TACOMA, Wash. — What does it mean to be a flâneur — to stroll about, consciously observing by some definitions, merely loafing by others — in the current political moment? The “strolling by” definition lacks a sense of urgency. In this moment, can anyone, other than the most privileged, live at enough of a distance from pressing issues, like human rights violations, discrimination, and the planet’s health, to saunter?
I found myself considering a new type of flâneur while surrounded by the work of Bay Area artist Minoosh Zomorodinia. Strolling resides at the heart of the installations, sculptures, video, and digital prints that comprise her Colonial Walk, a small show presented by Feast Arts Center in Tacoma. While on residencies in California’s Marin Headlands and Lyme, Connecticut, Zomorodinia took regular walks and filmed them. She then deconstructed these recordings into fragmentary images — a streambed, a patch of dirt, rock walls — and reassembled them into photographs and digital projections. Guest curator Thea Quiray Tagle explains that for Zomorodinia, who was born in Iran, these “psychogeographic” pieces raise questions of how immigrants find a sense of home.
In “Land Mark” (2018), the show’s largest piece, Zomorodinia projects a gridded montage of landscape surfaces across a gallery wall, while a jagged floor sculpture made of matte paper and wire fills the room’s center. The sculpture’s walls evoke both a children’s play fort and a discarded mass of paper; the experience of standing inside them, as the projections covered both the walls and my own skin, was mystifying. The landscape elements I could identify felt familiar; having once visited the Marin Headlands, it seemed like I should be able to discern the images’ sources. Yet, they never offered the relief of constructing a graspable place, instead leaving me with a sense of unsettlement and unknowingness. I wanted to figure out which segments belonged to which walk and hoped the artist might appear as a guide in some form but only found myself stranded with the impossible task of orienting myself within the strange place she constructed.
Zomorodinia’s physical absence in Colonial Walk is a strong statement. The 19th-century Parisian flâneur voluntarily removed himself from the world in the interest of engaging with it anew. By contrast, Zomorodinia’s person-less wanderings prompt a sense of yearning for connection and human contact within the places they portray. “Throughout Minoosh’s practice, you see her tackling questions of space: how we move through space, how we make our mark on built and natural environments that can be extremely hostile,” curator Tagle explains. The sites of the artist’s residencies are known for their physical hostilities: gusty Pacific winds fill the Marin Headlands and the ticks that cause Lyme disease are the namesake of the Connecticut town.
These questions, especially in light of ideas of immigration in Zomorodinia’s work, make for ripe metaphors in a time of refugee bans and deportation raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. One can imagine how hostile environments would abound for immigrants who thought they had found a sense of home in the United States. Even those who have not been physically detained may experience a sense of involuntary emotional removal from a place they thought they knew — a place they thought they belonged to.
The wall installation “Missile Map 1 and 2” (2018) at first seems subtle and quiet in comparison to the rest of Colonial Walk. The set of delicate wire and paper sculptures showers one wall of the gallery with silent, frozen explosions that are similar in size and shape to an outstretched human hand. Witnessing these flailing bursts, I came back to the idea of a new, more relevant flâneur. I could now see this figure as someone who walks aimlessly in a way that brings attention to the way a place can suddenly become unrecognizable — one where hands open but meet nothing but air, one in need of an urgent change in order to recover a sense of humanity.
Minoosh Zomorodinia: Colonial Walk continues at the Feast Arts Center (1402 S 11th St, Tacoma, Wash.) through March 11.