Hadi Fallahpisheh

Photograph courtesy of the artist

By Matt Mullen

Like many of us after the 2016 election, Hadi Fallahpisheh was distraught. The 33-year-old artist was living alone in upstate New York, lonely and unmoored after having recently completed an MFA program in photography. His student visa had run out and he was facing deportation to Iran. As a way to channel his despair, Fallahpisheh conceived of an audacious art project: he would purchase two-dozen bottles of Trump-branded wine, drink the contents, and turn them into Molotov cocktails, which he would then explode as part of a performance. Fallahpisheh considered staging his performance outside Trump Tower; eventually he settled on a much less risky route: he buried the gasoline-filled bottles upstate, to serve as a time capsule, a record of those troubling times.

Shortly after completing the project, Fallahpisheh moved to Brooklyn, sorted out his visa, and began pursuing his uniquely hybrid form of photography, which he makes using light and photosensitive paper. More like drawings than photos, they usually feature anthropomorphic animals, cartoonish humans, and architectural structures—hardly anything explosively political. But when racial injustice protests erupted in the city this summer, Fallahpisheh remembered his buried bombs, and felt called to them. He drove back upstate, dug the bottles up, and once again turned them into art. They're now on view in a solo show at Andrew Kreps Gallery, appropriately titled “BLOW-UPS,” alongside recent photo and sculptural works. 

“When I dug them up, it was like seeing a dead body, a body I had buried myself,” Fallahpisheh recalled. “It was traumatizing. I hadn’t been back upstate since I buried them—it was too painful to go back.” Fallahpisheh was surprised to discover the gasoline inside the bottles had evaporated while underground. But he liked that the empty vessels contained the implicit suggestion of danger; an explosive potential.

For “BLOW-UPS,” Fallahpisheh incorporated the bottles into assemblages. They pop up throughout the gallery, either prominently—sitting atop a stack of pillows, encased in vitrines—or subtly—tucked under a rug, or beneath a ceramic cat. Their vaguely sinister energy seems to waft into the other work. Blood-red handprints and lashes appear on otherwise-pristine ceramic vessels. Stuffed bears are pinned to a wall, their heads shoved into pots, tears coming from their imagined eyes. Fallahpisheh’s large-scale and vividly hued photographs—his most recognizable work—further explore the interplay between violence and innocence. Many were made in the languorous early days of quarantine and depict human-like figures and animals. But they’re surrounded by a wooden fence that evokes dungeon doors. In some places Fallahpisheh took an axe to it.

“It's good to destroy what you thought was perfect,” Fallahpisheh says, “because sometimes the other direction is more interesting.” A metaphor for the past four years?

Published: November 05, 2020

BLOW-UPS” was on view at Andrew Kreps Gallery, 22 Cortlandt Alley, New York, through November 7, 2020.