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Melissa Heer

Restaging Time: Photography, Performance and Anachronism in Shadi

Ghadirians Qajar Series
This paper looks at a group of photographs entitled Qajar Series (1998) by artist Shadi
Ghadirian. Ghadirian recreates sets to look like those used in photographic portraits taken
during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century of the Qajar dynasty period and
dresses her female sitters in costumes reminiscent of clothes from the era. The artist also
integrates contemporary objects that do not t within the historical setting created for
the camera. This essay examines how the artist uses performance to stage this
anachronism and think critically about temporal discourses and their links to the
categories of modernity and tradition.
Asingle Pepsi can, resting upon the knee of a young woman in Shadi Ghadirians Qajar
Series (1998), is an out-of-place prop articially placed in a setting also obviously staged
for the camera. The Pepsi can is an anachronistic detail referencing the present within a
scene made to look like it is from the past. The image is one of thirty-three sepia-toned
photographs from Qajar Series in which Ghadirian recreates a set reminiscent of those
used in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Iranian studio portraits with the use
of painted backdrops, stiff formal frontal poses and Qajar-style dress. Yet most of the
images also have a prop or detail, like a Pepsi can, vacuum cleaner or boom box,
which seems out of place in time. These details mimic the aesthetic of a banal prop
that might appear in a historical studio portrait, bearing the presentation of a subtle
detail, but carrying the undertone of an assertive pronouncement of difference.
A number of art critics and curators, such as Martha Weiss, Curator of Photographs
at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, have read the anachronism in Ghadir-
ians work as indicative of the tensions between tradition and modernity in Iranian
This visual analysis associates the objects of the present with modernity and
the set and costume of the past with tradition and sees both as sharing a conicting
coexistence in daily life in Iran. While the costume and setting from the Qajar period
indelibly make reference to Irans historical past, and objects like a Pepsi can or
Melissa Heer is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Art History and the University of Minnesota,
Twin Cities.
Martha Weiss, Foreword, in Shadi Ghadirian: Iranian Photographer, ed. Rose Issa (London and
Berkeley, CA, 2008); see also Ellen Freedman, Foreign Objects Photographs, Womens Review of
Books, 27, no. 3 (2010): 18; Lisa Farjam, Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East (London, 2009).
Iranian Studies, volume 45, number 4, July 2012
ISSN 0021-0862 print/ISSN 1475-4819 online/12/04053712
2012 The International Society for Iranian Studies
vacuum cleaner are certainly linked to the late 1990s when these photographs were
taken, it is nonetheless relevant to ask: if these images visually convey a tension
between tradition and modernity, how exactly do these categories play out
through the aesthetic temporal arrangements in Ghadirians work? Moreover, how
is a politics of time inherently implied in the very temporal arrangement of tradition
and modernity? If taken as simply self-evident entities in Ghadirians work, these cat-
egories are not only divorced from the historical enterprises of colonialism, develop-
ment, capitalism and nationalism that produced them, but also removed from the
East/West mapping implied in their placement in time. To that end, if these cat-
egories are thought to be simply visually accessible on the at surface of Ghadirians
photographs, then time becomes the apolitical plane upon which they stand.
Yet the elements of performance in Qajar Series suggest that time, and its relation-
ship to tradition and modernity, is held up to a more a scrutinizing lens. The series
involves a continuous play between illusionistic realism and self-reexive artice, and
highlights how time itself is arranged and performed. This essay considers how
Ghadirians anachronism acts as a critical strategy through which to evaluate the
very production of time in relation to cultural and historical difference. The recreated
Qajar-era setting and contemporary detail share resonating theatrical aesthetics and
elements of performance laden with a deeper and more textured temporality, which
unsettle the conventions of a progressive, linear, coherent model of time and the
categories that depend upon its framework.
