The art world is not what it used to be. In the last three decades, the socioeconomic space within which contemporary art circulates has changed dramatically. By opening a toxic conduit between counterculture and capital, promoting gentrification, and providing a liberal mask to illiberal regimes, contemporary art can (and does) effect political changes that run counter to the social aspirations most artists share. The resulting frustrations are sporadically expressed in boycotts and open letters but are seldom addressed systematically.
REALTY, a project by Tirdad Zolghadr, commissioned by Berlin’s KW Institute for Contemporary Art in collaboration with the Dutch Art Institute and Sommerakademie Paul Klee, Bern, is about thinking through the contradictions between what contemporary art purports to do and what it inadvertently does, in order to foster modalities of engagement and art practice that undo gentrification rather than contribute to it.
Ana Teixeira Pinto: How did you develop an interest in the question of gentrification?
Tirdad Zolghadr: I could give you a threefold answer. Most recently I collaborated with Riwaq in the West Bank, a project that has a lot to do with transdisciplinary collaboration between art and architecture and takes a hands-on, de-romanticizing approach. This was a huge learning experience for me in terms of what art can and cannot do. Since the variables were architecture and urbanization, I was somewhat primed for this topic. That aside, I always try to work in an institutionally specific manner. KW being part and parcel of what the Mitte district of Berlin has become made it almost inevitable for me to engage with gentrification. Additionally, I am part of a generation of people living inside and outside Iran who built up the contemporary art scene there, and now that things are “working” I suddenly see the patterns of how art affects gentrification in Teheran, materializing in a very clichéd manner. Hence I have to ask myself the question: Why did I spend fifteen years investing blood, sweat, and tears, firmly believing that Teheran needs a contemporary art scene? What I am grappling with is a disguised version of l’art pour l’art, which is what we as a generation implicitly assumed without ever questioning the core values.