Siah Armajani’s exhibition was quite interesting for me – there were many elements which carried some significant meaning to them as I learnt about him and his past experiences dealing with reactions to the political climate and the people involved in them back in his home country – Iran. They included the way he used similar-looking chairs throughout every installation in there, the use of small holes on some chairs to contain the pencils and the spaces which are meant to be inviting and communal.
Ana, the tour guide explained to us how the use of chairs were significant in Siah’s work – in remembrance of two political activists who were executed in electric chairs and died after being (falsely) accused of wrongdoing that they did not commit. In my opinion, the repetitive use of chairs and how it was being placed created a certain type of mood that does differ simply from the way the chair was being placed. In this particular photo, the chairs that face out the little shelter was actually reminiscent of the way prison guards sat when they are on guard duty. You feel like you are watchful of your environment especially of anybody walking past you into the shelter. Similarly, the way the lone chair are placed indoors seem to suggest a sense of isolation, and when I was in there I kept looking around, sideways and up where I can see light outside. It was quiet dark in there, but it wasn’t uncomfortable either.
The way each pencil is held up by a wooden stand in equal rows and columns seems to be quite an odd sight to see. I thought that was quite strange. It was quite functional in a way because I could use them to write down a feedback form towards the end of the visit. I tried to find some relationship between the way the pencils work with the chairs and the shelter. They could be there to remind you of the sharp pricks on a chair that is meant to show some kind of discomfort when you look at it from afar. There was one reclining chair where it was completely covered with the pencil holders. So, it was quite funny to see how it looks like you could sit on it but you actually can’t. One of my classmates and I were standing around it discussing about whether we could sit on it or no – and he decided to sit on it. Some of the pencils broke and that’s when he realize it’s not an actual place to sit. I thought that was the funny – but the curator walked up to us quickly and told us it is okay she will replace the pencils herself. I was laughing inside, but I couldn’t figure out how he could possibly think this was something you could sit on.
Moving on, the communal feel to the whole installation can actually be felt. There were no restrictions in navigating through the spaces – we could sit on the chair, we could pick up a pencil and write on them, we could pick out books in the booktrays, we could lay out a book on the book holder as we read them quietly, and we found it easy to talk in between the spaces because they were open. I guess the communal way of interacting with each other is evident here and it does feel like the artist is providing us an avenue that allows us to exchange ideas and formulate plans for a better the people we are a part of. . Overall, I felt that this installation was made really reminded me of the kampong feel to it, and it really does give an idea of what a community would look like. At the same time, based on the artist’s commemoration of two political activities who were executed in electric chairs, these chairs were quite nostalgic in remembering how painful and betrayed it must have been for what these two people have gone through.