The artistic concern of the gaze, an unreciprocated act that brings both aesthetic pleasure and aesthetic pain, extends to cultural examinations as well as personal interactions. This initial interaction, though problematic when existing at just the surface, can be the provocative trigger that leads to an investigation of deeper issues. Iraq/Iran examines the Western idea of Orientalism through playful use of the English language signifiers for these countries—the words “Iraq” and “Iran”. Though the differences between these two countries are significant, Western culture’s tendency to mistake one for the other and to fuse them into the broad category of The Orient is the basis for this project.
Iraq/Iran is a text-only green neon sign that constantly switches between spelling “Iraq” and “Iran” in English, rendered in a handwritten fashion. The last letter is the only part of the sign to change, flickering back and forth from “Q” to “N” at a continuous rate. To the viewer’s eye, this transition between letters will be just a blur, and speaks to the simple ways in which societies view and make assumptions about cultures different from their own. The division between the two countries named in Iraq/Iran is here simplified to the difference of just one letter. The transitional act of this flickering character, in its minimal aesthetic, functions as a playful, provocative look at intercultural engagement and assumptions.
The sign occupies the totality of one entire wall in a room devoid of any additional ambient light, resulting in an experience that is fully immersive for the viewer. Iraq/Iran casts light on the viewers, drawing them into the artwork and making them part of its implications.
The use of the color green for the neon sign has multiple associations. The color, while significant to both Iranian and Iraqi cultures, for instance, appearing prominently in both countries’ flags, also connotes the idea of openness. This, in association with the neon sign itself, lends an informal, playful air to the piece and places it in dialog with the neon signage of other artists such as Tracey Emin and Bruce Nauman. Finally, the neon sign is a format instantly recognizable to the viewer, and thusly is an object able to be interacted with in a manner that is immediate.