Qajar Series stands at the intersection of performance and photography. While it
does not t the standard model of performance, as it is not a live event, it is often
referred to as a photo-performance project. Ghadirian uses lighting, gesture and
the directorial placement of both subjects and environments to create tableaux per-
formed for the camera. Moreover, her photo-performance is unabashedly articial
and does not stake claim on the veracity of the photographic medium. Rather, she
uses theatricality and artice in a manner that elucidates how careful timing and
presentation is used in the production of a still scene for the camera.
Moreover, Qajar Series direct engagement with temporality as a subject of analysis
highlights the complex function of time in relation to performance at largeand
more specically as it is tied to the confusing relationship between performance and
photography. Performance theorists such as Peggy Phelan and Rebecca Schneider
have wrestled with how to understand the function of time in relation to the ontology
of performance, the mechanically reproduced document and the archive. As addressed
in the latter part of this essay, these thinkers debate howto understand the way in which
time works in regard to the ephemeral nature of performance and the still media
that document and archive it. For Phelan, because performance only happens within
a eeting moment of time, it is representation without reproduction and holds
signicant potential for understanding the limitations of the image in the political
eld of the gendered and racial other.
At stake in her argument is howto understand
the relationship between performing bodies, visual representation and power.
Peggy Phalen, Unmarked: the Politics of Performance (New York, 1993), 11.
538 Heer
Similarly, complex networks of power and representation are central to the
interrogation of temporal structures by theorists analyzing time across the elds of
anthropology, history and postcolonial studies. A critique of time is at the crux of
Dipesh Chakrabartys famous theorization of the way in which the non-West is
placed in a type of temporal relegation in the waiting room of history before
being perceived as acquiring its own political and historical consciousness.
In his
text Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference Chakra-
barty critically analyzes the seeming diffusiveness of the West and the way in which
such a narrative enables the reading of non-western knowledge production as a loca-
lized and awed version of European thought. Thus, he argues, it is valuable to
examine the conceptual subsistence and employments of nineteenth century ideas
of political modernity and historicism. Historicism for Chakrabarty is the idea
that to understand anything it has to be seen in its historical development, a practice
that enabled the type of thinking that sees knowledge as rst West and then else-
where as it made modernity and capitalism look not simply global but rather as
something that became global over time, by originating in one place (Europe) and
then spreading outside it.
The critique of time and the notion of temporal distance were most directly taken
up by the cultural anthropologist Johannes Fabian in his book Time and the Other:
How Anthropology Makes its Object. Here, Fabian makes an epistemological critique
of the eld of anthropology. He examines how European anthropological discourse
constructed representations of non-western subjects in a manner in which difference
appears in terms of temporal distance.
Time acts a mechanism through which to
dene the relationship between the Self and the Other, while the West used Time
to accommodate the schemes of a one-way history: progress, development, modernity,
and their negative mirror images: stagnation, underdevelopment, tradition.
Prathama Banerjee, in her book Politics of Time: Primitives and History-writing in
a Colonial Society, looks directly at the way in which modernity is dened though tem-
poral discourses. Working within the context of late nineteenth and early twentieth
century Bengal, she examines altering conceptions of time in colonial modernity
and the emerging dominance of the historical. Banerjee denes modernity as the
dominance of the historical, by which the historical tries to become not just one
but the only way of acting for the future.
It is this dominance that constitutes a
resistance to practices that do not t within a developmental and representational
framework of time. Modernity depends upon presenting itself as the height of devel-
opment through temporal competence. She writes:
Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference
(Princeton, NJ, 2000), 8.
Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, 67.
Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object (New York, 1983), 34.
Fabian, Time and the Other.
Prathama Banerjee, Politics of Time: Primitives and History-writing in a Colonial Society
(New Delhi, 2006), 1.
Shadi Ghadirians Qajar Series 539
That is, modernity appears as temporal competence, an advantage that the posterior
possesses over the prior, exclusively because of the formers advanced position of
time In other words, in modernity, time appears as something which does not
simply pass, nor as something articulated in memory. Time remains always
already available in the form of a cumulation of value and knowledge.
