By Allyson Aritcheta
All images by Tey Yu Jing
Pieces of slide are held up by metal frames. Drawings of playgrounds line walls. Two giant soap blocks sit on wooden platforms. Wrapped in walls of blue, Ghazaleh Avarzamani’s Never Never Land houses game-based drawings, sculptures, and fibre works. Avarzamani’s first solo exhibition in Canada questions the rules and methodologies used to educate and shape a player’s existential outlook, ultimately examining the paradoxical realities of society and its traditions, educational methodologies, individual aspirations, and cultural utopias.
Framed drawings of playgrounds in blue ink on dot gridded paper form two rows in Regarding Playground (2018). The first row is obscure, some drawings look like schematics while others look like strange metal monsters. The second row is familiar with silhouettes of different playgrounds. It takes a while to discern that the first row is composed of overhead drawings of the playgrounds in the second row. Capturing only two of the infinite amount of angles of the playground challenges how much we can really know about a structure or game, opening us up to a breath of possibilities that were never considered before. The goal of this piece is to skeptically examine playgrounds as prescriptive designs for self-reliance. The concept of self-reliance is shattered through the idea that in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the game, players need to cooperate with their different views, in order to piece images together. Socially, understanding people’s takes on a situation creates nuances that wouldn’t normally be there. Hearing about how people are affected by a situation allows others to view certain rules and regulations differently, broadening one’s perspective on what is socially acceptable within social structures.
While Regarding Playground centers the player’s interaction with the game, Strange Temporalities (2019) focuses on the structure of the game. The installation, a deconstructed blue slide on metal armature, disregards the player’s safety. Individual pieces are held up at odd angles, metal obstructing any opportunity for the player to safely interact with the slide or assemble it. The fragmented slide pieces, although part of something cohesive, can never come together. Although this game is disassembled, it is further inaccessible to the player because the amount of ways to approach it are endless. Societies restructure their regulations as determined by ruling bodies, causing citizens to constantly chase after what is socially acceptable. This observation related to infinite perspectives is similar to the playground, except this structure isn’t whole. Here, Avarzamani reveals a structural paradox: games have a never-ending amount of rules and methodologies, regardless of the completeness of their structure. The potential for games is limitless, the potential for societal norms is limitless.
This paradox is also seen in Fortune Tellers (2016). In this work, blank moulded origami fortune tellers hang from a blue wall. The unfinished fortune tellers, although identical in structure, can reveal a multitude of futures. Interestingly, this unfinished game leaves room for the player to use their imagination. The ambiguity that comes with constantly shifting norms sometimes allows citizens to redefine what it means to be “normal.”
The endless combinations of rules and methodologies makes a player or citizen uneasy. After all, a person needs clear definitions in order to play a game—whether they be of an entertaining or societal nature. To identify the winners and the losers. To know who cheated and who played by the rules.
This dizzying effect of rules and methodologies is complemented by Avarzamani’s use of atmospheric perspective—where, when viewed from far away, an object appears unclear and its colour starts to blend with the blue-sky background in a piece. The dark and light blues start to blend after a few minutes of observation from different angles, and distinctions are remembered, but sometimes not perceptually maintained. This carries on the need for stability in a space that is constantly shifting, visually, and structurally.
Rules & Learning
A mural piece of the oldest printed game sheet, Game of Goose (2016–19) features an embroidery of a game map on blue kisseh (Middle Eastern washcloth/loofah) and a wooden box filled with blue rubber mulch. The game is about medieval spiritual beliefs, instructing players on moral, social, and religious matters. The box mimics the game map in size and shape, but not content. The game map suggests rules to obey both in-game and in real life as a responsible citizen, while the box is open to rules imposed by the player. However, using kisseh and rubber mulch suggests the impermanence of rules; they can be wiped away or manipulated. This duality of assertion and deletion shows that the rules from games can be imposed or overthrown. By doing so, the player finds themselves in a game without structure once more. Likewise, the definitions of acceptable behaviour in society can be disregarded or challenged by citizens, creating a lawless state that helps to fuel existential crises.
An example of the impermanence of rules and games is the textile work Of Manual (2019). A carpet with shapes of classic board games and pieces is split onto four wooden boards on wheels. Three of the structures are mixed up on the floor, while one piece remains on the blue wall. The game is unplayable without the third piece, yet the remaining pieces may create the opportunity for a new kind of game to emerge.
Desire is Tender is Love is Love (2019) speaks to the player’s response to the instability of rules and games. The piece is composed of two glycerine soap blocks—one blue, one naturally yellow. It appears that the blue block has a firm set of rules in place, but the material—in this case, soap—that the blue regulations are imposed on counteracts their permanence, like other blue pieces in the exhibit. The comparison between a socially constructed block and a block that has yet to be socialized is a reminder that socialization is a transformation, not a permanent state. The imposing structures are a reminder that rules and games can be learned and unlearned. Although, since games and societies have an unlimited number of rules and methodologies that are impermanent in nature, this also means that the action of learning and unlearning is infinite. This relationship between the rules of games, structures, and players suggests a co-dependent dynamic that is easily unravelled.
The connection between in-game and social rules in Game of Goose best represents the parallel Avarzamani is making between the construction of games and social structures. Social structures, like games, provide a set of rules that citizens, like players, must learn to follow or they risk being ejected from society or the game. Citizens build rules and socialize each other to act a certain way, so that they can keep participating in society. A way of looking at this would be my urge to play and climb on the installations of the exhibition, but based on etiquette in art-based spaces, I am to observe, not interact.
But, like games, society has a plethora of rules and methods for socialization, and the learning and unlearning required is vast. The relationship between society and its citizens is also co-dependent. There is still no solid set of rules or well-defined game; the player is still waiting for clear rules.
A gamer’s delight, Never Never Land reveals that because social structures are fragile, we can define the rules and methods we live by, even if we may not be able to immediately change existing norms. The transitory state of society and citizen that Avarzamani presents gives hope that non-violent spaces exist, and that one day we’ll find spaces with values that match our own.
Never Never Land can be seen at the Koffler Gallery at Artscape Youngplace until March 19, 2019.
Allyson Aritcheta is a Toronto-based freelance journalist and reviewer whose writing has appeared in This Magazine, Xtra, and From the Root. She has a graduate certificate in publishing from Centennial College and Bachelor of Arts from Ryerson University, where she majored in psychology and minored in English. Allyson is a co-owner of creative studio Barkada Freelance. She can be found on twitter @allaritcheta.