Zahid Jiwa – Terrain Vague

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With TERRAIN VAGUE, we find ourselves trailing Zahid Jiwa in his attempts to define “Mediterraneanism.” Seamlessly collapsing his wanderings through France and Italy into a single essence of being, his images, created over a five week period in the Summer months of 2015, are at once a study in luxurious experience and bodily decay, the region’s ubiquitous (and long since globalised) antiquarian symbols, and paradisiacal spaces that promise immanence but in the final analysis provide something more indeterminate. We are invited, through photographs, to observe some of his activity and interaction with the region.

“We discovered early that a bath in the Mediterranean could restore submerged values and bring us out from under the goth and the academic.” – Carlo Belli

In this imagined zone of pleasure, Jiwa is able to invent and establish, manipulate and distort his conditions beyond recognition. Through his lens he offers an alternative reality where real historicity and real bodies intertwine with architecture, mythologized civilization and artificial nature. A polluted Lieu de mémoire, the region is presented as being awash in the modernity it intended to stand against, encroached upon by any number of late capitalist considerations, from tourism to infrastructure. Such modernity does however, have the ironic effect of further distilling and reifying the imagined community’s classical essence, in all its radical otherness, while nonetheless corrupting it in inverse proportion.

Photographed from behind, the Corinthian columns of an artificial facade give way to starkly modern, style-agnostic geometry, while the concave imprints of its classical sculptures intimate both internal structure and essential nihilism. These likenesses disrupt the grandeur befitting of Greco-Roman ruins, deconstructing them in negative mirror image and overwriting their mythos with cheap, bizarre decay. In another frame, an exquisite corroded marble statue faces a gigantic stage light fitting atop a building of Medicean origin, flipping the assumptions of simulacra on their head as the ‘thing itself’ is renovated for the sake of providing a similarly produced experience.

Beyond providing observations on the contingency of Mediterranean classical forms, what is perhaps most compelling about Terrain Vague, is the way it shows people consuming historicised landscapes. Meaningful boundaries between artifice and authenticity collapse almost entirely when contemporary human subjects are introduced. With the imperfect bodies of real people on display, new ideas on space are invited to take form.


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A pairing of images displays people at water’s edge, lost in the throes of statuesque mimicry. With concentrated rhythms, an elderly gentleman presses his ear to a last generation cellular telephone, perhaps communicating with a limousine parked somewhere on the banks of the Seine river, his posture expressing subconscious Michelangelesque tendencies. Clasping the hood of her transparent lime windbreaker, a woman stands in harmonious contrapposto. Behind them, sun bleached ruins stand on the infinite, sparkling sea. The quotidian nature of these gestures, their accoutrements, disrupt the obvious monumentality of the scene, while minimal, dreamlike composition imparts a strong air of the uncanny. These unexpected sentiments carry over to his discretely elegant studies of ageing female forms, well beyond the pale of any Hellenistic ideal, carrying themselves in the land of myths, where the smoke of Mt. Vesuvius hovers ominously as a metaphor for Jiwa’s autodidactic romantic quality of life. The tangible breakdown of their Edenic mutations, vis-a-vis the expectations of the landscape, de-centres one’s sense of time by imposing visions of renaissance idylls.

“Does not the pleasantness of this place carry in itself sufficient reward for any time lost in it, or for any such danger that might ensue? Do you not see how everything conspires together to make this place a heavenly dwelling? Do you not see the grass, how in colour they excel the emeralds? Do not these stately trees seem to maintain their flourishing old age, with the only happiness of their seat being clothed with a continual spring, because no beauty here should ever fade?“ – Lope De Vega


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Elsewhere, Jiwa stalks the vague terrain of the Adriatic coast, focusing on the mysticism of seemingly artificial mountain tops, the raw materials of which could have just as easily been excavated and used to construct the cities, columns and facades amongst which his photographs take place. Two figures ascend a staircase that takes them ever higher up these confused models. Explored in solitude in several other shots, the streamlined forms of such faux peaks recall the spires of Art Deco design flourishes, subtly hinting back to Jiwa’s razor sharp preoccupations of New York City, which can be observed in a former selection of photographs aptly titled American Apparent.

By deferring to a subtle, embedded approach, Terrain Vague, through its striking poetic charm, finds itself through its complex iconography filled with figures that are hard to identify and unclear cultural references. In small details, we see how the eternity-baiting ideas of Mediterranean historicity are produced and debauched by ephemeral human activity. Exposing avatars of contemporary reality to the pre tense of forms ‘outside time’, we are ironically brought back to the ahistorical sensation of the sublime. Dramatic simplification of form provides a sense of calmness with underlying tension, which appears to be an ongoing symbolic motif lurking ominously behind the stained red curtain of Jiwa’s contemporary but classicist inspired romanticism.


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Interview by Chris Franklin Blackmore / Published 30 October 2015