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Goethe at LUX Residency
Interview with Anahita Razmi

The Future State - Anahita Razmi
© David Burnett

Anahita Razmi is the current Goethe at LUX artist in residence. Here, she speaks about her work, the merging of politics and arts, and why a roundtable debate at which everybody has to get drunk might help us figure out the future of statehood.

You have reached the halfway point of your Goethe at LUX residency. What have your impressions been so far?

The first six weeks have been quite intense for me, because I came here with a project that needed a lot of research and networking to begin with. So since I got here, I‘ve been doing a lot of reading, as well as contacting and meeting people. So it’s not been a lonely residency at all, which is great! I’ve also had a lot of support from the Goethe-Institut and LUX.
The title of your residency project is THE FUTURE STATE – tell us more about the project and what you are hoping to achieve with it.

“The Future State” is a deliberately open title. The project speculates on the future state of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but also on other, possibly related, future states. I am inviting different contributors from very different backgrounds – political activists, journalist, writers, artists, filmmakers and cultural workers - to enter a discussion on this topic. A topic which in itself of course is very loaded, especially at this moment in time.
I have planned a number of roundtables as part of the project. These don’t try to compete with a typical news channel roundtable or other known formats, but are open to experimentation and may include some weird and unorthodox approaches. So there’s going to be one roundtable where everybody who wants to participate needs to be drunk to discuss. I’m drawing on Herodotus for this who wrote about the Persians during the first Persian Empire. He describes them having drunken discussions to come up with ideas and decisions on important matters. And so we’re doing the same, but in 2018! Let’s see how that turns out. Maybe it totally fails, but then that’s also part of the project. 
I have found that the openness of the format really resonates with people, so there might be more events coming up in Berlin and elsewhere following my residency in London.

In recent years the political climate has changed quite dramatically but also the means of communicating

You include perspectives of diasporic political communities in your analysis of Iran and its future – what do those perspectives bring to the table?

When looking at Iranian diasporic political groups – and there are quite a few in London – I find the circumstances around being politically active, not within a country, but in relation to a country, very interesting. Is it even possible to have a voice from elsewhere? In recent years the political climate has changed quite dramatically but also the means of communicating. Many of these groups are very active on social media and that is interesting especially in relation to a country where officially there is only state media and Facebook and Twitter are banned.

The question is often: Who are you talking to? Are you talking to your peers in London or are you actually reaching people in Iran? What do factory workers protesting in Ahwaz, Iran in 2018, have to do with these groups in London? The connections and disconnections are very interesting to me. 
One particularly influential political activist within the Iranian diaspora in the UK was Iranian Marxist Mansoor Hekmat who worked in Iran until 1981 and then came to London and wrote from exile here until his death in 2002, along with a group of people who are still politically active in London now. In fact, Hekmat’s widow will be part of our next roundtable. I much look forward to talking to her.

Is communism even a concept we can draw on when thinking about the future state of Iran, or the UK or Germany?

You have already mentioned Iranian Marxist Mansoor Hekmat. He is actually buried close to Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery – what would you say we can learn from the two thinkers today? 

When reading some of Hekmat’s writings and talking to his widow on skype, it feels like these are writings referring to political circumstances of their time, but at the same time they are incredibly timely and open to interpretations in the future. They are not fixed. For the project I take their writings as a reference to open a speculation regarding the future. And to think about what those writings mean today, but also what they don’t mean today.
Is communism even a concept we can draw on when thinking about the future state of Iran, or the UK or Germany? If we think about history and historical references such as the Iranian Revolution in 1979, which started as a 'people's revolution' or maybe even a socialist revolution, what can we learn from that for the future?
The fact that the ideas that underpinned the beginning of the revolution, became something very different, even contradictory over the course of time and have very little to do with today’s Islamic Republic of Iran, maybe shows us that real-world socio-political situations change constantly. I feel like there is a lot to learn from this and to be taken further – also in relation to the future of other states.

Your work (mostly video, installation, new media and performance) revolves around cultural transfers and translocations; and there is much reference to temporal context. That sounds quite abstract. Can you give us an example to explain what this means?

Different projects I’ve done in relation to Iran, for instance, have taken objects and artefacts from Iran and translocated them to Germany, the US or the UK. Or have been trying to re-enact western art history in Tehran. I have also been using my own persona, my German-Iranian background, to explicitly misplace the idea of a national identity.
Iranian objects outside of Iran are often either sanctioned or exoticised or both. I am interested in why that is. What are the socio-political circumstances that influence those perceptions and reactions? By looking at something in another context, what can we learn from it about ourselves and our society? This as an artistic strategy that in effect means working between different geographical and temporal contexts. More often than not this also brings out quite funny results through unexpected and weird constellations.