works of artists such as Farideh Lashai, Parviz Tanavoli, Parvaneh Etemadi and Ali Akbar Sadeghi.

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