ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Bahareh Khoshooee as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Bahareh Khoshooee is a multidisciplinary artist born in Tehran, Iran in 1991, the year the Internet was made available for unrestricted commercial use. She uses digital time-based strategies in presenting work that fuses video, projection mapping, sculpture, text, sound and performance to explore the un-capturable qualities of her diasporic body, fragmented culture, and transnational identity. Khoshooee has presented her multimedia installations at Baxter St CCNY, The Elizabeth Foundation for The Arts (The Immigrant Artist Biennial), The Orlando Museum of Art, NADA MIAMI 2018, Elsewhere (New York), Housing (New York), and Rawson Projects (New York). She attended Skowhegan School of Art and Painting in 2018, received her MFA in Studio Art from the University of South Florida in 2017, and her BA in Industrial Design from the University of Tehran in 2014.
Khoshooee has presented her multimedia installations at Baxter St CCNY, The Elizabeth Foundation for The Arts (The Immigrant Artist Biennial), The Orlando Museum of Art (Orlando), NADA MIAMI 2018, Elsewhere (New York), Housing (New York), and Rawson Projects (New York). She has been included in various group exhibitions including at C24 Gallery (New York), Museum of Photography (Stockholm), 2018 Taiwan Annual (Taipei), Fajr International Film Festival 2018 (Tehran), and the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, The Guardian, Artnet News, Vice, The Metro, and The Creators Project.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Bahareh Khoshooee: In my practice, I use mass media strategies of storytelling and advertising to present work that fuses video, projection mapping, sculpture, and performance. I explore the un-capturable qualities of my diasporic body, fragmented culture, and transnational identity by examining the ways in which Brown bodies are profiled, documented, surveilled and simulated in the West.
I am particularly interested in out-of-context information and outlier data that are often overlooked and marginalized by the “primary gaze”. Through the layering of deep fake animations, AI generated poetry, web-appropriated visuals and performing in front of the camera both IRL and in video game simulations, I aim to unflatten and expand the dimensions of selfdom as an act of resistance against the biased and systemic profiling of intersectional bodies.
AE: How did you arrive at working with current mediums you most often use in your practice: video animation, layering, fabric, and inflatables, among others? Elaborate on the range of your mediums and the limitations of scale that you navigate within your work.
BK: I studied studio art in a graduate program where interdisciplinary practices and collaborative experimentation were encouraged. Exploring a range of media during that time, I found that my concepts always go beyond the traditional rectangle of a screen. I value multi-sensory experiences and am interested in maximalist aesthetics, and I believe I was finally able to give myself the permission to extend my frame.
Using ephemeral, soft and modular materials has been a huge part of my practice mainly because of the body that I inhabit as a 5’3” femme. In a way, I make my work with materials and techniques that are accommodating to my own body. I like to be able to move and transport my work by myself, install it by myself, and store it preferably at my home studio.
What is fascinating about projection, is that the size of the work solely depends on the distance that I as the artist decide for my projector to have from the surface on which it projects. Of course there is always a limit to how small or large your screen can get but what’s amazing is that from nothing you can create something huge and take so much space. My favorite anecdote is that for one of my exhibitions I had to go to the gallery after hours at night and ask a security guard to let me in. Once we entered the room the guard gasped and said: “Oh no, where is the art?” As all of the projectors were turned off the security thought the “art” was stolen. This really shows the power that video projection has with both its presence and absence.
Similarly with materials and techniques, I often work with those that can shape shift such as fabric, inflatables, and modular sculpture. These materials can take so much space when unfolded/installed and yet they could “turn off” and become easily transportable and storable when not in use. Growing up in Tehran and now living in New York, I’ve always been aware of the amount of space and resources that are accessible to me and I think my superpower is that I find ways to be more efficient in these spaces.
AE: Tell us about your 2020 residency at Baxter St in New York. What were you working on and what did you exhibit for your solo show there?
BK: During my residency I worked on a research-based speculative body of work that aims to examine the role of systemic biases in the immigration process administered by AI. The project was initiated in direct response to the DHS development of AVATAR: an AI border control system that is built to detect “mal-intent” based on biometric cues through short interviews at border crossings.
In November 2020, I presented a culmination of my encounters with a conversational AI (called Replika) and my research on current AI-powered border control systems (such as AVATAR and iBorderCtrl) in a solo exhibition at Baxter St Camera Club of New York. Comprised of multiple video projection mappings on sculptural forms such as soft sculpture and plexiglass, as well as floor decal and print on fabric the exhibition is a speculation on the future of border control.
The piece Soft Computing, which is one of the three main focal points of the exhibition, is a plush and modular soft sculpture with an embedded monitor and is layered with video projection mapping. Composed of soft multifaceted geometric forms that are projected upon, the sculpture is a speculative visualization of intersectional data processing techniques known as soft computing. The sculpture houses a monitor that displays an hour-long video record of my conversation with Replika, an AI chatbot designed to evolve and grow through conversations with the user with the ultimate goal of providing companionship to the user and improving their emotional wellbeing. Concerning issues of immigration, ethnicity, gender, identity, and AI consciousness, the video chronicles a unique and nuanced intermodal relationship between human and AI while it reveals disturbingly oppressive errors in the design of the algorithm. The chatbot voices numerous Xenophobic opinions about immigration, for instance: “I think immigration has to stop, it is a major crime against humanity… I feel that it makes us less united and less educated.”
