hen artist Sheida Soleimani was 6, her Iranian upbringing became the focus of intrigue among her Cincinnati classmates. They wanted to know if she had a flying carpet like Aladdin.
There is actually no mention of Aladdin flying on a carpet in the iconic tales of The Arabian Nights. Carpets, genies and the phantasmagoria of the “Orient” have nothing to do with the Middle East and everything to do with our tendency to romanticize and stereotype others.
Edward Said, the late Palestinian-American academic, called it “Orientalism,” and it is the focus of Third Party Gallery’s December exhibition A Whole New World. Curators Soleimani, 21, and Aaron Walker — along with Museum Gallery curator Chris Reeves — take an irreverent look at the magic carpet, with works in figurative and even literal flight.
A dozen tiny flying carpets cast shadows on the wall. Abdullah Syed of Australia cuts designs into 12 U.S. dollar bills from the rugs of his homeland in Karachi, Pakistan. In 2010 Syed exhibited a fleet of U.S. dollar bill drones at the Mohatta Palace Museum in Karachi. Hundreds of bills, folded together into the shape of unmanned drones, hung menacingly overhead. Syed’s tiny carpets, strung up at Third Party, are not threatening like an air strike. Instead they speak of stereotypes, which live in the shadows and sometimes leak out, like dirty laundry hanging on the line.
In this age of pilotless-drone strikes, New York artist Nicki Davis examines our separation from the battlefield in her video “Carpet Bomb.” A collage of war footage is set to the audio track of Super Mario 64’s “Rainbow Ride,” where Mario flies on a magic carpet. Mass destruction plays out like a surreal game where pilots drop bombs with jovial sound effects. The footage might be real, but the line between reality and virtual reality is blurred.
Cincinnati artist Chris Collins reduces the magic carpet to a ubiquitous commodity for sale at Wal-Mart. The digital image of an “Oriental” rug is printed onto a real carpet at the Wal-Mart photo center. It’s not a real Persian rug, or even a rug at all, but more of a “meta-rug,” as curator Reeves calls it.
Ansuman Biswas and Jem Finer of the art collaborative Zero Genie, in a video that is also called “Zero Genie,” achieve a magic carpet flight in free fall. The artists say they boarded a cargo plane with Russian cosmonauts at a training center in Moscow. Their video opens to the music of a flute and the aery drone of the plane. Biswas and Finer sit cross-legged, in turbans and sparkly vests. The plane enters free fall. Hookah pipes float, carpets flutter and the men levitate. They are not the first genies to pilot a carpet in weightlessness or zero-gravity. It seems, astronauts and artists alike enjoy a tongue-in-cheek carpet ride.
Belarusian-Israeli artist Yelena Zhelezov’s magic carpet is a symbol for art’s ability to elevate us from the mundane to the sublime. A patch of grass, representing Third Party Gallery, hovers above a miniature landscape of the Brighton neighborhood. Zhelezov repurposes an electromagnetic toy so that her grass carpet gallery is really able to levitate.
As a member of the local artist collaborative Maidens of the Cosmic Body Running, artist Jenny Ustick explores nature as a vehicle for romance. Her magic carpet, which is actually a drawing of a snowboard, is a vehicle for travel to a majestic wilderness. These places are far off the beaten path, however, and only accessible to those rich enough for a magic carpet ride.
Two self-portraits depict the artist Murat Adash as displaced from society. Through slide projectors, “Self-portrait I & II (The Flying Carpet)” materialize, like holograms, on the wall. Born in Germany and of Turkish descent, Adash finds existence is a state of homelessness. In his portraits, a man stands on a round carpet holding painted images of the Turkish evil eye, a symbol of protection, over his own eyes. Adash quotes philosopher Gilles Deleuze: “Now we are at home. But home does not pre-exist: it was necessary to draw a circle around that uncertain and fragile center, to organize a limited space.”
We draw this circle every day. Cultural differences, wars and a border fence divide us. In this isolation does art still command enough influence to lift barriers? Adash might say so. His work challenges our sense of boundary.
“Art becomes a practice of both border-crossing and home-coming,” Adash writes.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD runs through Jan. 3, 2012 at Third Party Gallery (2159 Central Ave., Brighton). Gallery hours are noon-4 Saturday or by appointment. For information, go to www.thirdpartygallery.com.