While Banerjee concurs with the ways in which postcolonial studies has critiqued the
notion of a singular temporal denition of modernity and has demonstrated the sim-
ultaneous functioning of multiple modernities, she is interested in looking specically
at the way in which dominant modernity translates any alterity as temporal alterity.
Thus, she writes against a model of empty time in which cultures are positioned in a
succession of difference and value.
If the images in Qajar Series were read through an empty, successional model of
time then tradition/modernity and past/present would be reductively paired off
with the Qajar setting and props from the present. This would imply that the
Pepsi can, a symbol of US consumerism and global capital stands in for modernity,
and the Qajar period background and dress stand in for tradition in contemporary
Iranian society. This taxonomy also suggests that Iran is frozen in the waiting room of
history eagerly anticipating a potential encounter with modernity, which appears in
the form of a North American product of global capitalism.
Yet the strategy of anachronism employed in Ghadirians photographs does not
reproduce a negative mirror image across an East/West axis, but rather serves as a
space through which to performatively enact time in order to interrogate the very pro-
duction of temporal distance. Ghadirians frame does not inhabit a coherent model of
time but captures the performance of time in conict with itself. Both the Qajar past
and object of the present are linked through their attempted failure to achieve illusio-
nistic realism. In order to create a tableau of a Qajar-style studio portrait, Ghadirian
needed to create a painted backdrop similar to those used during the late nineteenth
century. While this painted backdrop is used to make the scene appear more realisti-
cally like an actual Qajar period studio portrait set, ironically, it is also the most
obviously articial feature of the photograph. The painted backdrop depicts a
mantel, which holds a small vase and a miniature sculpture of a woman, under
what appears to be the outer edge of a mirror cropped by the camera. Even though
the naturalism of the painting depends upon the artists use of light and dark,
shading and three-point perspective to create the illusion of real depth and space, it
is still very obviously a painting on a at screen hung from the wall. The details of
the painted vase and the small sculpture of a woman, similarly a vessel for liquid
and a female gure, almost mirror the presence of the sitter and her can of Pepsi in
the foreground. It appears as if these painted props are the articial cousins of the
primary subjects of the scene. These details are part of the painting, but still documen-
ted as objects within the photograph.
Banerjee, Politics of Time, 4.
Banerjee, Politics of Time, 5.
540 Heer
The resonance between the two women and two vessels moves transversely from
backdrop to foreground and ties together the overall artice of the scene across the
seemingly separate historical periods that they aim to represent. While an anachron-
ism is created through the entry of the Pepsi can, ostensibly a symbol of modernity
within a scene of tradition, both the past and present are inextricably intertwined
by their lack of veracity with the photographic frame. While one of the women is
real, she is still costumed and artfully arranged for the image, and the mock presen-
tation of the Pepsi can prop echoes the falsity of the vase painted on the screen
behind it. This performance by a young woman, posing for the camera in a space
of multiple temporalities, circumvents a reductive oppositional framework of mod-
ernity and tradition and the West/East compass that it implies. Instead, the very
fabrication of temporal distance, attempting to cloak itself in an illusion of natural-
ism, discloses its own farce.
The potential for Qajar Series to offer a more complex critique of the politics of
time is especially relevant when considering the temporal discourses present in the cir-
culation, exhibition and display of Iranian artworks within the contemporary global
art market. Qajar Series was photographed in Tehran, and exhibited internationally
in Europe and the United States; most notably as part of the group show Unveiled:
New Art from the Middle East at the Saatchi Gallery in London in 2009. The
series was also exhibited in single artist shows at the Los Angeles County Museum
of Art (LACMA) in 2008 and again in 2011. Ghadirians images cannot be divorced
from the cultural politics surrounding the promotion and reception of Iranian art
within the global art market. Iranian artists must navigate a representational maze
in which their work is often cornered against the wall as an emblem of an essentially
different locality and culture, or as derivative of preexisting western types. Scholars
such as Olu Oguibe, Okwui Enwezor, Nestr Garcia Canclini and Hamid Dabashi
offer valuable readings of the inconsistencies and contradictions involved in the accep-
tance and promotion of non-western artists on a global scene and demonstrate how
the localization and the anthropologization of identity functions in relation to con-
temporary art discourse and theories.
