As a teen-ager, Jairan Sadeghi, the artist responsible for New Soil Experiments at ModernFormations Gallery, moved to the United States, from Iran. As an adult, she is moved to explore how her personal history intertwines with the social and cultural histories of her homelands past and present.
Her investigative tools range from tiny mixed-media constructions and postery ink-on-paper works to room-sized installations. But though the delivery is diverse for the grand-prize-winner in ModernFormations' annual Juried Spring Salon, the intent is similar: to scrutinize the endurance of the immigrant.
A recurring figure stands in, we can assume, for Sadeghi herself, but also representing the comprehensive Iranian-American experience. In the gallery's storefront space, we're introduced to the proxy through the series "Frames of Western PA in wintertime," 10 diminutive mixed-media works on copper plate. Actually, the figure is entirely missing from the first image, which depicts a tree barren of leaves but populated by birds, which are segregated into pitch stains on the left, ghostly white plops on the right. Whether the partition is by choice is unclear. Then the surrogate peeks into view, and our journey begins: Face usually hidden but for the eyes, she is rendered essentially genderless. As first seen, her arms are laden with bread, her orbs peering between scarves. In this succession of images alone, the doppelganger is secreted within a tree, obscured by her scarves, besieged with a suitcase filled with accusing eyes, and the recipient of the "Iranian Goodbye Kit," complete with weeping grandmother, water for the threshold and the Qur'an.
Meanwhile, "Three questions for a new patriot" incorporates the viewer into the routes traversed on the path to naturalization: Gallery-goers are invited to plonk down at the provided desk and, suggestion-box-style, craft new queries for the testing of would-be Americans. For the installation "Thataway," a woman identifiable as the weeping grandmother from the "Frames" series is sequestered in a corner, tilting forward with one arm outstretched in a gesture that can be interpreted just as easily to say "come back" as it can "good luck." Paper leaves edge along the wall and drift across the floor to huddle in whispery masses. The gallery's rear doorway separates the matriarch from the one she's trying to contact, and that one is already too far gone: A body flies away, feet, legs, torso visible but head and shoulders cut off by the wall.
All of the above appear in the gallery's front room, and share an attention to the external factors of passage. The works in the second, larger room are sharply turned to the internal. Largely executed in mixed media on paper, they'd be absolutely captivating based on imagery alone: spidery, spindly lines give way to hazy smudges; wood and wool are full of life and pattern; color and black-and-white join and split.
But this 2-D work acquires depth and perspective when you stare beyond the execution, at the ideas contained herein. A white-clad warrior atop a tiger threatens a shadowy figure straddling a bison. A figure wrapped in a pale shroud is literally toe-to-toe with another in Western clothing up to its neck, a satchel and papers clutched to a chest. Both are surrounded by arrows, and one has pierced the covered body. A shrine delicately formed by scrupulous lines fragile in their precision billows clouds of murky smoke.
The double runs through most of these, and is (almost) always depicted wearing slacks, fairly plain shirt, bootish shoes and head covering, revealing eyes alone. But in one, she's different. The bare branches of a tree support by the hair an equally nude woman.
The scarf is gone. Everything else has been stripped away, too.
New Soil Experiments continues through Jan. 25. Modern Formations Gallery, 4919 Penn Ave., Garfield. 412-362-0274