Comments/Context: With the widespread use of the wall-sized, photographic tableau, the underlying form has become as predictable to contemporary viewers as the structure of a minuet or rondo would be to classical music listeners. It's a style that is big, and glossy, and staged, mixing elements of realism and fiction into a heady brew of subtly dissonant, often cinematic or surreal ideas, continually evolving down a genetic line that can be traced back to Wall, diCorcia, Crewdson and others. Standing where we are today, with hundreds of tableaux in the rear view mirror, we're no longer particularly interested in the mechanics of this now commonplace form, but rather in how and whether the artist has employed the approach to show us something we haven't seen before.
Iranian-British photographer Mitra Tabrizian's new works use the tableau form to examine the abstract idea of cultural and political dislocation, of being simultaneously both part of a crowd and entirely alone. In many ways an outsider to both of her homelands, she has taken this feeling of alienation and expressed it in scenes that are quietly tied down by invisible weights. Moving back and forth between settings in Iran and England, her subjects inhabit a disconnected version of seemingly everyday reality, passively enduring forces of isolation, oppression, and sadness. Tabrizian's groups of Tehran citizens and London bankers face in all directions, each a solitary individual in the of expanse of the grubby desert (never far from the watchful eyes of the ayatollahs on the nearby billboard) or the polished marble of an anonymous corporate lobby. Even when clustered into bunches of people, there is a visible lack of cohesion, as if the situation was only temporary; while a mass of black clad women trudge along a dusty, soul-sucking road, there is no sense that they are unified by the circumstances. Her most recent images pare down the trauma to a single individual. Posed outside the empty, decaying factories of Leicestershire, solitary older men in dark suits ponder moss covered windows or fallen brick walls with a look of weary, resigned despondency, as if they were the only mourners at long overdue funerals.
Overall, Tabrizian has taken the tableau form and infused it with tough, deadpan desperation, a sense of resigned survival in the face of overbearing ruin. Her single frame narratives of dissociation are surprisingly lonely and forsaken, piling layers of subtle separation into something altogether more heavy and dispiriting.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Leila Heller Gallery
New York, NY 10001