Temporality plays a role in these discourses, as teleology is implied in the assump-
tion that artistic production moves from the West towards elsewhere, and also in the
implication that artists serve as cultural ambassadors of their traditional societies.
The inclusions of artworks that can be both contemporary art and living artifacts
of other visual cultures enhances the performance of diversity and multiculturalism,
to construct the now-ness of a globalized visual culture in US and European exhibi-
tions. Moreover, as Oguibe addresses, the presence of outsiders associated with this
See Nestor Garcia Canclini, Remaking Passports: Visual Thought in the Debate on Multicultur-
alism, in The Visual Culture Reader, ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff (London and New York, 1993); Hamid
Dabashi, Shirin Neshat: The Last Word (Charta, 2006); Olu Oguibe, The Culture Game. (Minneapolis,
2003); Okwui Enwenzor, The Postcolonial Constellation: Contemporary Art in a State of Permanent
Transition, in Antinomies of Art and Culture, ed. Okwui Enwenzor, Nancy Condee and Terry Smith
(Durham, NC, 2008).
Shadi Ghadirians Qajar Series 541
traditional past plays a role in a culture game which helps to establish a fashionable
contemporary pluralism.
The most relevant example of how these dynamics relate to Qajar Series is the way
in which non-western artists using the technique of photo-performance are often sub-
jected to a narrative in which they are read as derivative or localized versions of a
North American type. In the last two decades international art shows, including
major exhibitions such as Documenta and the Venice Biennale, have featured the
work of artists from a number of geographic locations that use a directorial mode
of photography or photographic reenactment similar to that used by Ghadirian.
This includes the work of British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, Japanese artist
Yasumasa Morimura and Indian artist Pushpamala N. The dominant reading in art
reviews and criticism is to see these images as simply an extension or variation of
the style, technique and theoretical impulses of earlier projects of American artist
Cindy Sherman, who gained major attention in art exhibition and scholarship for
her Untitled Film Stills from 1977 to 1980 and History Portrait Series from 1989
to 1990.
While these artists perhaps engage with Shermans work in interesting
and varying ways, the assumption that Sherman is the dominant creative impetus
for these projects both overlooks the specic visual and political histories they
invoke and suggests that a number of Sherman types have appeared across the
globe. This rst Sherman and then elsewhere model follows a temporal framework
concurrent with the one critiqued by Chakrabarty in his interrogation of the seeming
diffusiveness of western knowledge production.
Performance studies scholar Diana Taylor uses a metaphor of frozen time when she
writes of the paradoxical inclusion and exclusion of non-western performance in her
book The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memories in the Americas in
which she works across the elds of performance studies and Latin/o America (hemi-
spheric) studies. She describes a double move in intercultural performance studies that
distances non-western cultural production as radically other, and then attempts to
encompass it within existing critical systems as diminished or disruptive.
involves a process of both forgetting and remembering, as the West forgets perform-
ance from elsewhere exists and then remembers the need to cement the centrality
for its position as West by creating and freezing the non-West as other.
Ghadirians Qajar Series attempts to freeze a scene for the camera, which is frozen
both in Qajar settings from the past, as well as in a present marked with these politi-
cized temporalities that depend on freezing certain identities into a realm of the past.
Oguibe, The Culture Game.
For example, see Holland Cotter, Art in Review: Pushpamala N, The New York Times, 7 May
2004; Anthony Downey, Yinka Shonibare in Conversation, Wasari, 19, no. 41 (2004): 3136;
Kate Lowenstein, The Seen and the Hidden (Dis) Covering the Veil, Time Out New York, 723,
612 August 2009.
Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, 8.
Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas
(Durham, NC, 2003), 11.
Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire.
542 Heer
The photograph theatrically exaggerates the role of cultural artifact by playing with
time in a manner that both parodies and resists functioning as an authentic cultural
document. Instead of claiming a type of historical accuracy, both periods are theatri-
cally staged, and mock one another through their anachronism. Ghadirian asks us to
remember the past differently within the present, and also to see the present differ-
ently through the complexity of the past.
By reenacting photographs from the late Qajar dynasty period, the series brings
nineteenth century histories of Iranian photography into dialogue with contemporary
concerns. The images reenacted in Ghadirians series are drawn from the artists
engagement with vast archive of Qajar king Nasser el-Din Shahs nineteenth
century photographs at the Golestan Museum in Tehran. These images are part of
a formative period in the history of photography in Iran. As Ali Behdad argues in
his essay, The Power-ful Art of Qajar Photography: Orientalism and Self-Orientaliz-
ing in Nineteenth-Century Iran, it was during this period, starting in the mid-nine-
teenth century, that there was a major artistic shift from painting to photography.
While Fath-Ali Shah had cultivated a powerful tradition of portrait painting in Iran,
this was replaced under Nasir al-Din Shah as photography became the dominant
mode of artistic representation. Moreover, Behdad reviews the way in which the
arrival and rise of photographic technologies in Iran were deeply intertwined with
colonial enterprises and Orientalist representations of the Middle East, noting that
the rst photographic apparatuses in Iran were given to the Qajar monarch
Muhammad Shah between 1839 and 1842 by the two attempting colonial powers
during that time: England and Russia.
These histories shape Behdads larger claim, which is that the arrival of photography
had a profound aesthetic transformation not only for how the West represented the
Orient but also how the Orient represented itself. Photographs were used to cultivate
a symbol of political strength within Iran by rendering the ruler as a quintessential
image of power. Moreover, studio portrait photographs borrowed aesthetic strategies
and narrative tropes from early Orientalist photography. These tropes were grounded
in the history of the camera as an apparatus in cataloging and gathering ethnographic
data and the ideological belief in the cameras ability to document cultural authenticity.
Behdad speaks also to the role of women in early Iranian photography and its
impact on later Qajar period styles. This is particularly relevant in relation to Ghadir-
ians Qajar Series, since all thirty-three portraits in the series are taken of women,
mainly friends and family who sat for the artist. Behdad states that images of
women taken shortly after the arrival of photography in Iran were essential in the cul-
tivation of an Orientalist aesthetic, most famously in staged scenes of women in an
erotic harem fantasy. Moreover, a number of images of Iranian village women in tra-
ditional attire were used in globally circulated ethnographic photo books of different
native types. While not faithful copies of these images, the photographs in Qajar Series,
with their frontal full-body poses that allow for a documentation of the sitters dress
Ali Behdad, The Power-ful Art of Qajar Photography: Orientalism and Self-Orientalizing in Nine-
teenth-Century Iran, Iranian Studies, 34 (2001): 14151.
Shadi Ghadirians Qajar Series 543
and appearance against a minimal background, echo the visual arrangements of visual
culture from this period.
Furthermore, exhibited internationally, Ghadirians photographs of women
wearing Qajar period scarves cannot be divorced from the politicized nature of the
veil and representations of Iranian women in a contemporary global context. While
the complexity of the debate regarding the potential socio-political constraints and
possibilities of the veil will not be addressed within the connes of this paper, it is
necessary in this reading of Qajar Series as a critique of temporal distance to acknowl-
edge how the image of the veiled Iranian women is one that is also fraught with the
weight of temporal discourses and the tradition/modernity binary.
