Iranian artist Rokni Haerizadeh's work at the Carnegie International attracts as it repels | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Iranian artist Rokni Haerizadeh's work at the Carnegie International attracts as it repels

His grotesque additions to videos and printed matter never violate the logic of the original compositions.

Rokni Haerizadeh's "Reign of Winter"
Rokni Haerizadeh's "Reign of Winter"

Dozens of drawings and a pair of animations by Iranian artist Rokni Haerizadeh join the contemporary art at the 2013 Carnegie International. The exhibit is the first in the U.S. for Haerizadeh, who lives and works in Dubai in exile from his native Tehran.

Most basically, Haerizadeh's artistic practice consists of transforming reprints of media images by drawing over portions of the original. His genius lies in his ability to pick up on latent tendencies in the images and pursue their unseen trajectories. However absurd his interventions may seem, the grotesque additions never violate the logic of the original compositions. Rather than sublimate, Haerizadeh lets the instincts out, and it's these forces, unchecked, that guide his brush: contorting faces, lopping off heads or morphing people into furniture or animals.

Haerizadeh's drawings are parasitic without preference for genre or medium. Scenes of civil unrest or political patronage get juxtaposed with snapshots from a wedding album. All is ceremony and subject to the same atavisms. His gestural figures colonize their host texts and pervert the original images, even as they expose the fallacy of the authentic. His "sketchbook" — fittingly perched above the museum's Grand Staircase — is an already-published, illustrated history of 2011's British royal wedding that Haerizadeh recasts as an orgiastic assembly of animals, costumed phalli and headless bodies. The debauchery and paganism once allied with ritual rise to the surface in a work that supplants the banality of picturebook desire in favor of the artist's more fertile and animistic visions.

Haerizadeh's talent for liberating the repressed is most explicit in the two videos, each composed of thousands of individual hand-drawn frames. Once animated, his figures invade the conventional space of the filmed scene. In coils of ink and gesso, they consume their hosts or — in the case of a news broadcaster — spew like nightmares from their heads. In silence, the footage proceeds like a reverse exorcism, as if the demons had been persuaded to reinhabit the bodies, to exhibit the convulsions of their bastard forms.

Yet Haerizadeh operates at a level that confounds any effort at a consonant affective reading. We can never with any certainty say whether the imagery disgusts or arouses, makes us hungry or sick — and it's this ability to provoke such weird ambivalences that make these works so worth our attention.