Babak Golkar’s installation at the Charles H. Scott Gallery bases its small and large architectural forms on the geometric and organic patterns found in Persian carpets. Meaning is woven into Middle Eastern carpets, and so, by extension, is place: these objects are traditionally identified by design motifs associated with the particular cities, villages, or tribes in which they originated. Golkar, who was born in the United States, raised in Iran, and is based in Vancouver, often uses his art to create dialogues between cultures—East and West, modern and premodern.
To make sense of his large-scale architectural intervention, whose zigzagging and fretted white walls and triangular and octagonal alcoves force you to reconsider the built space you are navigating, you might want to look first at the back of the gallery. There, a large, beautiful Persian carpet, its designs worked in reds, pinks, blues, greens, and browns against a cream-coloured ground, is laid out on the bare concrete floor. Sitting on the carpet are eight complex white constructions, resembling architectural models for fantastical, future-fiction skyscrapers, some with attached “plazas” and “formal gardens”.
Each of these white structures, with their arrangements of soaring spires and towers, dramatic setbacks, and curved or streamlined facades (many suggestive of art-deco design), has its origin in a complex pattern in the carpet. That is, Golkar has selected a different woven design in the carpet as the “footprint” of each construction. He has then developed the three-dimensional forms of his constructions by using a computer-modelling program to conceptually extend the pattern upward in various ways—upward into the imagined sky above some unnamed city of the past, present, or future.
The future is suggested by the sci-fi appearance of the structures, while the distant past is lodged in Golkar’s inspired appropriation of carpet-weaving traditions, some of them hundreds of years old. The more recent past is alluded to through references to the “architektons” of the Russian Suprematist painter Kasimir Malevich. Created around 1920, Malevich’s architektons are white plaster studies for a proposed radical new architecture, which was married to his modernist and communist belief that such buildings could effect positive social change.
The present reverberates through the installation’s evocations of the dazzling mega-towers of oil-rich city-states in the Middle East, especially Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. The three-lobed footprint of the Burj Khalifa, catalogue essayist Jason Starnes reports, is based on the shape of a desert flower of the region, echoing the symbolic use of pattern and design in both Islamic architecture and the more portable representation of home, the woven carpet. Again, the past comes into paradoxical play with the present, since many of the woven carpets of the Middle East represent traditions originating in a nomadic way of life, and also in trade. Curator Greg Bellerby pointed this paradox out as he guided the Straight through Golkar’s show recently: the transportable economy that such carpets might once have symbolized has been replaced and colossally magnified in the fixed monuments to the conspicuous wealth of the newly emerged banking and investment centres.
Carpets, it seems, make rich grounds for intellectual inquiry—and, as the show’s subtitle suggests, for understanding. Throughout his installation, Golkar extends the ongoing dialogue between sculpture and architecture, especially as it relates to the expression of cultural values. His is an engaging and thought-provoking work.
Grounds for Standing and Understanding at the Charles H. Scott Gallery until February 26