‘The Line of March’ presents a series of candied polygons – shiny enamel on MDF tiles in edible hues of yellow, green, pink and blue – equal parts minimalism, abstract expressionism and Islamic qit’a (fragments of verse for aesthetic contemplation). Iranian-American artist Pouran Jinchi is meticulous in her painting, splicing and rhythmic patterning of the geometric forms, whose calligraphic, symbol-laden surfaces are gestural and alive despite undergoing controlled deconstruction. A thick blue stripe with red edges painted on the walls guides visitors from a smooth-edged white, red and blue hexagonal composition towards a larger cerulean and yellow piece laid like brickwork. From there viewers are led to three squares of ink painting on white paper and, finally, to 18 immaculate, obsessive, graph-like line drawings on graphite and greyed-out Colourfix paper. The overall effect is structured and precise – even the kaleidoscopic scrambling of the tiles.
At the entrance to the gallery hangs Morse Code Black (2016), an embroidered Morse code interpretation of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (5th century BCE) on khaki linen. In the centre of the space rests The Red Line (2017), an installation of folded copper and brass triangles standing in hierarchical battle formation. Decorated with vibrant stripes, the work is inspired by a black and white photograph taken in Leningrad in 1924, when a life-size chess game was staged by Soviet grandmasters with members of the Red Army and Red Navy outside of the Winter Palace. The hanging tileworks have titles such as T as Tango and D as Delta (both 2017): their bloated linear forms – which create the vague optical illusion of wriggling organisms under a microscope – represent the NATO phonetic alphabet translated into Farsi calligraphy. Those metal triangles now look more like alef, the first letter of the Arabic/Farsi alphabet. In combination with the show’s title – appropriated from French rococo painter Jean-Antoine Watteau’s 18th-century work of a crowd of soldiers headed for battle – these prompts indicate that Jinchi’s colourful pops and clean lines are derived from military sources, such as camouflage and naval flags.
Jinchi uses minimalist abstraction to conjure the structure and hierarchy implicit in militarism: the artworks are pure in hue and composition, organized with regimented precision and reliant on the elegance of calligraphic prose. However, the works offer appealing abstractions that belie the harsh realities of war and communicate little of the complex relationship between language, codes and authority. The calligraphic patterning strips codes down to meaningless letters, battle violence is simplified to a chess reference and historical contexts are glazed over by layers of candied enamel. Jinchi intentionally incorporates visual charm to highlight the normalization of conflict in contemporary society, but in doing so loses the power to convey its horrors.
It seems clear that one of Jinchi’s aims is to demonstrate how innocuously war – its images, its phraseology – can infiltrate the day-to-day. However, I found myself questioning whether these beautiful, precisely arranged tiling patterns contained other, hidden messages. Then again, perhaps that’s beside the point. Code is intended to be unrecognizable and unattainable: Jinchi’s semiotic layers remain indecipherable.
Main image: Pouran Jinchi, A as Alpha Green, 2017, enamel on MDF panels, 1.4 x 1.4 m. Courtesy: The Third Line, Dubai, UAE
First published in Issue 192