Nasrin Tabatabai and Babak Afrassiabi

Nasrin Tabatabai and Babak Afrassiabi

MACBA Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona

Nasrin Tabatabai and Babak Afrassiabi,Seep, 2012. Still from one of the installation videos. Work produced by the MACBA Foundation.

October 27, 2012

Nasrin Tabatabai
and Babak Afrassiabi

27 October 2012–20 January 2013

Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA)
Plaça dels Àngels, 1, 08001 Barcelona
Hours: Weekdays 11–7:30pm
Saturday 10–8pm (from 10 November, 10–9pm)
Sunday and public holidays 10–3pm
Closed Tuesdays (except public holidays)

Exhibition organized by MACBA and curated by Soledad Gutiérrez

Nasrin Tabatabai and Babak Afrassiabi have been collaborating together under the name Pages since 2004, involving various joint projects and the publication of a bilingual magazine in Farsi and English. They are based in Rotterdam and work both in Iran and the Netherlands. Their projects and the magazine’s editorial approach are closely linked, often founded on historically and politically equivocal relationships between modernity and contemporary art.

In their first solo exhibition in Spain, and as a result of their collaboration with MACBA, Tabatabai and Afrassiabi present their new installation Seep. Including two video projections, objects and prints, Seep is derived from the archives of two institutions in the UK and Iran: that of British Petroleum (BP) and the Western art collection in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMOCA).

The archive of BP is related to the company’s origin in Iran between 1908 and 1951, when it operated under the name of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) following the discovery of the first oil in the Middle East. This archive is a meticulous documentation from the company’s early searches for oil in the south of Iran to the building of the world’s biggest oil refinery and the industrial city of Abadan. By 1951 the pursuit of the nationalisation of oil in Iran brought the refinery to a standstill and forced the evacuation of the AIOC from the country.

The collection of Western art at TMOCA was put together a quarter of a century later. The market crisis and the increase in oil prices during the 1970s, which had boomed Iran’s oil-driven economy, had made possible the rapid building of a large collection of art works from the late nineteenth century to the late 1970s, mostly from Europe and the US. The collection was inaugurated in October 1977 together with the building of the museum. But with the Islamic Revolution in 1979, it was renounced and withdrawn to the museum’s cellars. Twenty years later a careful selection was again publicly exhibited.

One thing the archives have in common is their eventual suspension. And it is precisely in such a state of ‘termination’ (as in the case of the BP archive) and ‘removal’ (as with the TMOCA collection) that Tabatabai and Afrassiabi locate these two archives in their work.

Seep at MACBA
The installation is introduced by the video Seep (1), which addresses the making of a Technicolor film in Iran in 1951 by the AIOC. The video is a dramatization of a letter by the film’s commissioned director addressed to the company, in which he obsessively stresses the ‘unfilmability’ of the project and writes ‘on a closer examination of the location, much of the visual material proves to be unfilmable’ and that ‘the uncertainty of the general situation make a worthwhile Technicolor film virtually impossible in the oilfields and Abadan.’ The film, to be titled Persian Story, was to draw a seamless colour picture along the lines of the narrative of the company’s own archive. But the final story became an undermined version inevitably including the oil dispute and the refinery’s standstill. Seep (1) invokes the ‘unfulfilled’ fiction of the BP archive in Persian Story, and sets, structurally and materially, the basis for the ‘dramaturgy’ of the various parts of the installation.

Among the objects in the installation is a scale model of the museum. Representing only the building’s interior passages that descend from the ground floor towards the lower level of the museum’s storage, the model underlines the collection’s (and with it the museum’s) vertical retraction underground, bypassing the representational space of the galleries. When acquired, the collection was to exhibit a sense of ‘contemporariness’ in 1970s Iran and fulfil a desired association with ‘modernity.’ This pursuit of contemporariness carried a deep denial of the collection’s immediate socio-political and historical conditions. Strangers in a foreign land, these modern paintings and sculptures became truly contemporary only when they got withdrawn into the museum’s cellar, and so re-entered history, although through an inverted route.

Text published under a Creative Commons licence (Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported – CC BY-SA 3.0).


Wednesday 31 October, at 7:30pm
Special tour
With commentary by Soledad Gutiérrez
(exclusive to the Friends of MACBA)
Museum galleries; limited places.

Daily guided tours
(included in the admission fee)

More information at and @MACBA_Barcelona #filtracions

Seep is a work produced by the MACBA Foundation, with the collaboration of the Delfina Foundation and Chisenhale Gallery, where it will be exhibited in spring 2013.

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MACBA Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona
October 27, 2012

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