With a career spanning over four decades, Iranian-born South-Australian artist Hossein Valamanesh has had time to consider love, belonging and existence within his evolving artistic practice. His new solo exhibition In Love, which opens at ACE Open this week, expands upon these ideas through sculpture, painting and interactive video.
As audiences walk into the main gallery, they are welcomed by Enter, an interactive maze with four entrances, covered in an almost translucent, yellow screen with the Farsi word for love printed repeatedly. Valamanesh says it’s reflective of the various paths to, and out of, love.
“When someone is seeing you from the outside, you disappear in the middle of love,” he tells Broadsheet. “You can come in and exit from many different places. It shows that people are going on their own different journeys of love and the way audiences interact with the space can show how deep they are in love.”
Love has been a constant theme and inspiration throughout Valamanesh’s career. His experience migrating from Iran to Australia in the early 1970s and beginning an artistic practice in a foreign country has encouraged him to always “follow his madness”.
“When coming to Australia, I followed a young lady who immigrated here,” he says. “It didn’t work out, but I think that the notion of following your madness is a positive thing for me.
“I feel like these days, we need to talk about it more because there are so many other things being discussed: the idea of separating people from each other, building walls and disrespecting others. In Love is a counterpoint to this idea. Although love is such an overused and often misused word, it hasn’t been lost and gives people different ways of thinking and perceiving.”
In the gallery’s front room, the video work Passing uses footage of a meditative railway journey from a 2014 trip to the Yarra Valley, projected on both sides of the room, to illustrate the feeling of being caught between two places – a feeling Valamanesh says is “inherent as a migrant artist”. It’s about the uncertainty of life, including the afterlife.
“Passing is more not knowing about what happens to us after we pass away,” says Valamanesh. He recalls a trip to Japan, and a particular train ride that sparked the idea. “I was in Japan and saw this mountain, which was almost a purgatory. On the way back, I was in a single-carriage train. I could see where I was going and I could see what I was leaving behind. Not being able to get off the train, I felt caught there, but it was pleasant and safe, that you could see the future and what you left behind.”
In the centre of the room, between the two videos, is a pile of rocks inscribed with the names of people near and dear to him who have passed away. Some are written in Farsi, some in Japanese, some in English.
As we walk through the gallery, Valamanesh says he’s excited to be back at ACE after first exhibiting at the site in 1977, when it was known as the Australian Experimental Art Foundation. Since then, Valamanesh has become one of South Australia’s most renowned and respected visual artists, but he never forgets his roots. Scrolling through an email from the Aaran Art Gallery in Tehran, he’s excited about the state of contemporary art and creative practice in Iran. He says his practice has always been about balancing tradition and change.
“Tradition is good to learn from, but I don’t want to repeat it,” he says. “It’s all just a learning experience. You’re learning all the time.”