By Greg Stewart
Ali Moini woke up one day having dreamt of a figure draped in knives and began working on what would become one of his most well-known performances, My Paradoxical Knives. All around the world, Moini has performed this piece, donning a costume consisting mostly of steel knives and improvising vocals to echo the sharp sounds of the knives striking a platform of steel as he spins, slowly erasing the words of a 13th century Sifu poet written in dry-erase under his feet. Moini often performs this in unorthodox places, the audience surrounding him, in the splash zone 💦, no stage separating the experiences of the performer and the viewer. Just watching the video of this performance on his website is engrossing; I couldn’t imagine what seeing it in person would be like. And unfortunately, I still can’t.
See, the doppelgänger of America’s most powerful racist grandpa, a wrinkly old orange rind beginning to grow wisps of mold who only appears on camera and at events of little consequence as a more photogenic stunt double, signed not one but two documents that interrupted Moini’s visa procurement not once but twice. That’s right—he was scheduled to perform last year and was prevented from even coming to the United States, and when it looked like it might be possible again, the red tape involved turned out to be a red wall with some incoherent hate speech scrawled on it in red, white, and blue crayon. So the renowned artist, who it should be noted has performed in the United States several times before, could not perform one of his most compelling works.
But there’s a happy(ish?) ending! Curator Ashley Ferro-Murray had the excellent idea of hosting a live dialogue with Moini, who joined remotely via the magic of video chat, and recent collaborator Fred Rodriguez, who flew in to discuss their current project, Intentions. After briefly touching on the conception and evolution of My Paradoxical Knives, the three moved on to the more recent endeavor. A great deal of effort has been put into Intentions so far: terabytes of 3D footage of people around the world performing their day-to-day tasks in life and in whatever trade they work, from bread making to rug weaving; developing ways to track the motion of the workers and translate it into choreography; inventing novel ways for the performers who will eventually be involved to interact with their environment and each other. Intentions seeks to find and explore elusive illusory allusions to a little of everyone’s everyday rituals. The breadth of the material is staggering, but Rodriguez and Moini form a powerful team capable of turning this into something great.
Despite Moini being unable to perform, what happened instead was in some ways equally as engrossing. Listening to such a renowned artist discuss his creative process in a candid manner is not something I always get to experience, and indeed it answered some questions about how his works come into being. The discussion of current work was perhaps even more intriguing, and showed that Moini’s process has become both more ambitious and more refined with time. I for one can’t wait to see what Intentions turns into, and hope to see Moini in the United States again soon.