02.03 – 19.03
In 2023, KIOSK streams in partnership with Le Fresnoy a series of films on its website. Tashattot Collective invited Yara Al Chehayed to select three films from the catalog of Le Fresnoy in response to the exhibition Tashattot. Tehran-geles by Arash Nassiri (2014) is the third film selected by Yara Al Chehayed. Four questions to Arash Nassiri
Yara Al Chehayed: In your film Tehran-geles, the camera roams around the city with a bird’s-eye view, giving us an alien sense. Do you think Tehran specifically and Middle Eastern cities more broadly alienate us? And if so, how would you describe the “us” being alienated''?
AN: Putting together this video work was rooted mainly in two elements. The first being the usage of a common language known by everyone—and by common language I mean a Hollywood sci-fi language—through the deployment of the aerial views often used to introduce a scene or a character. The second thing comes at the end of the film: the image that is a copy of a fake horror movie with very dense downtown skyline. This was very logical to me, as the project highlights unfulfilled dreams of Western modernity and what could be better than to use Western language to show that?
Every time I produce a work, my thinking about how to give a form to it depends on my research and also some personal desire. For this work, I used a lot of archival material: the audio testimonies; images of store signs and street signs from early 2010 Tehran, like an iconography of signs you could see in the city at that moment that have probably since disappeared; and the found aerial views of Los Angeles. I was happy to mix those three types of archival material together. And inside this combination, I was binding rather than making the image. That was stimulating for me. I loaded a generic visual archive and mixed it with oral histories that are not authentic anymore because they talk about another place.
Talking about alienation, yes countries with less personal freedom can be alienating, but I didn’t grow up in Iran, I went back and forth—that was my alienation, a good alienation. I had to be just in transit between two places. But I think Teheran is a very active city on the cultural scene and with its young people, and it is very playful with all its problems. It is a great city.
YAC: Do you think oral history stands as a counter-history to narratives dominated by those in power? Michel Foucault and Louis Althusser consider “our stories” as those in the margin versus the national memory, pointing out that national stories are not interested in including ours. How do you see the use of oral accounts in your film contributing to the emergence of subaltern voices?
AN: I didn’t really think of narrative. The idea was to show what Tehran could have become, so I asked people to imagine how their lives would be if Tehran was a fully “Western” city and had them daydream about it. The idea was to have these testimonies create a fake city. What I like about personal oral narratives is that if you put them together you can see an overarching theme, but taken individually they are reflective of personal experiences in this specific time; the way they describe the city is also a snapshot of their own experience. And I wanted to keep the sense of humor—the dark humor—that it can have, a thought being produced at the present time. It was like a conversation: people were thinking, remembering. There’s a real-time quality to the narrative.
I was touched the most by the phone calls through which I conducted the interviews—the compression of the voice in the recordings. I heard the voices of people I loved, some in France, in Germany, in the US, Canada—it was a bunch of long-distance calls. I had the real feeling of spectral presence. It’s almost sci-fi that you can talk to someone who is close yet far, yet close again in your ear speaking to you. I think it also joins the image, because the compression is familiar to all of us, we all know that texture.
YAC: Your film captures a nostalgia for a Tehran before. Do you think Tehran before was better than Tehran today, even if one of the narrators mentions police brutality under the Shah? During my reading for my PhD, I found similarities with Beirut, where people are constantly nostalgic for a city before the Civil War, and this is mainly due to their inability to accept the war and their present. Do you think this applies to Iranians today?
AN: I was sad that the nostalgia stayed in the film, but it is so closely related to the material I used. I couldn’t make something else out of those testimonies, and the imagery brings coldness to it. In the end that’s why I used the testimonies that were most loaded with nostalgia and disorientation. I was also making an effort to bring in lightness through colors and there are a lot of fireworks—I wanted to celebrate the city.
Tehran or any other city, nothing was better before. I am optimistic. Everything is going to be better. I hate nostalgia, but I feel melancholic. Melancholia rather than nostalgia.
Hearing these stories again and again and not relating to those feelings, understanding them but not relating to them. The people interviewed are living in a clinical state of nostalgia. What I like the most is the denial, because the more they are in denial the more they are in fiction, and if they are in fiction they are in their imagination and imagination is the process of creating. For me, it becomes a sci-fi movie because of their denial. My role was to represent it in a correct manner, to bring the voice and the inhabitants of this imaginary territory together. But no, I don’t think Teheran was better before they did a revolution.
YAC: You live in Paris, but when you conceived a movie about an imaginary city, you projected in Los Angeles. Why not Paris, from your own reality?
AN: Because LA became the template for Tehran at a certain historical point. They hired architects from LA to build a masterplan for Tehran in the 1960s and 1970s—Iranians were under the spell of the supremacy of the US lifestyle, which was perceived as a manifestation of modernity. When you take a car and drive in the city, you’re driving in Los Angeles, you see patterns from LA. I didn’t invent the twin city concept, and much of the diaspora went to LA after the revolution. I added a brick to the discussion, using readymade and found footage. LA dressed in Tehran’s neon signs.
About Arash Nassiri
Graduated from the École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in 2012, Arash continued his training at the Fresnoy, Studio National des Arts Contemporains. Arash’s education also includes the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts and the Berlin University of the Arts, where he stayed in 2010.
About Yara Al Chehayed
Yara Al Chehayed, is a PhD scholar from the Levant, at UCLouvain: Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium. Her project tackles Lebanese cinema of war and the absent perpetuator, and through this absence the emergence of the specter of war. She is also a researcher in social sciences with special interest in identities, belonging and migration and their manifestation in cultural production, mainly cinema.