“A very important thing is not to make up your mind that you are any one thing.”
The 75 East Broadway Shopping Mall, located directly under the Manhattan Bridge, is not one thing, not one conventional thing that is. The ground floor is nearly a warren of predominantly Fujian (a province in the People’s Republic of China) shops. The second floor hosts a few tiny stores selling inexpensive clothing, books and records and vintage wearables. It is also, by the way, home to the Philosophical Investigation Agency (PIA), which helps people—like artists—to find their ideas again. The PIA is a post-modern doughnut hole of an office virtually surrounded by Tramps Ltd., which presents artists’ exhibitions.
Tramps is not a gallery in conventional architectural terms. It is a near-circular unicursal labyrinth of unrehabilitated retail spaces—each is a glass-fronted room with an internal wall or two of laminated Slatwall panels—within the 75 East Broadway mall. The rooms are not smartened up. The floors are inconsistently tiled or carpeted. Visually, the architecture is a cross between a neglected intensive care unit and a corridor of police interrogation rooms. Instead of the spartan, white-walled spaces that you would find in Chelsea, Tramps’ collection of glass-walled rooms obliges you to look at, even examine, the art, in a way that is different from the white cube experience. Once you enter the labyrinth, you follow an unambiguous route. Each room contains something of a fragment or chapter of a story, and it is up to you to build the logic between the chapters.
Hadi Fallahpisheh is the current master of this maze, showing photography and sculpture. What makes this so perfect for Fallahpisheh is his indifference to categorization as an artist and his disregard for convention. He is not antagonistic, defiant or gimmicky. Not at all. He revels in tortuous possibility and existential uncertainty. It is as if he has adopted (and adapted) Gertrude Stein’s proposition to not be any one thing.
Performance is the core of Fallahpisheh’s work. He is like a Naqqāli, a traditional Persian storyteller. He tells stories, even epics, (often whoppers), ranging topically from his short-lived professional soccer career in Iran to his more recent close encounters with a sheep in upstate New York. His stories are accompanied by props—ceramics, fabric sculptures and installations—all of which are byproducts of performance, which happens in near privacy in his studio, more-or-less “Almost Alone.” The gallery-goer sees only the results of his activity, but does not see, hear or read a telling of this particular story. A checklist provides clues, but not plot. Think about it: All Bald Men Must Die-, Crazy Neighbor and Nightmare You Came Too Early. Or, think about The Goal, The Last Dog in the Bar and Little Child Praying in the Cage. You complete the story.
As an object maker, Fallahpisheh had been making photography in Iran before arriving in the United States. His work was included in “Iranian Contemporary Photography” at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in 2011. After settling in New York in 2014, Fallahpisheh attended the General Studies Certificate Program at the International Center of Photography (2015) and received an MFA from the Milton Avery School of the Arts, Bard College (2016).
His approach to photography incorporates both painting (with light) and performance (in the darkroom). His c-prints are made without an analog or digital camera. Fallahpisheh does not point and shoot, nor does he stage and print. His c-prints more or less happen in the darkroom without technical calculation. (It is all dark, darkroom activity.) He welcomes chance, printing and overprinting, drawing and overdrawing, and generally messing around with sets of repeatable, seemingly mundane, patterns and icons: mice and cats; soccer goal cages, animal huts and prison cells, and outlines of ghostly figures. His color palette is a cross between Gatorade’s™ luminous flavor-colors and over-the-counter digestive aids. It defies Pantone™ color charts.
Each glass-walled unit at Tramps contains a large-scale unique photograph stretched and stapled like a painted canvas on stretcher bars. Sometimes Fallahpisheh adds an animal hut (think “kitty condo”) made from stolen pillows filled with dirt and rice. Sometimes he inserts a glazed ceramic Persian cat sculpture that he modeled from clay. These cats, with their cute names, kindergarten faces and glazed coats that look like they are spotted with ring-worm, do double duty, first as tables with built-in candlestick holders, and second as homey retreats for mice, complete with a feline anus, easy entry mousehole. There is also a biggish installation titled Blind Man, featuring a chubby child-sized terry-cloth rodent doing an up-close and personal rectal examination on a willing, if not eager, hand-thrown ceramic cowboy. When you encounter and spend time with Fallahpisheh’s conglomeration of photographic and sculptural elements, you become more comfortable with their visual and physical properties.
At his 2014 exhibition at Kai Matsumiya, a Lower East Side gallery, Fallahpisheh’s work was described as “how all that appears as patently true may simply not [be],” creating a world “in which everything is true and nothing is true.” At Tramps, Fallahpisheh once again encourages you to connect the fragments and chapters of one of his undocumented stories. In 1936 Gertrude Stein wrote What Are Masterpieces and Why Are There So Few of Them? saying:
When you are writing before there is an audience anything written is as important as any other thing and you cherish anything and everything that you have written. After the audience begins, naturally they create something that is they create you, and so not everything is so important, something is more important than another thing.
You do not have to get the story right, because there is no right. You are the author. Humans like certainty. When we look at art, we want to know, “What does it mean?” But if you ask, “Why?” maybe you should ask, “Why not?” Fallahpisheh excels at creating uncertainty, inviting you in to become part of his imagination.