Farvash Razavi is a research-based cross disciplinary artist based in Stockholm. Her background in chemistry allows her to bridge the world of material science with art and design. Coming to Sweden at the age of six as an immigrant from Iran, her work is deeply rooted in Persian mythologies and history. Creativity runs in her genes; she comes from a family of artists, singers and poets in Iran, but she is the first one to dedicate her life to art. The focus of her work is transformative, from the smallest material component to creating installations and she aims to deconstruct the self and the constructions holding the self. Farvash has been at the Misschiefs pop up studio space since August, where we got to see her work and her process up close. It is a collective of women artists and designers curated by Paola Bjäringer, where Farvash unveiled her Paradox Tale of Logic Gate performance and installation in February for Stockholm Design Week 2020.
Can you give us some background on your journey as an artist, leading to your recent graduation of a second MA from the Royal College of Art, London?
I dropped out of my chemistry studies after my second year and studied Interior Architecture at Konstfack, going on to do a Masters in Experience Design. But already in my second year of studies at Konstfack I reconnected with a chemistry professor at KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and started doing research alongside my studies. I started to incorporate chemistry and material science into my work. I found that chemists and bio engineers produce new materials, and just like designers, they also have a vision of the future, but designers are so limited in the use of materials provided by the industry. I wanted to bridge that gap between science and design so we came up with a concept called hierarchical design. Covering the different levels starting from the nano level and going on to molecular, components, materials, product and finally experience. When I graduated in 2010 I was already working with holograms and had started my own company. After 10 years of working with some of the biggest international brands in the world, I decided I needed to get back to creativity and to re-evaluate the core of my work. So to get out of my comfort zone and question what my art, work and research was about, I decided to give myself the gift of studying again. My Masters from The Royal College of Art in London was on critical research based contemporary practice.
Could you explain your installation and performance of Paradox Tale of Logic Gate for the Misschiefs exhibition during Stockholm Design Week 2020?
I have been fascinated by the camouflage colours of a special Iranian military uniform for awhile. I have been working with transformative material and in 2010 for my Konstfack graduation I had created a colour shifting sculpture. The camouflage was a continuation on the colour shifting theme. The research I was doing at the time was also potentially interesting for the Swedish military and I was interested in the future of concealment.. I’ve also never been visibly political in my art and I wanted to investigate that, I seemed to be hiding behind the tech aspect for a long time. So this is something that has come together over time, as is all my work, a long process where stories connect finally. There are several narratives around Citizen 000 001. It is a navigation of privilege in a way. The obligations that I have towards my culture and my heritage and the pressure of being an Iranian in Sweden, and adapting myself to Swedish society. There is the rationality of the pressure of the revolution and the rationality of the West thinking they are always good or right and the Citizen who is caught in between. There is also the power of the access to high technology and the suppression of it in totalitarian regimes.
Could you describe your work as a materials scientist?
The materials I work with are always bio based, wood based cellulose. Even the holograms were cellulose based in the beginning. The evolution of humans start with materiality, since we are all made up of chemical components. This has always been the core of my research. I’m driven by the thought that if materiality would have a consciousness, when does it get a personality? I have worked with paper with muscles that moved with electricity. All the materials I work with are transformative in one way or another, with special powers and characteristics, that’s how I link them to the evolution of humans. I perform my research with other scientists.
How did you become involved in high security research and working with bank notes?
I got involved with a micro optical start-up where I built up the whole design system within the company. The market was in brand identity and brand security and over the years the research became more and more sophisticated and difficult to counterfeit that it was strong enough to be incorporated into bank notes. The technology was suitable for brand security and high security.
How do you think your background of being Iranian Swedish impacts your work as an artist?
All my work circulates around that identity. I feel I have been hiding behind all my high tech research, but I can no longer ignore that identity. I feel it’s in my genes, Iranians have a culture of being very high tech, in research and medicine for example the only difference now in Iran is the lack of opportunity that was once there due to war and sanctions.
In 2015 you organised a football tournament comprising of artists and retired football professionals that took place in Iran. Could you tell us more about this?
My father Abbas Razavi is a well known and respected figure in sports in Iran as he used to coach the Iranian National football team. As he was involved in a fundraiser after the last devastating earthquake, he was contacted again to help this time with a fundraiser for Multiple Sclerosis. The idea was to organise a football world cup in Iran with a mix of artists and players. When my father asked for my help in getting artists I came up with an idea to get involved and use this privilege as a method of exchange. As it was to be played in the largest stadium called the Azadi stadium, Azadi means freedom, and I thought about a British/Swedish girl who had been arrested a few months before for getting into the stadium to watch a game. I offered to organise the team if I was able to be the manager with access to the stadium. But I also realised I don’t hold any weight being the daughter of the coach, I could not present myself as an artist worthy enough to be taken seriously, so I decided I needed a partner, someone to get their attention and who fitted their idea of what Swedes look like, ie white and blonde. I had just the person in mind, Anna Tascha Larsson who was an artist, and who also someone who had a good knowledge of football with an active football blog at the time. My father thought it was a brilliant idea. In a country where women were banned from entering football stadiums, this of course took a lot of negotiations and it went up to the Ministry of Sports for female stadium access. Once we had to green light we needed to find the players! I chose the most diverse team of artists and players, which surprised the Iranians who were expecting to find a team full of white, blonde men. Although a success, the whole project was totally consuming and intense and I was completely depleted at the end of it.
In one of your previous work from 2017, you investigated the impulses of destructive behaviour within human nature. Could you tell me a little more about this?
The work is called Equations and Non Linear Impulse. What happens when we can’t control our impulses, and the consequences that follow. In this case I took the cheating scenario and looked at it as an equation. Emotion creates equations, equations leads to form and form recreates emotion.
What are your challenges being such a multi dimensional and cross-disciplinary artist working in Sweden?
There are many! Firstly it’s communication, I find that I need to be very precise and to be easily understood. None of my works are linear and none of them have one absolute meaning. I understand that I require a lot of my audience as I don’t give an easy explanation. I think we try to simplify and normalise things here in Sweden, that simplicity can be beautiful but for me it’s a challenge. The few who are interested are really interested but the majority find it too complicated and don’t put any work into understanding. I have not had these challenges in London for example. Within the art scene in London you really need to have work of very high quality. People there possess higher levels of general knowledge and therefore it’s easier to read complex levels of artwork. While the art scene here wants to simplify things, the technology side is so highly advanced that I would not be able to do a lot of my work anywhere else.
What are your thoughts on the lack of diversity in the Swedish art scene?
I think it is a terrible situation, unless you are very blatantly political and cannot be ignored. Your art is expected to be connected strongly with your foreign or immigrant background and identity, and you are not seen on equal standing with other Swedish artists.
What are you working on now?
I always work with a theme. I am working on the materiality of the Oracle, and everything that I work on now is seen through this lens. I would like to do my doctorate studies on this. How much can one object contain and can we use it to mediate the future or the past? I have also been working on an invisible ink that is revealed on the body when the temperature changes and the skin becomes cold. I find that my work is becoming more philosophical and I’m also accepting that most of my work divert from life anecdotes and experiences, which has been a challenge to accept.