“Prayer Rug,” Imam Zadeh Saleh, Summer of 2002
This installation titled “Prayer Rug,” involved nine prayer rugs, on top of which a traditional Persian meal was served. Installed on sight at Imam Zadeh Saleh, elements of this worked echoed in a collaborative creation titled “Permutations of Three” set in similar formation during December 2003. Upon my arrival at Imam Zadeh Saleh, in 2002, I was greeted with curious faces. I sat down on the marble floor, and began to unpack prayer rugs and food when one of the women watching me came over and, without uttering a single word, began to help me pass the food to spectators. As the food dissipated, I left the installation to take photos of the mosque at call of prayer. When I returned, I found the prayer rugs moved out of formation. Rearranged to point towards Mecca, the prayer rugs had transformed from my initial sculptural plan, to their original purpose as objects. In this experience I found that losing control over the eventual interpretation of my installation allowed the work to become vulnerable to outside influences, thus providing a moment of clarity, reflection, and interruption not just for the viewers, but also my self.
Review by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette:
“The artist leaves her prayer rugs in her Imam Zadeh Saleh mosque project, abandoning to the future what she calls “a comfort zone, a meeting ground, an interstitial space,” created out of the ritual of interactions between herself and others. Perhaps the minds of the young men and women she spoke with were moved, like her prayer rugs, but she will never know.
The nature of the liminal is that it always hovers just below the surface of consciousness, in that in-between space of possibility. The nature of hybridity is that it can never be resolved or rescued from its manifest complexity. The paradox of performance is that it must end and not generate an object and should never cease to exist in the memory where it is endlessly reconstituted. Like Joseph Beuys, Marjan Vayghan practices “social sculpture,” or what Beuys called an “expanded concept of art.” Beuys gave up the outmoded practices of art-making for an anthropological notion of art, saying, “To hell with creation—man is the creator himself!” In her performances, which reenact her cultural hybridity, Vayghan seems to echo the ideas of the late artist and appears to revive his notion of art as a healing process. As Beuys said in 1969,
It’s important to expand, to get away from the unusable concept of formal creativity. It’s creative when a person occupies himself with anatomy or with geography…the person takes on a sculptural quality himself: he gets interested and he’ll see that forms have context, that they have responsibility. You can’t just tell a person to do something “creative.” You have to think about expanded connections.
Perhaps the minds of the young men and women she spoke with were moved, like her prayer rugs, but she will never know. Spivak asked,
How can we touch the consciousness of the people, even as we investigate their practices? With what voice consciousness can the subaltern speak?
Vayghan has found a voice consciousness in her works of social sculpture. Her actions and performances are silent and refuse to speak in the theoretically stilted prose of post-colonial discourse, which only echoes the master’s voice. In refuting reinscription, Vayghan plays out the philosophy of Pierre Machery, who said in 1978,
What is important in a work is what it does not say…what the work cannot say is important, because there the elaboration of utterance is carried out in a sort of journey to silence.
Working in a time of war, when she is identified as the “enemy” by both sides, Marjan Vayghan has succeeded in answering the question asked by Spivak two decades ago: “Can the subaltern speak?” The subaltern can speak, authentically and powerfully, through social practices that produce sculpted rituals that are touched and changed by an audience who has been confronted by an expanded art form. The subaltern uses silence to speak. “
Numerological elements of “Prayer Rugs” echoed in a collaborative creation titled “Permutations of Three,” set in similar formation during December 2003: