Hurricane Harvey which hit Houston in August of 2017 submerged my home art studio in its waters for days. The blow of the destruction of the memorabilia, family slides, and artworks was similar to a feeling of being violated. The attempt to save these damaged photographs and artworks proved to be a futile exercise. In the heat of the moment as I started to familiarize myself with this new kind of loss, something happened: I entered into a creative state - working with the muddy images, discovering them in their new state. They were no longer images of loved ones, or cherished works of art, but surfaces with sophisticated lines and colors as if made mindfully and with intent. The accidental effect of a ravaging incident was a silver lining.
The year that followed the floods, was one of remediation, reconstruction, and adaptation. Living in a house without a kitchen for months, we were forced to cope as if we lived on a campsite. As with the resurfacing of my artworks, we found ourselves converting a bathroom sink to an exclusive kitchen sink, our bedroom became a multipurpose quarter similar to nomads’ tents. The heart of the house -the library became a storage area. Space and the amount of it one needs to live became a constant thought on our minds. Through all this, we constantly reminded ourselves that there were people going through much worse cases than ours, and that this too shall pass.
The boxes of flooded photos and slides sat in a cramped garage busy with construction going all around it for months. I would go to them once in a while trying to dry the photographs again and again, to edit them for the show I had promised in this Houston Chronicle publication right after the floods. The result of these experiences and the discovery of a new meaning for my damaged art studio is the focus of Resurface.
As I excavated through years of pre-digital photographs I also asked myself why I have kept these photos in boxes for so many years? What I really see looking at them now? What role they had in documenting or reinterpreting my memories? What happens now that I don’t have them? and what these photographs mean in the context of how photography has evolved in today’s world?
The works in Resurface include two series: The “excavation” part presents the damaged images in the form of reprinted archival photographs. They are the product of a slow marinating in a mix of photo chemicals and flood water. Their new altered state has an archaeological element to it: from the stamped movement of water to the process of figuring out what is and what was – what. They serve as a reminder of the power of nature that should not be underestimated, and the urgency to take care of it.
The “reinterpretation” part of this series includes collages I have made using images of our house under construction. Not long after examining questions about attachment, materialism, and memories - like a drunk pouring another glass - I was at the store buying art materials, printing hundreds of photos of damaged images and cutting them. The collages are the results of this exercise of recreating, and not letting go. The source material is entirely from images related to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Some of the collages are reinterpreting the destruction. Putting pieces of doors and windows and chairs on top of each other on a canvas felt like rebuilding. Saving an image of a seriously damaged artwork by another artist felt like paying respect to the artist’s creativity before burying their art. The collaging of covered furniture in a dusty living room was a way of being in charge of the devastation, and not its victim. Creating works of art became a healing tool and one to induce patience and perspective – eventually resulting in new meanings. This too did pass. - Avisheh Mohsenin
RESURFACE | Avisheh Mohsenin
August 4 - September 1, 2018
Artist Talk, August 25, 2018
A portion of the proceeds of this exhibit was donated to disaster resilience fund for the arts community set up by Houston Arts Alliance. The fund will be used to educate, train, and assist artists and arts organizations with practical tools to be best prepared for disasters. https://ready.haatx.com
RESURFACE.LETTERS | Avisheh Mohsenin
Window BOX of Box 13 Art Space, Houston, TX
August 5 - October 5, 2019
Houston-based Iranian-American multi-disciplinary artist Avisheh Mohsenin’s art studio was completely damaged by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. Since then she has created works using the damaged materials and exhibited them in various media.
At BOX13 Window BOX in August 2019 Mohsenin’s damaged family letters, reprinted in large scale, will hang in layers from the ceiling, moving quietly contained in the glass box of the gallery. The letters both in Farsi and in English are smudged by floodwater but some words are legible. Words expressing love or describing mundane daily activities as her friends and family wrote to her in a pre WhatsApp and Facebook era from thousands of miles away. The letters hang like clothes hanging on clotheslines play as a double entendre on the weeks she spent drying these letters after the floods.
As Avisheh dried years of creation and collection she grappled with her relationship with concepts of memory, photography, and documentation. Resurface is inspired by Susan Sontag’s quote “You cannot preserve the present, you can only preserve the past,” and the Japanese practice of Wabi-Sabi, the acceptance of change and impermanence. Resurface is about hope and finding the silver lining in times of duress.