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Two Artists Attempt to Collaborate Across Continents, Travel Bans and All

With “The Other Apartment,” a joint project by Jon Rubin and Sohrab Kashani, located in both Pittsburgh and Tehran, Iranians and Americans can attend events and experience the space together, in real time.

Jon Rubin and Sohrab Kashani, “The Other Apartment,” exterior view, Fall 2019-Spring 2020, Tehran, Iran and Pittsburgh, PA (all images courtesy of Jon Rubin and Sohrab Kashani; photos above by Sohrab Kashani (Tehran) / Tom Little (Pittsburgh))

PITTSBURGH — For the past six months, an ordinary-looking apartment has been sitting inside the fourth floor of the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh. Next to the brick facade and the white fences, a giant water cooler grabs my attention. It is the kind you only see in Iran. My heart skipped a beat. I was thrown back to the sea of blue, rusty coolers on roofs, their humming noise a soothing sound on hot summer nights in Tehran. Seeing such an object in the American Midwest sparks a moment of dissonance. Depending on their own lived experiences of Iran, each visitor to “The Other Apartment” will experience a distinctive realigning of space and time.

Designed by Pittsburgh-based interdisciplinary artist Jon Rubin and Tehran-based artist and curator Sohrab Kashani, The Other Apartment is a meticulously, obsessively fabricated copy of Kashani’s home, artist residency, and exhibition space, Sazmanab. Everything from the Tehran abode has been seamlessly replicated in Pittsburgh: the gas heater, the Persian rugs, the clutter in the drawers, a little figurine of Superman, and a sign that reads “Subjective Truth from Iran.”

Jon Rubin and Sohrab Kashani, “The Other Apartment,” studio space, Fall 2019–Spring 2020, Tehran, Iran and Pittsburgh PA (photos by Shirin Rezaee, Tehran/Jon Rubin, Pittsburgh)

Likewise, every exhibition, event, object, or incident at one location is repeated at the other, such as a broken tabletop, or something left behind. Just recently, a visitor’s cassette tape left on a bookshelf in Pittsburgh inspired a musical event entitled The Silence, where musicians in both countries came together to cover the songs by the Mexican band on the tape, in Persian and English. In each city, local musicians performed and recorded the songs at various spaces in the two apartments (for instance, the living room and bathroom). The recordings were then played at both spaces as the visitors browsed around the apartments.

The idea came from Rubin and Kashani’s simple desire to coexist and work together, despite the travel ban that has prevented Kashani from visiting the US. The artists describe the project as “a loophole around national borders and economic sanctions,” in which Iranians and Americans can attend events co-curated by other collaborators and experience the space together, in real time. Yet, little discrepancies, like shrunken details of the three-dimensionally printed rug and books on the shelves that reveal themselves to be wooden blocks, all spur a poignant sense of “being off,” a stuttering translation of the two cultures across the arbitrariness of borders.

Musicians Niki Yaghmaee (left, Tehran) and Patrick Breiner (right, Pittsburgh) cover songs by the Mexican band, Para Decir Adios at “The Other Apartment’s” bathroom hallway; Jon Rubin and Sohrab Kashani, The Silence, January 2020, Tehran, Iran and Pittsburgh PA (photos by Siavash Naghshbandi, Tehran, and David Bernabo, Pittsburgh)

Even though the apartments mirror one another down to the tiniest detail, the illusion falls apart when it meets objects’ physical limits. What appears to be a terrazzo tile is actually printed slate, and while the eerie blue-lit bathroom in the Pittsburgh apartment leads to a door with a shower sign, there is no shower behind it. Peeking through, one instead glimpses an empty Mattress Factory exhibition room. This is where the astral travel to Tehran comes to an end, leaving visitors with the bitter realization of an impossible togetherness.

The failure to create an illusion that transcends the truth of our political climate makes “The Other Apartment” a radical statement on the tightening grip of xenophobia on lives in both countries. In its obsessive imitation of lived spaces and hopeful utopianism, the Pittsburgh apartment laments the absence of Iranians while alluding to other types of presence beyond reductive national narratives. As Kashani told CityLab: “[W]e decided we would create a world for ourselves where everything that was a limit would become a possibility, and every political obstacle would become a creative opportunity.”

Visitors at the event room (left, Tehran, right, Pittsburgh) watch “Three Rather Than Two (or One),” a video by artist Arash Fayez (Iran, 2019), part of the Voice-over (in Three Parts) curated by Joseph Del Pesco and Sohrab Kashani, September-November 2019, Tehran, Iran and Pittsburgh, PA (photos by Siavash Naghshbandi, Tehran) / Tom Little, Pittsburgh)

Further information and event listings for The Other Apartment (in both Tehran and Pittsburgh) can be found here.

Editor’s note: Please note that viewing hours for this project may be reduced or temporarily suspended light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Discussions around art and culture are important during this time, but we encourage readers to practice social distancing and self-isolation in an effort to mitigate against the outbreak, which may include opting to explore an artwork or interactive project virtually instead of physically.

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