Logic flees Neshat and Deyhim in ‘Logic of the Birds’
by Clea Felien
The recent performance at the Walker of Shirin Neshat’s “Logic of the Birds” makes no sense. Neshat has been the darling of the art world, and rightly so, for many years. Her films and photographs, based mostly on women in the Muslim culture, are provocative, astute and timely. Neshat’s work has always been concise as well as politically and socially relevant. “Logic of the Birds” is her first performance and collaborative effort, and has none of the relevance or strength of her individual work.
In Neshat’s own description of “Logic of the Birds” she explains that the multitude of people dressed in black represent birds who follow a mystical leader, singer Sussan Deyhim, through difficult times only to discover that what they search for is within. What I saw was Sussan Deyhim’s mystical singing and mysterious performance, coupled with a mass of solemn women and men wearing black clothes. These emotionless faces serve more as a passive, plodding mob than a symbolic reference to birds.
Occasionally throughout the performance there is film footage of fire, a desert landscape, and a lake. In all of these scenarios Sussan Deyhim leads the way, singing and performing in her strangely beautiful way, and she is always followed by the beleaguered, frustrated mob in black. Lots and lots of futile walking.
The scene in the lake verges on trite when Deyhim walks into the water and doesn’t come out. Are we to believe she has drowned in some sort of ritualized suicide? Then why does she come back with the same undeterred singing and pointless walking?
Sussan Deyhim’s vocal and physical performance is stunning. Shirin Neshat’s film work is as lush and evocative as ever. These two women are phenomenal in their own right. Together they fall flat, and unfortunately they fall together.
The saddest part of the piece is the writing. There does not appear to be a story line. “Logic of the Birds” is loosely based on the 12th century Persian poet Farid Ud-Din Attar’s “The Conference of the Birds.” None of the original story comes across. I chose not to read about the piece before seeing it, and didn’t have a clue as to what was going on as an uninformed viewer during the performance. No work of art should have to be explained in great detail before it is viewed. A story should always be able to stand on its own merit without being spelled out. There were of course beautiful moments when the audience is swept away with the level of intensity and passion of Sussan Deyhim’s phenomenal voice. As always, Shirin Neshat has an exceptional eye in her photography and film, and she achieves moments of pure beauty which are mesmerizing.
Clearly Sussan Deyhim and Shirin Neshat should be working together. They have such similar and complementary styles. However they need to spend more time fleshing things out. Perhaps because they are both so successful individually, they unfortunately assumed being successful together would be easy.
Shirin Neshat’s photography and video will be on view in Galleries 1, 2 & 3 at the Walker until Sept. 8. Walker Art Center is located at 725 Vineland Place, Mpls. Call 612-375-7622 for more information.
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