I have been a fan of Armita’s work for years. Her beautiful sculptures that play with shadow, architecture and textiles caught my eye and I was immediately hooked as a fan. I have been following her career since and felt that at some point we’d get the opportunity to work together which finally came to fruition last winter. After I realized that we were working in the same building last summer, I got to visit her studio, and shortly after, got to have her work in a curatorial project. I was so impressed with her enthusiasm, elegance, and drive. Her work is truly remarkable, I hope you enjoy getting to know more about it as much as I have!
Let’s start with one of the more obvious influences in your work, architecture. You seem to approach much of your work in the manner in which an architect thinks, how we as individuals will encounter and interact with the work as much as the details of the work itself respond to and reflect on architectural forms. Can you tell us a little about that inspiration? Did you ever study architecture? Do you have a good story of an installation that was specifically inspired by the space the artwork was in?
My work questions how architectural and ornamental forms — in this case Muqarnas that date back to the 10th century — can mean something else now. What does it mean to take these forms out of their original context, rearrange them, reassemble them, and combine and construct them with different materials and then place them in another situation far away from their site of origin. How can this activity create new readings and does it twist the weight of the history associated with the original forms?
I did not study architecture but while going to university in Tehran for my BFA I took art history classes on Islamic architecture which really fascinated me. As a child and a young adult I traveled around Iran a lot with my family, each year we would explore a different city and visit historic sites. I currently reflect on architecture through the way I install my work, emphasizing areas such as corners, nooks, and hidden spaces. These spaces are equally as important as large spaces and massive walls.
I build my sculptures intuitively. I start with an idea and a specific form but never know what the end result will be. A lot of experimentation happens in the process of building and over time I learned to embrace happy accidents in my work.
In 2016 I made an installation for HORSEANDPONY Fine Arts in Berlin. The space inspired me. Their space was an old butcher shop with original art nouveau tiles. The space had a lot of character and, in general, I am interested in spaces that have their own unique history and character. The wall opposite where I was to install my piece was covered with original art nouveau tiles and I incorporated a few of them given to me by the directors in creating that piece. It really made sense for the space and created tension in the work that I felt was very successful, two different histories came together in one piece.
Color is also something that I’d love to ask you about. A lot of your work has been primarily white and a deep cobalt blue makes a common reappearance, however I’ve noticed a few new pieces exploring some other options. What significance does color play in your work? Does using that specific blue have a particular meaning to you? Is there a different color that you’re interested in experimenting with in future work?
I tend to gravitate to more monochromatic palettes, variations of whites or blues, but recently I began incorporating blacks, greens, gold and pinks. I don’t know exactly why this shift has happened but I’m sure I will find out. Given the way I work, I don’t necessarily have answers for the decisions I made in the process of making. After working with a certain theme, composition, and color for a while and sitting with the pieces, the answers become clear to me.
The white pieces are the first ones in my series of Muqarnas, comb-like sculptures. At that time I was thinking of silence and things that are slowed down to a moment of pause psychologically. It is hard for me to explain this but somehow something slows you down and stays me in a moment: A fragment of a memory then everything else stops and one moment is all there is. This fragment is hard to put it into words. In the movies of Béla Tarr, Andrei Tarkovsky, Abbas Kiarostami, and sometimes Ingmar Bergman, there is this slowing down of time, a psychological silence, these frozen moments exist for me and I see my works as an attempt to represent this frozen moment of tension between what was and is now.
When I lived in Chicago, I used to work with specific blues. They were very close to the ones used in Islamic architecture, specifically the mosques of Isfahān. The Jāmeh mosque and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque have stayed with me since the first time I saw them. Back then, I felt the need to explore this connection, later I didn’t have that need or desire and I wanted to move away from those specific hues.
Those blues have cultural significances, such as nostalgia for water in parts of the country that were dryer habitats or desert.
Later, the color blue returned to me and I continued researching its significance to understand why I was drawn to it. One book in particular that I found revelatory was Bluets by Maggie Nelson. The variations and intensities of the color became a new area to explore through its emotional resonance. The way I began to combine blue with fabrics or other materials and colors was very different. I wanted to create movement and optical illusions which led me to use metallic fabrics that would change color and intensity of hue when viewed from different angles.
It is fascinating to me how the same color has different meanings and interpretations throughout history and in different parts of the world. They can symbolize life and living in one place, power and wealth in another place, or sadness and gloom in another.
One of the things I love about your work is that it surprises you when seeing it at different angles and viewpoints. The shadows and caverns of the form lead you to discoveries of mirrors, tiles even lace when you get up close. There’s a lovely combination of pattern and form mixed with the unexpected, less constructed and more “raw” appearance. It’s like we as viewers got to see this work organically change or almost decay before our eyes. Can you tell us a little about the significance of this aesthetic style? What was the inspiration to work in this way?
In my earlier works the focus was on ruins, destruction, and what is left behind but now I think of my work as the coming together of opposites.
I’m interested in the marriage of opposites such as fragility and strength, the sense of vulnerability that exists between fragments and a whole. Things fall apart but at the same time hold together. I wish to convey a sense for this feeling in my current work.
Reflective surfaces such as mirrors and metallic fabrics play a big part in most of my works. The way these materials along with mesh, lace and transparent materials affect our visual perception is something I continue to investigate.
Because of the nature of the work, which is sculptural, different viewpoints and angels are equally important to me. I constantly go back and forth to make sure what I envision is achieved from every angel.
As I mentioned briefly earlier, it seems like you may be at the beginning of a new series. Can you let our readers in on a preview of this work?
I still start with a specific form, which somehow has become like a palette for me. This new shift is less architectural — it has a life of its own and can have different interpretations. I always try to weave my personal narrative into the sculptures. With the new ones I’m doing more of that. They can resemble body parts. Some of them I don’t understand fully yet, I have to sit with them for a while to understand.
Lastly, since your work is very responsive to the location it’s exhibited in, is there an alternative type of location or venue that you have always wanted to do an installation? (for example, church or temple, an outdoor installation, an old subway platform…any type of non-traditional space that perhaps you find architectural inspiration from? Why there?)
I am interested in all of the ones you mentioned. I would add that I am intrigued by abandoned buildings. Places that have history and character and were used for a specific purpose and constructed with great care are fascinating to me. Installing there is like imagining layers of history on top of each other.
Do you have any favorite female artists?
Many, some that come to mind now: Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Arlene Shechet, Rachel Whiteread, Sasha Waltz.
Do you have any upcoming shows or events that you’d like to share?
I’m looking forward to a workspace residency at Wave Hill in the Bronx next winter and my first public site specific installation with Art-in-buildings program at 55 fifth avenue, New York.