In particular, Lila
Abu-Lughod and Saba Mahmood have addressed how the veil acts as negative space in
the shaping of a modernized western citizen subject. Both Abu-Lughod and
Mahmood have critically analyzed the ways in which assumptions about veiling
feed into a liberal-secular humanist discourse which valorizes itself as the ultimate
form of societal, and thus temporal, maturity.
Within temporal terms, a reductive
liberal-secular humanist narrative follows an implicit teleology pointing towards the
West as an enlightened democratic present. Thus, the veil becomes entangled in
the demarcation of civilized versus uncivilized, developed versus underdeveloped, lib-
erated versus oppressed.
Ghadirians images are inevitably entangled within these temporal discourses of the
veil, while the symbolic weight of tradition and pastness are evoked not solely by a
reenactment of a nineteenth century aesthetic, but also by the representational
weight of the veil itself, which is captured within a frame already brimming with tem-
poral conundrums. Moreover, as performance theorists like Peggy Phelan and Rebecca
Schneider note, a complex temporality is always at play in relation to the gendered
body, performance, documentation and the archive. Ghadirians photo-performance
work straddles the line of performance and photography, and is thus caught in the
very crux of debates regarding how temporality and representation work in relation
to performing bodies and reproductive media.
In her book Unmarked: The Politics of Performance performance theorist Peggy
Phelan thinks through the political possibilities offered by performance, which she
reads as that which becomes itself through disappearance and cannot be contained
by the archive. While a performance may be recorded by video footage, or photogra-
phy, or written transcription, it ultimately slips through the ngers of documentation
and reproduction, since at the end of the day, performances only life is in the
While not addressed in this paper, a nuanced critical debate around the potential socio-political
limitations or advantages of the veil for Muslim women has been foregrounded by scholars such as
Lila Ahmed, Hadieh Moghissi, Ella Shohat, Negar Mottahedeh and Anne McClintock.
See Lila Abu-Lughod, Do Muslim Women Need Saving? Reections on Cultural Relativism and its
Others, American Anthropologist, 104, no. 3: 783790; Lila Abu-Lughod, The Muslim Woman: The
Power of Images and Danger of Piety, Lettre Internationale, 12 (2006); Saba Mahmood and Charles
Hirschkind, Feminism, the Taliban, and Politics of Counter-Insurgency, Anthropological Quarterly, 75
(2002): 33954.
544 Heer
For Phelan this representation without reproduction holds signicant
potential for theorizing subjectivity, power and representation, as it speaks to limit-
ations of the image in the political eld of the gendered and racial other.
At stake in Phelans theorization of performance, as that which resists the archive, is
an interrogation of the seeming connection between representational visibility and
political power. Informed by theories of feminism and psychoanalysis, Phelan is
weary of the assumption that simple visibility renders social transformation. Rather,
she sees the production and reproduction of visibility as part of the labor of global
capitalism in which visibility politics are additive rather than transformative.
Thus, she is interested in thinking of a type of representation that does not depend
on a reproduction of a political fetishization that produces the other as the same. Per-
formance, with its ontological inability to be reproduced through the archive, does not
meet the goals of a capitalist economy, such as the global art market that Qajar Series is
a part of. To the degree that performance attempts to enter the economy of repro-
duction it betrays and lessens the promise of its own ontology.
Phelans description of performance as disappearance suggests that the archive fails
to reproduce after the moment of performance. Performance, in its ephemeral state,
radically resists circulation and exchange, circumvents the reproductive tendencies
of other forms of visual representation, and has the potential to not falsely equate
visual representation with political power. Upon entering the representational
economy of reproduction through photography, lm or written descriptions, perform-
ance is no longer itself. Instead it only rehearses and repeats the disappearance of the
subject who longs always to be remembered.
According to Phelans denition Ghadirians photographs would not be perform-
ances. They are visual evidence within the representational economy of reproduction.
