In this exclusive alta interview we caught up with Amir Hariri to delve deep into what inspires his practice and get his insight on Elegraph™ printmaking with the alta team.
alta: Amir, it was so great to work with you on an alta beta project! To help people get to know you as an artist, please go ahead and introduce your work.
Amir: In my body of work I've been focusing on physical decay as a way to explore architecturally inspired abstraction.
Formally, the focus relates to materials ageing, or on structural systems that resist forces such as gravity. Exploring geometric abstraction as it flows into more automatic or biomorphic forms as such forces are broken down. I think it’s interesting to look at modes such as decay, where elements are succumbing to these forces.
More viscerally, the focus is on communicating a sense of experience, memory and ultimately, history. I've been working in and around New York City for some time now, and what I find interesting is this subconscious and passive interaction and relationships that we have with built environments. Sites make an impression on us a lot of times that we tend to not realize until those buildings are gone.
That also got me thinking about what other areas or forms could relate in the same way, and that brought me to construction sites. We have various cycles of a building's life coexisting in the same space and there is this balance that I encounter between erection and destruction, order and entropy, that is also prevalent in a lot of other parts of my work.
alta: Something that's come to our mind is how we’ve grown up with this expectation that when a building is demolished it's a big event, where it'll be blown up and crash down. But, that's really not what happens to most buildings.
Amir: Exactly, when a building is going up you certainly have this tendency towards monitoring and appreciating these phases, because it's constructing and it's moving towards completion. That’s why I want to expose and bring a little more detailed scrutiny where the same processes are also at play when something is deconstructed, or demolished, or taken apart.
alta: You can definitely see that in your work. So tell me, does your interest in architecture go way back?
Amir: Yeah, my interest in architecture, but also in art itself, goes way back to the very beginning of really noticing forms and shapes and being infatuated with specific buildings. My connection with architecture manifests itself in a vivid and immediate way because it's all around us, it's highly structured and it is a direct reference to how forces are dealt with, perhaps resisted, to create these shelters, or whatever they may be.
Transitioning from working in design and engineering to becoming a professional artist, my interest was always from an aesthetic and compositional standpoint, not from any functional merit.
When studying engineering and mathematics I was drawn more to the beauty of the formulas than the actual purpose of the formulas. Ultimately, it’s not that a building provides a purpose, whether it’s shelter or a bridge that spans a gap for example, but, it’s the forms that construct the girders and the detailing of a building which really provides something interesting.
Architecture also happens to be a beautiful metaphor for our own existential condition, which I see in buildings because they are born, they live and express utility, service, and age. They are parallels to our own condition of being and moving through life.
alta: Does this reflect the feelings that you get when you stop and take in the architecture in a city, like New York, or can it be anywhere in the world?
Amir: Oh, yes, every place absolutely has influenced me, and I have lived in quite a few places. I started in Iran and Tehran, then Germany and California for a while, and then the East Coast of the states, specifically New York.
The connection I feel runs the gamut from a metropolis to a more bucolic or rural environment. The encounters are the same, these forms and shapes are everywhere. They're as much in a high-rise building, a dilapidated farmhouse, a shiny new city, as they are in a city that's being destroyed because of war or natural disasters.
Having lived in Iran, a lot of the sensibility of existential strangeness and loneliness of space comes from being there during the war, experiencing bombings of the city, seeing destructed buildings and then relating it back to imagery that we've all seen from war. Images from World War Two for example, all the way to what's happening now in the Middle East in Syria.
So yeah, I think everywhere I go, the eye that I take with me is looking for these moments. I like to call them moments, especially in New York, because you're really just walking and these experiences just hit you from various angles.
One of the things that I like to recreate is the personal moment someone has with spaces as they, perhaps, stroll down a quiet street, glance up and notice a construction site, or a ruin of some sort. That's why I also don't include any people or other forms in my paintings, because my goal is to create that moment with you and the space.
alta: We love what you said about how you know one of the reasons you don't include people is because you want people to develop their own emotional connection with what you've developed.
Amir: Exactly, I'm trying to recreate moments between me and these buildings, with a sense that there's really no one else there. Something that is important in my work is I never work from detailed studies, sketches, drawings or photographs of any of these spaces. I only work from memory and there's a very rigorous system that I have come up with to make sure that I'm not representing something that was recorded. And that’s because I'm really interested in the passive relationship that we have with spaces, that we don't consciously notice a lot of times.