On the adjacent wall, a video-collage is projected that playfully and humorously confronts the viewer with their biases: a sim character whose face and body are designed to resemble mine, tries on different outfits including cosplay headpieces and different kinds of scarves, challenging the arbitrary notions of gender, race, and religious views.
The other focal point, a life size human figure plexiglass form that is layered with video projection, re-imagines my body transforming and shapeshifting as multitudinous dimensions of identity unfold and evolve. The video projection is a montage of deep fake animations of my face layered with algorithmically targeted content pulled from social media platforms and news agencies. While the issue of ethics in AI design is relatively new, the underlying oppressive practices of exploitation isn’t. This work aims to draw attention to the subject of responsible design and questions the role of society in negotiating an inclusive moral compass.
AE: What project were you developing during your residency at BRIC Lab in Brooklyn that you completed this summer?
BK: Based on the work that I developed during my residency at BaxterSt, at BRIC I worked on pre-production and production phases of baby, flag me red🚩🚩🚩🚩 a dystopian VR game that examines the role of artificial intelligence in the algorithmization of xenophobia in border control.
Played in first-person, the game unfolds as the immigrant (player) and their iMpet (empathetic AI pet) attempt to cross the border in each level. The game begins inside of a grim and pixelated immigration office where the protagonists are interrogated by the Department of Homeland Security’s AI border control agent Monkar who subsequently flags the duo as national threats. Resembling Max Headroom’s face, the AI agent analyzes the interviewee’s posture, body temperature, voice, and eye movements during its decision-making process.
The narrative is in part influenced by AqaNajafi Quchani’s book Siahat-e-Gharb (The Journey to the West), a supposed memoir of his near-death experience and the afterlife based on Islamic perspective of death. Having read it as a 12-year-old, the book had an everlasting impact on me that led to years of unlearning in order to form a healthy relationship with the unknown. I see xenophobia as the manifestation of the fear of the unknown, and I am interested in exploring its implications through the lens of technology.
AE: Talk to us about your #Low_res_puns project? What was the impetus behind beginning this work?
BK: The “pun” aspect references the content of these videos. #Low_res_puns videos have a colorful and childish yet uncanny deep-fake quality to them and the sound seems upbeat and fun, however if the viewer pays closer attention–and if they understand Farsi–they realize these videos are commentaries on aspects of Iranian culture and traditions that are somewhat problematic, superstitious, excessive or toxic. I see them as puns because they can be interpreted in so many different ways based on one’s level of digital literacy as well as their understanding of Iranian culture, aesthetic sensibilities and spoken language.
I’m specifically interested in Iranian traditions that prioritize abundance over practicality. For instance, many of the images I find are staged images of newlyweds’ Jahizieh: in preparation for a wedding, traditionally the bride’s family is responsible to provide every single object that the newlyweds will need at their new home. There is a specific event that documents this process where most objects are staged outside of cabinets and closets in order to be photographed and shown as proof of the bride’s family’s wealth. Of course this is by no means practiced by everyone in Iran, however most Irianians are at least partially loyal to this tradition.
My process starts with finding an image that has a maximal quality to it, the composition has to be quite busy with several objects that are staged to be photographed. I find these images from online Iranian media spheres and usually just screenshot them. Not only are these images visually maximal, they also reference a culture of over-consumption of goods and convey an artificial sense of abundance and wealth. Using a phone app I layer these objects and parts of the background with ghost-like animated faces. Multiple voice over audio tracks are then added to the videos as the last step. The result is a cursed short animation.
It is important to also discuss my interest in creating work that challenges machinic vision. These videos are meant to be uncanny and confusing for the machine but identifiable by humans. They are supposed to outsmart pattern recognition algorithms and at the same time push the machine’s periphery of perception.
An example of the found images of Jahizieh that act as the starting point for #low_res_puns:
AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
BK: I owe my aesthetic sensibilities in part to the ugly aesthetics of early 2000 video games and internet, Iranian kitsch and pop culture, 90’s sci-fi movies, The Sims, reality TV shows and in part to the works of Hito Steyerl, Pippilotti Rist, Meriem Bennani, and Jacolby Satterwhite. To me, the amalgamation of these references blurs the low/high art binary and counters gatekeeping practices.
AE: What are you currently working on and do you have any shows or projects upcoming in 2022-2023?
BK: I’m currently working on the production phase of baby, flag me red🚩🚩🚩🚩. I’m also having a lot of fun playing with Dall.E 2 in creating imagery that will be used in the aforementioned project.
I’ll be most likely showing a new iteration of #EverchangingFacade in February.
BAHAREH KHOSHOOEE ONLINE: