For Illya Mousavijad: Harshavardhan Bhat on Between a Lost Home and a Losing Destination

Harshavardhan Bhat

Sep 05, 2023

An animated image of glassware and white and orange dishes against a gold background with embossed design.

This thoughtful, poetic essay by Harshavardhan Bhat offers a response to Between a Lost Home and a Losing Destination, the work now on view in The Box by Illya Mousavijad, an assistant professor of art and technology at Ohio State. The digitally animated piece brings motion to items from Mousavijad's home country of Iran such as food and glassware, creating a form of dance with these inanimate objects on a landscape of moving Qashqai rugs.

Bhat is a researcher and writer interested in the social study of monsoonal futures. He's currently a postdoctoral fellow at Ohio State's Translational Data Analytics Institute.

An animated image of a watermelon half with a knife sticking out set against a Persian rug pattern.

Illya Mousavijad, Between a Lost Home and a Losing Destination (2020–22), image courtesy of the artist

Illya Mousavijad, I often tell people, is the best chef in Ohio. Illya makes food for the people he cares about. Really good food. Food and the culinary expanse for Illya represents the intimate animacy of sharing and living. Food for Illya is the most gorgeous form of art. All this to say, food and its relations are media in Mousavijad’s work. The generosities that it allows, for embodiment, land, teleportation, music, the opportunity to breathe for another year, to share and inherit time, is food nurtured in this confluence of knowledges that people and earths have brought together. It allows Illya an opportunity for embodied transport to an imagined form of home, a home that is longed for, a home that is here but not here, a home that is rent, home that is in bureaucracy, home that is despite, home that is because of, home that one hasn’t touched in a long time, home that is music, that is disorientation and bliss but home that is constantly reminding you of the delay of leave, a home under the grid of settler colonialism, an application to stay, a seemingly perpetual sonic migraine, demolished in two parts—home, like the media of the carpet promising to stay afloat but hosted by supermarket baklava in neon, a Cavendish banana, chemically coated citrus fruits at the world that has already ended. 

Baklava in neon.
Chemically coated citrus in fungus.

What floats above the carpet of magic resists magic. What floats above the platform of possibility, the carpet as what Illya calls a “double layered metaphoric space,” “reflection upon reflection” - betrays us. Its unsettling in what superficially feels like the void is guise to the darkness of surveillance, an un-understanding of the regulation of the location of the body. It is unclear if the carpet is a portal, but somehow, the objects packed and travelled with find themselves on it, in a fragility lightly guarded by the carpet’s management of whatever it is that makes it volatile. I have often thought of the word "suspension" in how I come to understand the weather. In dialogue with scholars in art and anthropology, suspension is often theorized with its atmospheric, aerosol and flow capacities. Suspension here in this work is sticky. The volatility of the carpet maintains suspension but it is of a texture that retains the objects in its hemisphere. Suspension depicts the unsettling but also the retainment of the time of unsettling. There is a sense of certainty that I find bracketed in the timeline of the animation, that convinces the viewer that turbulence is a form of worldly static, backgrounded in black. This is a form of suspension that questions the license of gravity. Perhaps what maintains exile therefore, is the infrastructure of gravity. Infrastructure that unhinges. Who (and what) is it that resides in the carpet of suspension? Who and what is it that produces and profits from the infrastructure that maintains suspension? Is the object of suspension alive? Does the object of suspension play? I wonder what stories the Qashqai have been communicating through the rug. The Qashqai, the weavers of the rug, use these carpets for the process of settling and moving. The material is unfolded to settle, and then folded to move. It is a space between the ground and the air. It is for a moment home, but also here and there. The rug carries it in it things that the Qashqai have seen and perceived, storied and designed. 

I wonder about dialogue of exile with the Qashqai.
How would the makers of the carpet, the holder of magic, perceive the abyss that surrounds it?Are these stories to be shared?
For whose joy?
For whose breath?

Carpets and rugs have been portals, mobile devices, comforters, and storytellers for a very long time. It is perhaps during the third day when I’m back home that I find courage to touch the carpet and slowly lay myself on its floor, touching the sensation of all that has found its rug—bristles of colour that keep whispers of sand and dust, of all that has moved through the space—people and things I know and have not yet imagined. Mousavijad’s use of the Qashqai rug exposes an abundance of space—that even in the volley of the membrane that keeps things unsettled, there is all this space, this immense generosity within the circumstance of exile, and amongst its pain. So as the horror of the sonic and the aching close keeps one questioning what happens next, the rug perhaps as a material imagination or as an artifact that you can actually touch is telling you that its going to be OK. As you seat yourself on the rug, let your theory go. Where does the sound take you? Do the fruits satisfy? 

And, why is the sugar gray? 
Is it the weather that makes it sway?
How does the magic in the carpet protect its people?
How do people make magic to make carpets?

A knife unfinished with an opened watermelon, or what looks like a watermelon. Sugar cubes, somewhere between purple and gray, asking to be unrefined, the state of revolution. From Saint-Domingue to Mandya, an unsettling against the grid, the work to be done, the work that continues, in exile, a weather yet to be understood, but in the meantime, a grid that is the rug that carefully holds what can be held together. For even though the infrastructure that digs the abyss coats fruits in plasticity, perhaps you, too, will notice that as the golden tray pixilates in its shine, nothing is real except for the rug that weathers against surveillance, an otherwise, here and now. I dream its shelter, for people underneath it, and those sitting on it who should remain unseen. 


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