Everything was going well, but suddenly it all came to a standstill. Curator Martina Weinhart on how to organize an exhibition with a smartphone.

I’m working from home, making calls from the kitchen table, setting up my laptop at the dining table, on the balcony, basically anywhere. I communicate via Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Telegram and the messenger service BOTIM. People who are faraway seem so close. Or do they? I’m working – still – on an exhibition that should have opened some time ago. We had planned it all so well: Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian, three Iranian artists who live in Dubai since 2009, were supposed to showcase a new installation in the gallery of the Schirn in summer 2020.

Across various Biennales, their works had impressed me time and again, and their unbelievably striking “From Sea to Dawn” installation, which I saw by chance in Vienna, had lingered in my mind ever since. The artists took media reports about migration and merged them together to create a gesamtkunstwerk that is as subtly nuanced as it is visually overwhelming, comprising videos, painting, drawing, texts, photographs, and found objects. Particularly impressive to me was an enormous painted floor-based work that meandered through the rooms of the gallery and in which the observer got lost as they themselves become part of the artwork

My enthusiasm was warmly received and shared by the Schirn, so contact was made with the artists. What followed was a series of meetings and telephone conversations. A meeting in Frankfurt wasn’t easy to arrange. Again and again, I became aware of how privileged you are with a German passports that allows you to travel visa-free to 188 countries, while others are not nearly so lucky. If you’re an Iranian living in Dubai it takes at least two months to get a visa for Germany.

The artists at work, 2020, Photo courtesy the artists

But everything went well and eventually we were able to have a very fruitful meeting in Frankfurt. Production then began in Dubai relatively quickly. The plan was for the artists to produce an expansive, floor-based work for the Schirn, too. This was pretty laborious in organizational terms. The artists rented an industrial hall for the purpose, which more or less corresponded to the dimensions of the large hall in the Schirn. I received the first images of the new work as early as the spring holiday – really magnificent pictures, I thought. I was very much looking forward to the next meeting in Dubai, where I was going to see the original for the first time. These sorts of conversations and personal meetings with the artists are hugely important for exhibition preparation – and this importance has been painfully highlighted to us over the last few months.

The exhibition at the Schirn was originally scheduled to open on May 27. Everything was going well, but then suddenly it all came to a standstill. The Coronavirus pandemic meant everything had to be put on hold for the time being – the first thing being my visit to Dubai, where we had aimed to work further on the project and, most importantly, on the exhibition catalogue. The cancellation of the trip was a first step, and after that it was very much a matter of working from one day to the next. In this regard, with the project we were in the same situation as many colleagues all over the world.

The artists at work, 2020, Photo courtesy the artists

I had installed BOTIM on my smartphone as soon as we started working together, since Skype is banned in Dubai. Rokni, Ramin, Hesam and I therefore continued to communicate virtually: small squares, electronic information. Sometimes the telephone was raised up so that the camera could show a new sculpture for me to observe, then I got to know the dog. Snapshots of the newly developing work came pinging into my Smartphone along with plenty of short PDFs with tips for further reading.

Snapshots of the new work were sent to my phone

In the Schirn, meanwhile, we tried to get a clear picture of the situation. I was continually watching Dubai virtually, speaking to the artists, the gallery-owner, then the artists again. Airports were closed, expats had to leave the city, and it became unclear whether and when one might be able to enter Dubai again. In the city itself, only one person per household could leave the home to go shopping once every three days – and even then, only with permission. Hence the artists, too, were stuck at their home in Dubai, where they live and work together. The production for our exhibition could only continue to a limited extent, since all the craftspersons involved were not able to work. 

Zooming with the artists, 2020, Photo courtesy the artists

Yet artists wouldn’t be artists if they didn’t find creative ways in the midst of crises and chaos to reflect, process and depict the current situation. It wasn’t long before I received the video “From March to April…2020”, in which Hesam, Ramin and Rokni find a poetic form for their time in quarantine. Slowly, the camera pans across a table, which is the focus of the film. It is both their dining table and work top, which illustrates how the artists combine working and living. Forming a colorful mix on the table, we see food, paintbrushes, paint, a salad, a tomato, collages for another film project, and then again, a new dish or the newspaper. 

We see food, paintbrushes, paint, a salad, a tomato

We hear the artists reciting a monotone mantra of the weekdays: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and so on, over and over again. Food, work, and social life, everything is compromised, everything limited to this confined space. Time – decelerated to extremes here – plays a central role in the trio’s work, which continually shifts between time-based media like the film and other forms of expression.  Time in the philosophical sense as well as the reflection of time and its symptoms will also be expressly addressed in the coming exhibition. I am excited to see the new works finally make it to the Schirn. The chances are good: The container is packed ready, the situation has eased a bit, and an opening date for the exhibition has been set. Now we are working on getting the artists to Frankfurt for the opening. In the midst of such a chaotic period in everyone’s lives, that would truly be something of a happy ending.

The artists at work, 2020, Photo courtesy the artists
“Either he’s dead or my watch has stopped” Groucho Marx (while getting the patient’s pulse)


3 September to 13 December 2020

More infos about the exhibition