Variations

The Variations series, which includes the 2009 performance and video Variations (on a Haunted Wood) and the 2006 photo series Variations on a Possible Theme (39 Views on Solitude), explores the layers of accumulation and appropriation through which we reconstruct our memories by layering landscape images with original, borrowed and allusive text.

Mariam Ghani, Variations on a Haunted Wood, Erin Ellen Kelly, 2009, Queens Museum of Art
Variations (on a Haunted Wood) performance at the Queens Museum of Art for the opening of Tarjama/Translation in 2009; performers: Erin Ellen Kelly, Yana Kraeva, Despina Stamatos

Variations (on a Haunted Wood) was originally produced in 2009 in a 10-minute version, as a three-channel projection for a performance (choreographed by Erin Ellen Kelly) at the opening of the exhibition Tarjama/Translation at the Queens Museum of Art. This three-minute excerpt is taken from the single-channel video version (best listened to with headphones). It juxtaposes entwined layers of video shot in the Black Forest with voiceover text adapted from Dante, W.H. Auden and Forugh Farrokhzad.

Each image in the series Variations on a Possible Theme (39 Views on Solitude) pictures an impossibly romantic horizon, and each contains two lines of text: one visible and right-side-up, the other more or less hidden and upside-down. The sequence of images can therefore be read forwards (right-side-up) or backwards (upside-down). When read forwards and right-side-up, the sequence of visible texts present a reading of the visual narrative as a progression from dark to light, estrangement to intimacy, solitude to reciprocity. Read backwards and upside-down, the hidden texts are foregrounded, proposing a darker reading for every image, and subverting the romance of the images and visible texts with an undercurrent of doubt, ambivalence, and the measure of solitude found even within reciprocal intimacies. While all of the landscapes included in the series are European, with the majority of the photographs returning again and again to views from a single window at Akademie Schloss Solitude, the texts come from a variety of sources, including songs, poems, Chinese fortune cookies, public and private catchphrases, and overheard and remembered conversations. The resulting configurations of image and text — rhyming epigrams, jumbled commonplaces, personal myths – can be taken as individual snapshots of individual circumstances, or reassembled into a larger and more fractured narrative, a story about all the stories we tell ourselves about past, present and possible perfection.

Mariam Ghani, Variations on a Possible Theme
Variation #1 (archival inkjet print, edition of 5, 13 x 19 inches), 2006; click on the image to view the rest of the series