This overlaps with my interest in this notion of how we project something. Starting with something three-dimensional that’s projected in our brain as a two-dimensional thing, and then expressed again in the form of a painting, perhaps as two dimensions. So, the dimensionality becomes really important and the focus on this systemic thinking process of how things are constructed becomes more important than the final product itself.
alta: That makes a lot of sense with the way you use sculpture, paint, print and mixed mediums. So when taking that multi-disciplinary approach and coming together with our Elegraph process, how did you embrace this digital and physical combination of being able to add more dimension to physical prints?
Amir: I think that's something that was extremely exciting, to think about how technology around us continues to grow, with a lot of progress being made in various fields. By looking at what was happening around me with lots of CNC and 3d printing, I was really struggling to see how those processes that really demand dimensionality could then be used to accentuate painting or printmaking itself.
Being introduced to the Elegraph process was very difficult to wrap my head around at first, as with many new technologies and ideas, but what piqued my interest was that there was this relationship happening with a printer and master printers and technicians, which really reminded me of what I really gained as a printmaker.
I was attracted to that specific notion of printmaking because by forcing you to take multiple steps it allows you to think more about what exactly it is that you're doing. This background helps me in my current practice, because I became used to asking "okay, what can we do now that we have these techniques and technologies at our disposal?".
And so, as I became familiar with your processes, it suddenly dawned on me that there is this direct correlation between the practice of proofing that happens in printmaking that could also become interesting in this medium. I immediately jumped towards the idea of combining various materials and steps to achieve something that is hard to imagine, hard to perceive, because it hinges so solidly on combining these elements and we can't really visualize until you get them produced.
alta: Just listening to everything you've said so far, the series that you’ve developed with us is so reflective of your inspiration from the ways buildings change, grow and decay. It’s been amazing seeing the changes between the pieces in a series and seeing the third piece was an iteration of two of the combined plates.
Amir: Right, exactly, like it was constructed and deconstructed then came together. It was exciting for me as well and I really hope that the artists you work with can see that because I think one of the most interesting aspects being offered here is exactly that. If you want to, you can start with something concrete but you could elevate that and I think that’s something I realized when working on the plates.
alta: So thinking back to those early stages, what advice would you share with other artists who are starting to think about an Elegraph product?
Amir: One of the things I would really stress is the correlation or relationship that this process has with traditional printmaking. I think that's a great starting point to think that you are creating a print, which is a sum product of various processes, so that you're creating a combination.
I would also discourage someone from pursuing this method when being too specific. Allow a certain amount of flexibility because, for me, the period of discovery happened after I created my base plate, when we looked at the digitized model from the scan data. Because I was flexible I was able to sort of move the needle in different directions.
So, the printmaker in me speaking, says to just have an understanding of what you’re going to do and then sort of see where the process takes you. Really try to find those in-between spaces, which really come out of the proofing, and those periods between each step. Investigate what is possible, for instance, in the time me and the alta team had together we looked at what three-dimensionality does with respect to shadows, with respect to expression of perspectives, foreshortening and shading.
I think whatever it is for the artist, be it texture, form, colour, depth, whatever it is there's interesting lessons to be learned when you are going back and forth between the highly technical components and more physical components.
alta: Thanks Amir, that’s fantastic advice. Before we wrap up, what's next for you and your body of work? And is there anywhere that people can see your work at the moment?
Amir: Right now, I'm really interested in looking at recreating larger-scale built environments, be it indoors or outdoors as functional installations, hopefully incorporating technology to create experiences and allow users to have moments and more tactile interactions with these spaces. This summer, I will be creating a site-specific installation at Wave Hill in the Bronx as part of their 2019 Sunroom Project Space exhibition series.
I'm also showing a piece at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and they're having a studio residency, as well, where you interact with the museum visitors. I've never really considered children as a direct audience to work with, but considering I'm working with decay, deconstruction and reconstruction methodologies, it's interesting because they come with less perceived notions of how things are done, and therefore maybe I’ll have some interesting interactions with them, especially when breaking things!