With his debut exhibition Idiot Cards For a Bygone Revolt at NoPlace in Oslo the Norwegian-Iranian artist André Tehrani invites visitors on a tour through a hectic historic landscape. In seven works the 33-year-old artist carries out a number of exercises into juxtaposing cultural and intellectual “conflicts”, all with the Situationist International movement as the thematic link. Tehrani proves a communicative and generous guide, full of insight and anecdotal knowledge of matters large and small that he shares along the way. According to the extensive press material the exhibition aims to examine “the political and cultural significance of the marginal zones of avant-garde movements from the mid-20th century”. Idiot Cards is a very elaborate solo debut in terms of its aesthetics and content, but it also employs such compact reference material that the artistic idea is at risk of disappearing within the intricate web of interconnections and correspondences across time and space.
The marginal zones referred to in the above are specifically the Utopian and counter-cultural projects of the 1950s and 1960s such as the Lettriste movement and, as we have seen, the later Situationists. Idiot Cards seeks out links between these by now established and canonised projects and later works within the realms of literature and music. Tehrani’s gallery of references brings us into touch with everything from the chief ideologist of the Situationists, Guy Debord, to John Squire, a painter and guitarist in the British eighties band The Stone Roses, onwards to the Galton board – and I assume that you, like me, will have to google that in order to find out what it is (a tool for statistical experimentation created in the 19th century by Darwin’s younger cousin Sir Francis Galton).
The approach taken to joining up this seemingly highly diverse body of material employs a number of links that are partly inherent in the material itself – for example, the Gaussian curve formed by Galton’s method was used as the starting point of Asger Jorn’s text The Situationists and Automation (1958) – and partly through rather more arbitrary links between Tehrani’s own explorations and flow of consciousness. Following Tehrani’s trail through the wilderness of cultural memorabilia is interesting, but also quite exhausting. I myself had to draw mind maps to get an overview of the logic inherent in some of the works – such as in Come Taste the End, a 68 meter long painting, parts of which lie across the floor while parts of it is rolled up on a bar on the wall. The measurements and method of mounting are based on those of Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio’s “industrial paintings” from the 1950s; paintings manufactured on a conveyor belt using house paint applied onto a continuous length of canvas. Along the edge of Tehrani’s canvas is a repeat pattern: three coarse brushstrokes in the colours of the Tricolore: red, white, and blue. The pattern copies a corresponding visual arrangement featured on The Stone Roses’ debut album, painted by Squire, which in turn was intended as a reference to the student revolt in Paris in 1968 – supported by Situationists such as Pinot-Gallizio and Debord – and Squire’s expressionist brushwork is supposedly inspired by painters such as Pinot-Gallizio and Jorn.
Tehrani concludes that the mechanical rendition of Squire’s brushstrokes across the long canvas – an abstraction of an abstraction – links up Squire’s homage to its “original, poetic, and counter-cultural source”. Viewed as a result of painstaking research this is all quite interesting and can certainly prompt viewers to carry out further investigations into historical material. Even so, the project’s investment in overwhelming quantities of lexical information can tie up and restrict the observer’s own facility for abstract thought and immersion in the artworks.