Over the past few years the London-based sculptor Shahin Afrassiabi has been quietly distinguishing himself by making very fine art out of the idea of DIY, employing materials such as wallpaper, carpets and shelving. His installations are like loft conversions in progress. On one side of a patch of chipboard wall there might be suggestions of homeliness: some dreadful wallpaper or circles of carpet. On the other side you might find the mess the builders have left behind, objects with their potential still unrealized. From the motifs on the printed designs to the treatment of sculptural space the shrivelled traces of heroic Modernism can be found.
Afrassiabi recently showed the most accomplished and resolved expressions of these ideas in two installations in the Whitechapel Art Gallery's group show 'Early One Morning'. Bravely, however, he acknowledged that they can't be refined much further, and so he explored a different approach at Vilma Gold. This new work is a departure in a very real sense: although the foundations of the earlier work are still in sight, the new material handles the same themes and motifs in a different way.
Letting go his interest in sculptural space, this recent show comprised a collection of drawings, groups of paintings and objects, a film and an amusing self-portrait, suggesting Afrassiabi as an interloper in Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907). The artist looks like an ape trying to pass off as a prostitute, complete with earrings and rouge. The work adopts a satirical attitude towards Modernism that is developed throughout the show. In one recent series untitled drawings - collaged cut-outs of cheap home furnishings - emerge out of geometric abstractions as if in a ghastly birthing process. In another arrangement the second-hand Orphism of a thinly painted canvas is echoed in saccharine fashion by the strip of wallpaper behind it; meanwhile, a model building block on an accompanying shelf suggests another noble form yet to be diluted into the domestic. The theme of potential - unrealized or diluted - resounds throughout the work.
Some of the work is richly inconclusive. Shelf Display with Toby Jug (Head of a Man) (all works 2002), for instance, is an abbreviated installation. But what is the significance of the jug? If Afrassiabi's materials are the building blocks of a commodified Modern, then the jug is a grotesque in their midst, the product of a folk culture, something earlier and alien. Wall Display with Electric Cable and Floor has a similarly surreal resonance. On the wall are pastiches of Constructivist Letraset, alongside which a cable runs down to circles of lino with fake wood patterning on the floor. On one level the circles are like Richard Artschwager's Blps - they simply animate their surrounds - but on another level they function like fragments of a domestic environment used to symbolize ideal form. As in Afrassiabi's earlier work, Modernism meets the market-place, but now the clash is more eerie and absurd.
Afrassiabi's video Demolition Doll Rods also refigured previously underlying themes in a radically new form. At times it feels like a bootleg rock video, which in essence it is, being simply amateur footage of a Detroit rock band setting up and starting their act. The emphasis, however, is on the setting up: the camera wanders idly over the stage, picking up and lingering, comically and fetishistically, on guitars, amps and loitering musicians.
Rather than treating the ideas of theatre and potential in the manner of old Modernist/Minimalist approaches, Demolition Doll Rods presents them more literally. Here theatre isn't a matter of an object's comportment; it's a question of the construction of stardom. Afrassiabi's work isn't about constructive energy; it's about seizing back the tools of cultural expression - starting afresh in the garage with a guitar and an amp. This is rich and strange territory, and if Afrassiabi is a bit uncertain in charting the way, he can be forgiven.
First published in Issue 70