Interview by Tom Roche –
I catch up with artist Cyrus Mahboubian, to see what he has been up to since his feature in Loupe issue 4. He talks about new projects, commissions, the struggles of making work on discontinued film and an upcoming exhibition.
Tom Roche: What have you been up to since your feature in issue 4 of Loupe?
Cyrus Mahboubian: First and foremost, I’m always making new work. I think it’s important to keep working with the medium, regardless of whether or not there any exhibitions coming up.
I take portrait commissions alongside my art practice and I’ve made some new portraits recently. I enjoy it because, as with my personal work, my approach to portraiture is intentionally slow and I use the same antique camera. I speak with the sitter a lot while waiting for the right moment, and take fewer photos.
I haven’t been exhibiting this year as I wanted to immerse myself in making new work, so I’ve been spending more time in the countryside where I’ve recently set up a work space.
TR: Is that a shared studio space, or a personal work space?
CM: It’s a personal space. I wanted to be away from the city, where I’d have more time to read and research and generally work at a slower pace, which I find most conducive to making art.
TR: Can you talk a little about the commission you did for Soho House, how did it come about?
CM: The original Soho House, which opened in London in 1995, underwent a major refurbishment over the last few years and finally reopened in late January. Last year Kate Bryan, the curator of the Soho House art collection, got in touch asking if I’d like to make a series of new Polaroids for the clubhouse on the theme Libri. I shot the photos – all relating to reading – in UK libraries and museums, and using some rare books that I borrowed from a private collector.
TR: In your Loupe issue 4 feature, you mentioned you were going to tackle making work on 4×5 film. Have you started to make the transition yet and if so how has it affected your practice?
CM: I must admit I haven’t! Shortly after my Loupe feature, I managed to get more of the B&W instant film I’ve loved using over the last few years. The film was discontinued some years ago, which is why it has become so scarce, but getting more enabled me to continue working with it for a little longer.
I still intend to transition to large-format and, with my current film running out, that day is approaching. Generally I take my time with things and try never to rush; that applies to photography too. I hope my journey as an artist will last for many decades so I’m happy to let things evolve slowly. I think that way we come to new chapters at the right time and are more open to the possibilities they bring.
TR: Have you become even more considered with the images you make; now that your film supply is running out?
CM: Yes, inevitably. I’m doing a residency at an art foundation called Villa Lena in Tuscany for the month of October and I’ve decided to save what I have left for that trip. It’s bittersweet, though, because I firmly believe that the scarcity of the film has made me a better, more thoughtful artist. It has also led me to new ways of working: in my latest body of work I took images from my archive, cut them and joined up the fragments to create new images. It was a way to continue working with the medium even though I don’t have film to spare.
TR: Could you introduce the MIGRATE project that you were involved with?
CM: MIGRATE is a photography project in aid of Unicef that I co-founded last year. I feel that, relatively speaking, in this country we are detached from the ongoing refugee crisis and I wanted to do my bit to raise awareness. 8 photographers made new bodies of work exploring human migration and all the photographs were shot on Impossible Project (now Polaroid Originals) instant film. We launched the project last summer with an exhibition in London Bridge, and so far this year it has toured to St Cross College, University of Oxford and to Leicester, where it was part of Journeys Festival International 2018. We’ve published a substantial exhibition catalogue, proceeds from which benefit Unicef’s appeal for the children of Syria.
TR: That’s great. How did you find the transition from photographer to a more curatorial role?
CM: I found it easier to curate other artists’ work than my own. When you aren’t emotionally attached to the images, it’s easier to see them objectively and make a selection of what works best together. The logistical aspects of organising an exhibition are challenging, though – liaising with all the participants, making sure everything comes in on time, producing the catalogue, press release, promoting the exhibition properly, speaking with journalists etc. It takes up a huge amount of time!
TR: Do you have any of your own exhibitions lined up in the near future?
CM: I have a solo show coming up in November in Dubai. It will be at The Edit, a new concept store in the Jumeirah district. The Edit has a beautiful gallery space and the exhibition – presenting a new body of work – will take place at the same time as Abu Dhabi Art Fair in the neighbouring emirate, so an exciting time to be in the region. I’m really looking forward to it.
TR: How did you get involved with them?
CM: The owner of The Edit is an art collector and has collected my work over the last couple of years – that’s how we got to know each other. When she launched the space she asked if I’d like to do a show there. I visited the venue early this year – it was still under construction at the time, but I loved her vision and could see it would be a beautiful place to exhibit, so of course I said yes.
TR: Best of luck with the show, and thank you for your time.