Incursions and Excursions

Incursions and Excursions – My contribution to “Building As Ever” the  2017 California-Pacific Triennial at the Orange County Museum of Art was an installation that revolves around the writer and scholar of Persian architecture, Donald Wilber. Wilber, who worked as an intelligence officer for the CIA from the 1950’s through the 1980’s, was considered a key architect of the 1953 coup in Iran that saw the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh and installed the Shah. In the late 1990’s, declassified documents confirmed the extensive role of the CIA in planning and orchestrating the coup in 1953. In particular, Wilber authored a detailed document that had long circulated within the CIA that detailed the challenges and ultimate success of the undertaking.

Through archival research and forms of visual translation and appropriation, the project calls up the tortured ghosts of Wilber’s double life. Images contrasting lovingly shot nostalgic photographs of mosques and ruins selected from his 1955 publication The Architecture of Islamic Iran: The Il Khanid Period with the stark and unforgiving prose of the CIA reports he authored form the central component of the project. Graphite drawings of garden designs Wilber included in his 1979 publication Persian Gardens and Garden Pavilions are recreated at the scale of an architectural blueprint. A model of a housing project designed by James Mollison Wilson at Bawarda, Abadan links the spatial dimensions of the first modern oil refinery to the geo-political dynamics that unfolded during the cold war.

Other works, including appropriated works of Marcel Brooders, signal the antagonisms of Cold War foreign policy echoes that resonate in the present. Ultimately, the project explores the loaded and nuanced cultural representations of Iranian culture as an extension of cold war geo-politics that circulated within and beyond the United States and the United Kingdom.