The Unbearable Lightness of Mathematics
The Unbearable Lightness of Mathematics, 2020
Solo Exhibition, Mercury 20 Gallery, Oakland, CA
Since 2014, Pantea Karimi’s work has been an exploration into the pages of medieval and early modern scientific manuscripts. Karimi’s current project reflects on her intensive science training in high school with the aim of becoming a doctor; a goal that she abandoned to pursue an art career. This project revisits her interest in the topic through the lens of art.
White and branded footwear, bright-colored socks, backpacks, polished nails, makeup kits, cassettes, and glossy posters of Western celebrities were the forbidden items that kept hundreds of teenage girls—who were otherwise sheathed in full hijabs—at the schoolyard before attending their classes. The long lines and the frustrating process of searching for these items by the school authorities were to assure that everyone conformed to the rules of public life in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The story of coming-of-age in post-revolutionary Iran is accompanied by the pressure placed on the youth for excelling in mathematics, arguably the most esteemed subject of study.
The Unbearable Lightness of Mathematics is Pantea Karimi’s personal story of four years of science education in the late 80s under the Islamic Republic of Iran.
For this solo exhibition at the Mercury 20 Gallery, Karimi has made a series of mock blackboards animated by chalk-written mathematical formulas topped with the phrase In the Name of God in Persian. The black thread formation and marked spots on the floor are reminders of the long lines in her schoolyard and the atmosphere she experienced every morning before class. Ironically these demarcations are also familiar during the COVID-19 pandemic. Coupled with a few “forbidden” objects mounted in the gallery, Karimi reconstructs her Iran’s science classroom of the 1980s. While a personal story, this exhibition connotes a restrictive educational system that did not leave much room for focused-learning or personal explorations. This poignant anxiety is captured through the gradual fading of the contents of the mock blackboards. Mathematics was, indeed, too abstract and aloof to stimulate the articulation of subversive thoughts, artistic sentiments, and socio-political views. Unbearably “light” for the “heavy” environment in which it was taught, mathematics is both the agonizing and the celebrated protagonist in this exhibition.
3Dimensional view of the gallery and the exhibition
Blackboard 1, 2020, chalk on black paper, 30×44 inches
Blackboard 1 includes the mimic of Newton’s mathematical hand-writing from his manuscript, Principia, next to Pantea Karimi’s handwriting in Persian, articulating her thoughts and anxiety about learning mathematics and the exams.
Blackboard 2, 2020, chalk on black paper, 30×44 inches
Blackboard 3, 2020, chalk on black paper, 30×44 inches
Blackboard 4, 2020, chalk on black paper, 30×44 inches
Blackboard 5, 2020, chalk on black paper, 30×44 inches
Blackboard 6, 2020, chalk on black paper, 30×44 inches
Blackboard 7, 2020, chalk on black paper, 30×44 inches
Blackboard 8, 2020, chalk on black paper, 30×44 inches
Blackboard 9, 2020, chalk on black paper, 30×44 inches
Blackboard 10, 2020, chalk on black paper, 30×44 inches
Blackboard 5 & 6, 2020
Blackboards 1-10, and Forbidden Objects, Mercury 20 Gallery
Forbidden Objects, variable dimensions, 2020
The Math Notebook, installation, variable dimensions, 2020
The installation wraps around the gallery, and ends with Pantea Karimi’s logo as her identity. The installation is an enlarged math notebook that includes charcoal drawings, and mathematical notes. The charcoal drawings are those emotions that were not supposed to be expressed. The black shapes are from Circulation of Knowledge: Nexus and Lore installation. Karimi has used those same shapes but out of context here to comment on the “abstract” aspect of mathematics or how mathematics could be explored abstractly in a creative way.
Installation view, Mercury 20 Gallery, Sep-Oct 2020
Math Notebook, installation wraps around the gallery, variable dimensions, 2020
Mercury 20 Gallery, panoramic installation view
Through video, moving images, and sound, Karimi remakes the experience and the anxiety she went through attending her science classroom for the viewer.
Come to the Blackboard (Biyaa Paaye Takhteh), 2020, Video and sound (layered voice), 47 minute
The voice in Persian mimicking one of Karimi’s math teachers calling her to the blackboard to solve a math problem. The voice feels militant and serious. The layering of the voice showcases Karimi’s anxiety and fear.
To Tell My Story, 2020, video and audio, 1:11
Come to the Blackboard, 2020, video and sound, 1:27
The video is recorded in the gallery space.
Gallery Installation, video, 1:52
Blackboards 1-10, showcases the progression of anxiety through the disappearance of content, animation, 45 seconds