The Pleasure of Futile Cycles
Suppose, said Zeno, that you’re headed toward a particular point in the distance. To get there, you must first travel halfway, then three quarters, then seven eighths and so on, ad infinitum. “I always go back to Zeno’s paradox because it’s about folding,” the artist and critic Yasi Alipour told me. Zeno’s thought experiment illustrates how a finite sum can contain an infinitude, while Alipour’s exhibition “The Pleasure of Futile Cycles” at Twelve Gates Arts, in Philadelphia, contains about a dozen new works on paper, which depict only a range of the endless configurations that can be expressed through the binary logic of folding and unfolding.
Her exhibition contains two interrelated groups of work. About half of the works are made from paper coated in black toner. Where she creases the paper, the toner falls away, leaving stark white tangents that form circles and triangles and other basic geometries. These works often form studies for blue cyanotypes on handmade paper.
“My work is as much about specific paradoxes as it is about the way we prove things in writing and my hands-on relationship to mathematics,” she said. Her proposal that mathematics and logic can be concrete languages articulated by the body in motions and gestures, as opposed to abstract signs and integers, is a political one. The artist began studying paradoxes as a computer science student at the University of Tehran, where she was translating a book about Bertrand Russell into Farsi. “Russell’s response to paradoxes is that they’re an error of language,” she told me. “He was followed by mathematicians who argued we should have languages of logic that are nonbinary.” Probably all paradoxes are reducible to the limitations of expression, at a certain point, because math—like any other language—is a language inflected by accents. “We don’t tend to think of mathematics as a historical language or even as an aspect of colonialism,” she said. “We think it exists outside of language, politics and the social.”
At the same time that she was translating Russell, in 2009, Alipour was protesting in the Persian Spring, which was becoming increasingly dangerous. “Something people in this country don’t understand about being a post-Revolution Iranian person is that you have both the memory of living through a revolution and the knowledge that everything is the same,” Alipour said. “You know that revolution is both possible and impossible, and that stasis is the result of radical change.” What is that condition if not a paradox we must learn to inhabit? —Will Fenstermaker
Yasi Alipour, The Simultaneity of Two, 2021. Folded cyanotype on handmade watercolor paper, 29 x 54 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Twelve Gates Arts