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Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Seminal video exhibit transports viewers

In a production still from the 13-minute-long film \’Rapture,\’ Iranian men seem to be metaphorically waving farewell to their women counterparts.[/media-credit]

This time of year most everyone seeks an escape from the
bleary-eyed, caffeine-powered state of wakefulness that will soon become an unfortunate reality
during finals week.

Iranian filmmaker Shirin Neshat offers an artistic escape
for students through her two-channel video exhibit, “Rapture,” showing at
the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

One of three such two-channel films directed by Neshat,
“Rapture” addresses issues ranging from gendered subjectivity to homosociality
in a mere 13 minutes. Shown simultaneously on opposing walls, one film
depicts a group of Muslim men storming a fortress, while the other film captures
the movements of enshrouded women, culminated with an escape by sea.


Rapture is defined as a “mental or
spiritual transportation caused by a powerful emotion.”

In his lecture before
the gallery opening, UW-Madison Art Historian Michael Jay McClure specified that
Neshat’s films do not attempt to represent true Iranian culture, but instead
craft an atmosphere for audiences. In her work, Neshat channels calculated
composition to whisk viewers away from reality and draw them into the
atmosphere created by the video.

Both the men’s and women’s film, shown in the vertical and
horizontal vectors respectively, were shot in black and white with a neutral
camera angle and a mechanical point of view. Neshat’s techniques do not focus
on specific individuals in either of the films and instead frame the subjects
in groups. Through cinematography, Neshat then emphasizes community among the
women’s and men’s groups in both works.

Shown simultaneously, viewers will be awed by the complex
interplay of images and sounds that exist between the two films. As the films conclude,
six women float away from the coast as the men standing atop the fortress
seemingly wave in farewell. Though at times the sequences in the films appear
reactionary, the work is in no way narrative or bound by casual relationships.

The simultaneity of Neshat’s work poses an intriguing
problem for viewers, as they must continuously choose where to direct their
gaze. “Rapture” then creates a quintessential ephemerality of experience for
audiences. Each onlooker will derive a unique interpretation of Neshat’s
work depending on the particular film they watch at a particular time. The interpretations
of “Rapture” know no limits as viewers can watch the two films in an infinite
number of combinations.

Neshat is able to harness the tension between the two films to create
a charged atmosphere of unease for audiences, as they must continually shift their
focus to absorb the films equally, making it evident that emotions play an integral role in Neshat’s
work. Anxiety builds as men approach the fortress with a sense of urgency and
the women ululate later in the film.

While it maybe be tempting to focus on the visual aspects of
the exhibition, audio aspects of Neshat’s work also define viewers’ experiences.
Throughout the videos, chanting, singing, melodic intonation and drums overlap
to create a sonic collage. Neshat also combines traditional music with
electronica to infuse modern musical taste with historical Iranian rhythms.

During one sequence, all the women raise their hands in unison to reveal intricate
script written on their palms. At the same time, voices begin to layer in the
background providing an audio representation of the script.

Neshat represents Iran in “Rapture” without attempting to
explain any of the provocative subject matter presented in the films,
providing the questions and poetically leaving viewers to answer them.

“Rapture” will be at MMOCA in the museum’s State Street gallery until March 6.

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