Persian artist Azadeh Emadi is being haunted by pixels

Still from the Motion Within Motion video. | Photo courtesy of Azadeh Emadi

Working in conjunction with the SFU School for Contemporary Arts and the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies, grunt gallery is presenting Azadeh Emadi: Motion Within Motion, the first Canadian exhibition by Glasgow-based artist Azadeh Emadi from May 2–12. The unique vision of the Persian artist and visiting scholar unveils the hidden depths of pixels.

We were initially approached by SFU professor Laura Marks to request a showing of this work. We are very excited about this fortuitous collaboration with the School of Contemporary Arts,” says grunt gallery curator Vanessa Kwan.

Making connections through exploration of non-Western sources of algorithmic media art

In 2010, Marks published a book titled Hanan al-Cinema: Affections for the Moving Image (MIT Press) which examined experimental cinema and media art from the Arabic-speaking world. Through this book, she was able to reach others who were similarly enamoured with algorithmic media art, particularly media artists with Islamic heritage. When Marks was working on a Ph.D. in New Zealand, Emadi contacted Marks shortly after the book’s publication. This led to an ongoing professional connection that was the beginning of a worldwide network of 40-50 media artists interested in this specific niche.

For this exhibition, Marks believes that the works by Emadi will appeal to many different audiences in Vancouver. Some of these audiences are people who are interested in looking sympathetically at digital technology, those who are curious about cross-cultural perspectives on digital media, members of the Iranian population, anyone who is interested in Islamic art or religious art, and even those who appreciate meditative and sensuous art.

“It speaks subtly to the feelings of displacement, of immigrants and of landing on your feet (24 times/second) – that’s what pixels do. The pixels hold up the movies on their little bodies,” explains Marks. “In her installation the movie was shot at different locations in Iran. It shows art history of the area. There is something very moving about the light changing on the screen. It offers a feeling of how something small relates to a larger image – a shocking sense of perspective that is humbling and beautiful. The video shows beautiful Islamic mosaics which are a precedent to pixels. It is both beautiful and satisfying – just as an equation can be.”

Searching for untold stories

Emadi will bring two works to grunt gallery. The first, Motion Within Motion,is a two-channel installation with immersive sound in the Main Gallery. It features a double screen video projection – allowing for micro and macro projection simultaneously. Filmed in Iran, Emadi went to different locations as the observer behind the camera for the macro video. Then she went into each image to choose what to see in the frame by separating out a single pixel.

“A pixel is invisible at first instance – by revealing it, we see what is different in the overall images. As presented in a black room, the sound is quite powerful. Audiences can get close to the video and watching it reveals something they didn’t know was there,” says Emadi.

The second related work, Floating Tiles, is in the Media Lab. It follows a similar logic, connecting Persian architecture with digital pixels / tiles and proving a direct connection from 15th century Persia to 21st century digital media.

“Most people look at the image and see the surface of the image. I challenge the surface of the image to show something they cannot see,” declares Emadi.

The exhibition features two works by Emadi that each juxtapose classical Islamic tile work with digital manipulation of a modern pixel. This will be accompanied by an essay written by Marks that will be available at the show. It will also feature a May 10 artist talk by Emadi at grunt gallery as well as a related talk titled Creative Algorithms: From Islamic Art to Digital Media by Marks on May 23 (followed by a conversation between Marks and Emadi) at SFU Harbour Centre.

For more information about the exhibition by Azadeh Emadi and grunt gallery, please visit