As Behdad demonstrated, photography is part of a long history that fetishizes the body
or aims to attain power through visual representation. However, Phelans claim eluci-
dates the signicance of time in Ghadirians work. Phelans argument helps to situate
how time always plays a crucial role in the representational contingency of any per-
formance and its documentation. Moreover, as Qajar Series are photo-performances,
Phelans argument opens up a space for thinking about the elements within Qajar
Series that photograph the tension between ephemeral performance and its reproduc-
tion. If the photographic document rehearses and repeats the disappearance of the
subject who longs always to be remembered, as Phelan suggests, how does the visual-
ized remembrance of performance in Qajar Series speak to even more complex layers
of temporality in these images?
In another image from the series, a young woman in Qajar dress stands with a boom
box on her shoulder. Similar to the Pepsi can, the portable stereo acts as an overtly
Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (New York, 1993), 11.
Phelan, Unmarked.
Phelan, Unmarked, 145.
Phelan, Unmarked.
Phelan, Unmarked.
Shadi Ghadirians Qajar Series 545
anachronistic object in the scene. While there is a similar enactment of the studio por-
trait setting, in this image the painted backdrop connotes a oral landscape outside a
window draped behind ornate curtains. The window adds an additional layer of per-
spective, while the boom box adds audio associations. A similar effect is created in
other photographs from the series through the presence of a vacuum cleaner, a
guitar or the rustling sounds of the pages of a political newspaper.
Of course, the boom box cannot be heard in the photograph, and it is not evident
whether it was ever turned on, or if it can even function as more than a mere prop. Yet
its inherent allusions to sounds and vibration call to mind auditory and visceral experi-
ences that link to live performance. Even if it is envisioned as a silent prop, then it
connotes the quiet hush of a still pose on the set, the click of the camera or the direc-
torial voice of the artist. These ephemeral sounds that move through the walls and into
the bodies of both the performer and the photographer are what make performance
inherently irreproducible for Phelan.
Yet these memories are traces of the performance staged for the camera that bring
Qajar Series into a space in which time is not as easily legible as it rst appears.
Instead of the image representing two separate eras or times, it rather represents a per-
formance, which exists in a time that cannot be fully accessed through the visual frame.
If Phelan is correct in suggesting that there is radical potential in the way in which per-
formance disappears, then these elements ultimately cannot be reproduced within the
capitalist economy of the global art market, or in the logic of temporal distance.
However, as Rebecca Schneider would suggest, even the stilled photographic archive
of the event participates in a continued act of performance. In her essay entitled
Archive: Performance Remains, Schneider asks what is at stake in positing perform-
ance as disappearance in a culture that valorizes the seeming permanence and stability
of the archive. She sees a danger in this understanding of performance because it
reinforces our own cultural habituation to archival logic. She asks, does an equation
of performance with impermanence and loss follow rather than disrupt a cultural
habitation to the imperialism inherent in archival logic?
Instead she sees a pro-
ductive possibility in thinking through the ways in which remains subside through
networks of esh. As a counter to the hegemonic paradigm of the archive, she
posits the notion of body-to-body transmission in which esh memory might
remain, and performance is not that which disappears but is that which both
becomes itself through disappearance (as Phelan writes) and that which remains,
but remains differently.
Schneider expands upon these ideas in her book Performing Remains: Art and War
in Times of Theatrical Reenactment. She challenges the assumption that performance is
solely live, ephemeral and moving from a past through a present to a future in which
it dissolves.
To that end, she questions the belief that the camera is an apparatus
Rebecca Schneider, Performance Remains, Performance Research, 6, no. 2 (2001): 100.
Schneider, Performance Remains, 101, 105.
Rebecca Schneider, Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment
(New York, 2011), 142.
546 Heer
that stills, or arrests, this eeting moment of time. According to this logic, the photo-
graph is merely the material evidence of a eeting act taking place in nonrecurring,
linear time.
Moving away from a model which sees performance as live, and photography as the
dead evidence of a once live act, Schneider tries to envision the arrival of photography
not as the invention of a mechanism used to still time, but instead as another among a
great many technologies of the live.
