press release

Opening Reception: Wednesday, May 27, 7 - 9 pm

Please join us for the opening reception of the new installation The Isle, by artists Nasrin Tabatabai and Babak Afrassiabi. The installation will focus on the contemporary circumstances of Kish, an island located in the Persian Gulf. At the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, the duo, partners who make up the collaborative team called Pages, will explore notions of "geopolitical indecisiveness" as it relates to this island. The Isle will be on view from May 28 through August 23, 2009.

The Isle takes its themes from the architectural and political incongruities that manifest at Kish, an island located eighteen kilometers from the southern coast of the Iranian mainland. The modernization of Kish was announced in December 1977 with the landing of a Concorde Supersonic at a new airport, built to accommodate an exclusive, hypermodern resort for the royal elite and their international guests. A year later, the Islamic revolution would suspend the any further development of this project. Soon thereafter, the new government declared Kish to be Iran's first free trade zone, applying the principles of a free market economy to attract foreign investment. By 1994, almost 55 percent of the island was given to tourism.

This free market progression was slowed in 2009, after a privately initiated plan was halted to develop a luxury business and tourist resort on the northeastern coast of the island, an ambitious project that involved more than 20 German architecture firms. The envisioned "internationalism" of the project would prove incompatible with prevailing socio-political conditions in Iran. Yet Kish, an hour and half flight south of the Tehran, has somehow remained a tolerant oasis for Iranian tourists who desire escape from the societal restrictions of the mainland.

Throughout its modern period, the island of Kish has not succeeded in becoming all that was desired for it. Subjected to the politics of mainland Iran, the island has found itself lingering between opposing ideologies, caught in geopolitical indecisiveness that prevents it from sustaining a sense of "place." Kish fails to situate itself historically and in relation to the geography that surrounds it. Economically and politically, it has in many respects become the "other" to neighboring developments in the Persian Gulf.

The Isle consists of text, video, found documents, and architectural models that together narrate the "symptomatic" features of Kish. The central element of the exhibition is a steamship, recreated by means of a scale model and video recording. This boat, stranded along the southern coast of Kish in 1966, has become the island's quintessential attraction for visiting tourists as it is silhouetted against the setting sun each night. In another work, Tabatabai and Afrassiabi incorporate the February 1978 issue of Vogue Paris, in which the first Kish development was promoted through a 16-page fashion spread staged before a backdrop of the island's newly built architecture. Sculpturally re-appropriated, the Vogue material links earlier modern architecture to the now suspended master plan for an international tourist and business resort in the free trade zone. The nature of this development project is explored in video interviews with representatives from the German architectural firms involved in a competition that would later lead to the proposed resort's design. Within the interviews, "misunderstandings"-often inherent to architectural design processes that discard the political conditions of their site-are clearly revealed. These misunderstandings nonetheless result in the release of fantasies of shapes and forms with extra-geographical and extra-cultural dimensions.

The Isle locates Kish in its architectural, geographical and political incongruities. It re-articulates unresolved instances of the island's modernization into representations of (unfulfilled) desires. By doing so, Tabatabai and Afrassiabi address symptoms of modernity as manifested in ambivalent forms of architecture not destined to come into being.

The Isle is the third and final part of a project by Tabatabai and Afrassiabi about the island of Kish, begun in 2005 with the installation Sunset Cinema and continued in 2007 with Undecided Utopias.

About the Artists

Nasrin Tabatabai and Babak Afrassiabi live in Rotterdam and pursue an art practice both in Iran and the Netherlands. The duo began Pages in 2004. In addition to making art, Tabatabai and Afrassiabi publish a bilingual Farsi/English magazine called Pages. Through their projects, Tabatabai and Afrassiabi consider the intricacies and dissonances within and among given localities that can yield alternative chains of meanings, relations and coincidences. Ultimately, they wish to undermine predefined and geographically bound notions of subjectivity, triggering discussions of the social and political within a broader global context. (

Nasrin Tabatabai and Babak Afrassiabi are Fellows sponsored through the MAK Center's Urban Future Initiative.

The Isle by Pages
Nasrin Tabatabai and Babak Afrassiabi
Exhibition Explores Paradoxes of Iranian Luxury Island