Sina Haghani takes a moment after Norouz, the Persian New Year to talk about the creative process, and his MFA Thesis Exhibition, Glimmers of Contingency, which opened on March 15th, 2012.
Patricia: The basis for your thesis show, how long has it been in development?
Sina: It was around the beginning of spring last year that some sketchy ideas started to form in my mind. Initially, I wanted to make work about my own preconceptions and prejudgments about people whom I regularly saw in my daily life but had a very limited social interaction with, if ever: a Chipotle employee; a friend of a friend I hadn’t got to know deeply; or someone at school whose interactions with others were the only source for my perception of her. Later on, these merely first impressions evolved into more complex interpersonal thoughts, which came through shared experience with those people.
Patricia: When you and I met to talk about your work, we also talked about emotional distance between people, and situations of uncertainty. Do you think one is the cause of the other?
Sina: I think inaccessibility leads to uncertainty, which eventually reinforces discomfort in encounters. Because every encounter is kind of fraught, as it presents itself as a kind of demand as well as exposure. At times when uncertainty creates distance, difficult emotional states arise.
Patricia: So, how do you describe your work?
Sina: My work is both a critique and an acceptance of distance that results from uncertainty. I am fascinated by situations in which a variety of possibilities can be triggered in different people. Whether they are real characters or personnas that are perceived by others, these situations allow me to experience this sort of social manifestation of relativism. Our perception of signifiers and how we consciously/unconsciously lead ourselves to conclusions depends, to a great extent, on the specificities of our past experiences. My work looks at contextual influences on people and their subsequent judgments.
Patricia: How did you come up with the statements? What do they add to the emotional terrain you are exploring with the video portraits?
Sina: The statements are the presumptions I have had about people at some points in my life. However, the relation between the audio and the visuals does not conform to reality. That is to say what is being spoken does not necessarily match my speculations about any of the subjects on display. The interplay between the installation and the voice-over narration is supposed to challenge individual’s impressions about each other. The indexical language used in the narrated statements is in service of this function.
Patricia: What has surprised you the most about working on these portraits? What does human stillness reveal when captured on video?
Sina: Because they come closer to being still, the tension between a still and a moving image enhances our sense of what we are looking at. I am exploring where doubts come into play: that strange place between our preconception and deeply knowing of someone. I look into this grey area by another intermediate state where a moving image mimics a still one. The stretched time in the video portraits avoids a brief representation of someone.
During the confrontation with the camera, composure breaks down after a while and reveals something about each subject. While the extended eye contact with the subjects is expected to make them easier to read, it might also induce an equivocal impression, which would make it further complicated to form a judgment. This idiosyncrasy of video portraiture is very engaging to me. For example, the sense of embarrassment a subject experiences in comparison to that of another who securely occupies the space in front of my lens creates an ongoing dialogue around power relations, privilege and any other political discussion that stems from social constructions within our culture.
I want my work to function as an interactive platform to expose the individual differences both among my subjects and the audience where they eventually come up with opinions while they are still aware of their own personal typecasts or shadowy prejudices.