She nods to the ways in which theater histories
and photography have always shared methods and approaches to understanding the
body in space, as evident in the tableau vivant. Most relevant is their shared use of
the gesture or pose. For Schneider, the pose does not t neatly along a line of
forward moving temporality, but rather is the ambivalent gesture of time-lag. She
reads gesture as imbued with repetition and reappearance and thus rife with all the
tangled stuff of difference/sameness that anachronism, or syncopated time, or basic
citationality affords.
With these complicated temporal states of the gesture in
mind Schneider asks:
If the pose, or even the accident captured as snapshot, is a kind of hail cast into a
future moment of its invited recognition, then can that gestic call in its stilled
articulation be considered, somehow, live? Or, at least, re-live? Can we think of
the still not as an artifact of non-returning time, but as situated in a live
moment of its encounter that it, through its articulation as gesture or hail,
In this passage Schneider seems to understand gesture not as a movement captured
and stilled by the camera, but as an invitation for reception in the future. The
posing for the camera is performed not only for the moment of the cameras ash,
but also for a moment in which the document will be viewed as a photographic
image. In this sense, the still photograph is not actually a still, dead document, but
instead is an active archive animated by a posture that anticipates its own reception
in the future.
It is not difcult to see multiple layers of temporality at play in Ghadirians work, as
the artist actively employs stylistic signiers of past and present in order to visualize
her anachronism. Yet Schneiders argument suggests that even beyond this obvious
aesthetic staging of anachronism, the photographic image is already inherently alive
with an incomplete past and a gesture performed for the future. Thus, her argument
begs the question: if the stilled image is a call toward the future live moment when the
image will be reencountered, as Schneider suggests, then how can these images speak
to the geopolitical fashioning of time in the present? How can this reenactment of
nineteenth-century photographs, restaged and retaken in Tehran in 1998, and on
Schneider, Performing Remains.
Schneider, Performing Remains, 143.
Schneider, Performing Remains.
Shadi Ghadirians Qajar Series 547
exhibition at LACMA in 2011, theatrically critique the politics of time at play in the
contemporary global art scene?
While Phelan sees the political potential of envisioning a body that makes radical
use of the ephemeral present, Schneider is insistent that the archive should not be the
only entity that has the ability to preserve time. Yet both arguments become even
more complex when asked to tend to the ways in which time itself demarcates cultural
difference. How do we make sense of archives of performances that circulate on a
global art market relying on the demarcation of subjects inhabiting a sense of pastness
to enhance its presentation as contemporary and global? What happens when we
imagine the ways in which the body itself steps on stage carrying the weight of the
contradictions of temporality?
Qajar Series involves the use of a strategy of anachronism that wrestles with this very
problem. Trace elements of the performance escape archival reproduction as Phelan
would suggest, but enter into a nineteenth century archive in order to interrogate
how time is written in the present. Moreover, the performance does not merely
remain differently, as Schneider would suggest, but plays with time in a manner
that unsettles narratives in which particular subjects are thought to move forward
with time, while others are thought to remain in the past.
The boom box in Ghadirians photograph does not t in place in time on a number
of levels. First of all, its intended function does not t within the ocular hegemony of
the photographic archive, and therefore contains aspects that cannot be captured
within the temporal constraints of the camera. If it made noise, vibrated through
the oor, or was felt in body of the sitter, this is evident only to those encountering
the moment of performance. Secondly, most obviously, it does not t into the nine-
teenth century Qajar setting. Yet the obviousness of this anachronism carries with it
an archival history. It stages temporal difference for the archive, and this heightens
how eagerly notions of pastness, tradition, backwardness and underdevelopment
depend upon a careful directorial arrangement of near and far. In this restaging the
camera is incapable of fully capturing the scene it presents, but frames a space in
which the body wrestles with the very constraints and ssures of temporal distance.
548 Heer
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