Works by Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian on display at the Liverpool Biennial.
It’s a blustery day in Liverpool, the spray from a pop-up car-wash business drifting across an abandoned brewery on the fringes of the English city’s famous waterfront. In usual circumstances the location, one of the sites for the Liverpool Biennial, might be a somewhat bleak scene – but as Dubai-based artists Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian poke their heads inquisitively through the small door leading to a cavernous warehouse full of their work, there is immediately an air of sunny mischief.
Not surprising, really, when one of their first pieces appears to be a car exhaust dangling from a gallows, adorned with fairy lights, decorative woodwork – and a shaving mirror. Behind the structure is a video playing in which, dressed as nightmarish animal characters, they are packing up King Above Us All ready for supposedly illicit shipment.
“Fun should be a part of the process," says Rokni Haerizadeh. “In fact, if you don’t have fun, as an artist you become a clown."
“We can laugh at the video now, because those creatures aren’t us," adds Rahmanian.
“We never say we did this work – the creatures did. They are the smugglers."
Welcome, then, to the weird and wonderful world of brothers Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian. King Above Us All is just a small part of a sprawling collection of their sculptural objects, paintings, videos and installations on this site and three others around Liverpool, broadly fitting into the Biennial’s theme of voyages through time and space.
The idea was to gather together as much of the artwork from the villa in which they live and work in Dubai, hide the works within each other and notionally “smuggle" them by sea from the UAE to Liverpool.
“It was as much about seeing what arrived," says Rahmanian. “When the Biennial called and said it had been scanned, it was like the project was complete."
Except, of course, they then had to put it all together. As much as the smuggling aspect feels a bit forced – the three “semi- submersibles" called Anti-Catty, Princess Rambo and Space-Sheep used to “hide" the artworks came in an official crate – it is the trio’s style to improvise with the materials, and the people, they have to hand.
“The way we collaborate is to become creatures, and then those creatures start to define the environment we want to look at," says Rokni. “We don’t call our house a home – it’s a film set, a studio, a library, a research centre. So we started to find objects and even buy artworks related to those creatures, and we performed every day. For us, the creative process is not about refining work to reach the end result or some kind of understanding, it’s about augmenting and accumulating."
So a trombone becomes a crutch or a radio-signal receiver. A wheelchair is also an ironing board. A papier mâché head is crowned with a plastic jug and chicken. What it all “means" is barely the point – although if someone wanted to impose a narrative about the reliance of the world on petrochemicals onto King Above Us All, they probably could.
“People will always have different interpretations," says Rokni. “They might be political, they might be religious. We had this amazing evening in Dubai last year where a completely arbitrary audience turned up with all these crazy ideas about our work – honestly, it contributed to our vision as artists. That made us happy because we want a reaction, whatever it is. But maybe also you don’t have to understand or comprehend everything, too."
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