Rosha Yaghmai’s Nowhere Gardens

Rosha Yaghmai, Phantom Lands (Imprint) (detail), 2023, recycled aluminium, mirror, two parts, dimensions variable. Photo: Paul Salveson. © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles & Mexico City

Phantom Lands at Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles emphasises the peculiarities of vision over the particularities of place

An unassuming sculpture made of eyeglass lenses raised on two pencil-thin steel rods occupies a corner of this sparely arranged solo exhibition. Each rod holds around ten lenses of varying shapes and sizes, collected from prescription eyewear, bifocals and sunglasses, stacked together and fastened in place by horizontal screws that pierce the centres of the transparent discs. Rosha Yaghmai, a Los Angeles-based sculptor who often works with light and optics, is an expert manipulator of sightlines and perception. Viewed from the front, this sculpture, Optometer, Receptions (all works 2023), bears some formal affinity to the diagnostic device after which it is named. (Optometers, in use until the 1920s, measured the refractive power of the eye and determined the necessary eyeglass correction.) It just as easily resembles a pair of sleek steampunk goggles, a model of sister solar-systems or one of orbiting electrons. Viewed from the side, the illusion is broken: the lenses become just that, and one sees their dullness and discoloration, evidence of usage and time.

Owing to allusions to her father’s Iranian ancestry in her previous work, Yaghmai is sometimes classified as a Light and Space artist who recasts West Coast conceptualism through the lens of diasporic memory. At Commonwealth and Council, her references to migration and diaspora are decidedly vague, almost immaterial. Nine sculptures resembling conches spaced out on the walls like trail markers and simply titled Shell 1, Shell 2 and so on call to mind the sand and air of coastal regions. Gardens rooted in neither time nor place are evoked in Phantom Lands (Imprint) and the Phantom Lands (Rubbing) series. In the former, metallic flora sprouts from the pitted surface of an aluminium sculpture modelled after a vanity table. In the latter, oil-pastel perennials drawn on three glossy black floor-to-ceiling urethane panels, which hang adjacently to suggest a continuous veneer, seem to pop out of the void, a flurry of periwinkle, mauve, canary-yellow and crimson.

Phantom Lands (Rubbing) II, 2023, oil pastel on panel, urethane, 239 x 203 x 7 cm. © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles & Mexico City

Emphasising the peculiarities of vision over the particularities of place, the sightlines in the two-room gallery refuse to settle. Phantom Lands (Imprint) – both vanity desk and vanitas – is furnished with a mirror that reflects the Claude glass-like surface of the Phantom Lands (Rubbing) series, themselves as reflective as Gerhard Richter’s mirror paintings. The stacked lenses in Optometer, Receptions peer across the room at Shell 4 on the wall opposite, beckoning viewers to look closer. Indeed, on doing that, one finds that Yaghmai’s conches, which appear to be found objects, are in fact epoxy replicas whose forms have been elegantly manipulated. The deceptive imitations – some as large as dinner plates, the smallest the size of a closed fist – have tells as subtle as a folded aperture or elongated spikes.

The floriferous artifices of the exhibition are replete with traces of Yaghmai’s interventions. Here, her touch is cold and somewhat ruthless. In Phantom Lands (Imprint), for instance, we see two furrows of crushed flowers on the table where a pair of arms once leaned, as well as aluminium petals similarly flattened on the adjacent stool where a body once rested. Rather than appeal to sentiments commonly associated with diaspora and migration – homesickness, nostalgia – Yaghmai offers a visual game, one that toys with viewers’ restless eyes and preconceptions.

Phantom Lands at Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles, 8 July – 12 August

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