"The stuff that I photograph is fairly mundane and ordinary, but through the process they take on this new life," says artist Masood Kamandy, as he gestures his photographs on the walls of the gallery, Luis De Jesus Los Angeles. The subjects of L.A.-based artist's images are uncanny: a fuzzy Gatorade bottle, pomegranates stuck with push-pins, and a roll of raffle tickets floating above an ombré surface. Kamandy's solo exhibition "M.O.O.P." aka "Matter Out Of Place" is on view through March 29 and it is easy to relate to the title while standing before a large-scale photograph of Silly Putty surrounded by the toy's empty shells and topped with ping-pong balls.
Inspired by conversations with his partner, an anthropologist, "Matter Out Of Place" features 11 large photographic C-prints of quotidian, mass manufactured products, ranging from latex gloves to Amazon.com packaging materials. Kamandy manipulates these items before, during, and after he photographs them, both physically and through software of his own design. "My photographic process allows me to take new ownership of these items," he explains, "it's high-tech but not tech-worshipping." The materiality of the end result is important to Kamandy, whose previous work utilized software to engage time and space in a more abstract way. Now focused on matter, the artist has moved away from using technology to obscure his content, rather embedding it as a technique in his overall process.
The results are visually striking and whimsical. Humor is at the heart of Kamandy's photographs, but there is a certain visceral element to some of the work. Flipping through a self-printed photo book of the series, Kamandy discloses that "photography is all about observation and looking closer at things than anyone would normally look, and sometimes that can be uncomfortable." He stops at a photograph of a cow's liver and gives an affirmative nod.
Born and raised in an Afghan-American household in Colorado, Kamandy moved to New York to develop as an artist. Eleven years into working in the photo industry, Kamandy realized that he was unable to fully devote himself to his artwork in New York. After hearing James Welling speak at Aperture, Kamandy applied to and attended UCLA, where he received his MFA in 2012. "I realized I wanted to study with this person - when he spoke about his process, he didn't hold anything back," he says, "He was completely honest... I loved it, and I love L.A."
The eccentricity of Los Angeles appears in Kamandy's work, in both his conception and realization of the photographic exercises he explores. "Los Angeles is a city that really encourages that kind of mentality and mindset, that playfulness," he says. "My work is very imaginative, and it's all about imagination and play and humour and I feel like Los Angeles enables that." The playfulness of "M.O.O.P." is also present in Kamandy's Superpositional, a collaborative photo series commissioned by dOCUMENTA(13) in 2012. In Superpositional, play also ultimately gives way to a destabilizing element characteristic of his photographs: it is never entirely clear what Kamandy has or has not done to alter the images, digitally or otherwise. While he notes of "M.O.O.P." that "the orientations of these objects have been manipulated quite heavily," both bodies of work reveal objects that may already exist as they are.
Kamandy's artistic interests also extend far beyond the boundaries of Los Angeles. After September 11th, 2001, Kamandy underwent an effort to connect with his roots in Afghanistan. "Once 9/11 happened I thought 'Oh I have this part of me that I've never addressed' and I want to go and explore and learn the language -- well, learn it better," he says. "So I started a photography school in Kabul, at Kabul University 12 years ago, and in fact I went to Kabul last summer to teach a course. The project started in 2002 and lasted until 2005, when the department was established." He still teaches in the department from time to time, most recently a course on experimental digital photography. Of his students, Kamandy remarks, "they love whatever is cutting edge and they have fewer opportunities than other places in the world to really engage with that content. I feel like a lot of people who go to Afghanistan really condescend to students there when they teach, and I teach here also, so for me it's an extension of my social practice which is teaching in Los Angeles, teaching in Kabul. And the students there -- I feel like because they don't have the same resources, they are so receptive."
Though deeply vocal of his love of Kabul and its culture, he clarifies that he resolved to divide his social practice and art practice in order to avoid potentially commodifying his heritage and his experience. "I thought about becoming a war photographer at first," he says, "I was just starting photo school when September 11th happened and I seriously considered changing my entire life to illuminate what was happening in the world and war zones." But after visiting and photographing family members, he says he changed his hind. "I made a very conscious decision to not make work there and to actually take all the energy that I could spend there and put it toward education there."
Regardless, Kamandy acknowledges that his perspective and vision as an artist was deeply changed by his renewed dedication to his Afghan heritage. As a teacher in Kabul, he needed to mediate his previously halting knowledge of Dari in order to teach photography in his family's language. While his focus on arts education in Afghanistan is somewhat distanced from his photographic practice, Kamandy shares one philosophy that guides his artistic ventures in Los Angeles and unites his experience as a teacher across two cities: "It is a phenomenological experience to stand in front of a photograph."
Masood Kamandy "M.O.O.P" & Josh Reames "#PAINTING," February 22- March 29, 2014, Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, 2685 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Top Image: Masood Kamandy, "The System at War with Itself," 2013, C-print, 48 x 67 inches, edition of 4.
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