ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Golnaz Payani as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Golnaz Payani was born in Tehran in 1986. After obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Painting at the Faculty of Art and Architecture of Tehran, she pursued her studies at the School of Art of Clermont-Ferrand, where she obtained the National Diploma in Plastic Expression (Master of Fine Arts) in 2013. She has held solo and group exhibitions since 2011, in various locations throughout France (Paris, Clermont-Ferrand, Thiers, Toulouse, Grenoble) and abroad (Tehran, London, New York, Turin).
Payani engages with various mediums in her work including sculpture, installation, film, video, and poetry. She is represented by the Praz-Delavallade gallery in Paris/Los Angeles.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Golnaz Payani: I work with various mediums, particularly with fabric, but also with other mediums like plaster. I furthermore create videos and make films.
The theme that fascinates me is the trace. I am passionate about looking for the elements that persist and resist time. I am captivated by the power of the trace. It takes a moment out of the past and makes it appear more visible than anything that lies around us. This force blurs the line between the present and the past, the visible and the invisible, the appearance and the disappearance.
When I arrived in France, I found myself alone in a completely new context, far from my family, friends, and everything I had known before. That’s when I felt like I was the trace of my past life for the first time. I believe that we are nothing but the traces of the moments we have experienced, the places we have lived in, and the things we have seen.
But my interest in these little things that remain and represent an entire world mainly come from all the images of disappearance that I saw when I was younger in Iran. I was born during the war, and I remember very well the buses that brought back soldiers declared missing, the empty graves, the fragmented bodies, and the photos and the objects that were all that was left of a person, these relics that took the place of a son or a father in a family.
AE: In 2018 you took part in the Domaine M residency program in the Forest of Tronçais, the largest and oldest untouched oak forest in western Europe. Can you share some details about this experience and how this residency enabled you to expand your practice in new directions.
GP: Just before this residency, I used to work occasionally with fabric, but I’ve never had enough time to practice as I wanted. Hence I decided to focus on this aspect of my artistic approach while at that residency.
During the first few weeks, I primarily experimented with embroidery. I covered the patterns printed on the fabrics by concealing them under threads of the same color as the background fabric. My inspiration came from what I observed in the residency’s garden. It was early spring, and I perceived the garden as if it was waiting, as if flowers were hidden beneath the soil or life was swelling under the skin of buds, waiting for the right moment to emerge, to reveal itself.
Through my work, I created an allegory of life and death, and of cover-up and concealment, all of them representing the fundamental function of textile objects. Indeed, we use textiles to hide many things, like some parts of our bodies, and in their stead, we offer an alternative vision, replacing them with drapes, floral patterns, vibrant colors, or various shades of black.
Through research and experimentation with fabric, I discovered the technique of unweaving, which allowed me to better express my favorite themes. This technique also opened me up to other perspectives, including the idea of creating from a weakened object. Since then, I’ve been using destruction as a creative gesture.
With each stitch of the needle or of my seam ripper, I engraved every second of time on the smooth surface of the fabric, folding time itself. Alongside Michel, the director of the residence, we explored the word “germination” and the different meanings it can take on … In this residence, I experienced poetry, where my work, my hand, my body, the garden, and the threads of our discussions formed a unique harmonious entity.
AE: You engage with a wide variety of fabric within your work. What is your process of choosing your fabric?
GP: I buy fabric like a painter buys paint. A red fabric is a red ocean spreading out on the fabric merchant’s table. But also, it’s the textile material that interests me; each fabric is a universe, each pattern has its own personality. In this sense, I also look at the textile material with the eye of a sculptor. “The work of the sculptor is to reveal the spirit of the material,” as Giuseppe Penone says. When I buy fabric, I think about the room that could have been wallpapered with it or the person who could have brought it.
AE: Recent series have included frames as part of your works. Talk about the way you present your work and the role of framing within your practice.
GP: In two new series, On the Edge of Oblivion and The Portraits, I worked with old frames that I installed on the wall in the same manner portraits of family members were hung in the 19th century or in 18th-century salons, like Madame Geoffrin’s. These frames were used to display portraits of important family members or significant figures such as writers and ministers.
These installations allowed me to delve into the heart of the subject of “portraits,” while my work with fabric allows me to speak about their absence. Here, it matters not if the person was important or not; it’s the absence of a person that is significant.
Moreover, these frames, seemingly ancient, are filled with a past life. One can imagine the photos or paintings that were once framed within them. With these series, I have tried to reinvent their stories.
AE: Tell us about your body of work, L’Ombre des Oasis (2019). What is the conceptual framework behind this series? How does the technique you use here reflect and relate to the initial concept?
GP: The exhibition L’Ombre des oasis (The Shadow of the Oases) was a reflection on the idea of Paradise in Iran and the concept of representation.
For the whole series, I worked on images derived from the meaning of Paradise in Iran. Paradise, which represents the idea of a perfect place, finds its embodiment in Persian gardens. What is peculiar is that from the Iranian perspective, there is no shadow in Paradise as light comes from all sides. This is why Persian miniatures never depict shadows. However, the main concern in Persian gardens, mainly built in cities near the desert, was precisely to bring shadows. A garden without shadow served no purpose. Eventually, these gardens transformed into patterns like “Gol-o-morgh” (the flower and the nightingale), scentless flowers, and birds that no longer sang. These patterns further flattened and, in turn, became floral patterns painted on tiles or printed on fabric. With this series and my work of unweaving and embroidery, I tried to show that the idea of representation itself is utopian.
AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
GP: It’s partly my work at the studio that gives me ideas. What happens often is that what I had planned doesn’t happen. Deleuze said that “having an idea” is a celebration for artists, and for me, it’s rather this so-called “happy mistake” that is the celebration. It allows me to discover new paths and new forms. Stephen Hawking said that man is the product of nature’s mistakes. I believe in that, I believe that to create, there must be an element of error, and one must provoke surprise to achieve something new.
Photos, flea markets, and the real and fictional stories also influence my work.
I am also highly sensitive to films. The artist who influenced me the most is Tarkovsky, with his films and their atmospheres, as well as what he says in his book “Sculpting in Time.” Additionally, artists like Chantal Akerman, Abbas Kiarostami, Bela Tarr, etc., also had an impact on me.
If I’m looking to develop an idea, I listen to Max Richter. But the choice of the musician varies from one period to another. Once it was Vivaldi, another time Keyhan Kalhor, then Ravel and Debussy, Mahler, Chet Baker, Philip Glass, etc. I’ve found that these pieces of music, such as film soundtrack, leave room for imagery and imagination.
And then there are philosophical, psychological, or scientific ideas that introduce me to a new vocabulary and influence my visual language, as well as opening up my spoken language. Concepts such as the importance of experience in phenomenology, the resilience concept in psychology, the way Alzheimer’s patients remember things, or how we “perceive” color. These ideas allow me to explore the meaning of “trace” from different angles.
AE: What are you currently working on and do you have any shows or projects upcoming in 2023-2024?
GP: I am currently working on several solo exhibitions. The first one is scheduled for November at the Château des Charmettes in Torcy, France. The second will take place in January 2024 at the Alexandra David Neel Museum in Digne-les-Bains, also in France. And the third solo exhibition will be held in Los Angeles, at the Praz-Delavallade Gallery, in June 2024.
GOLNAZ PAYANI ONLINE: