Reading Rämistrasse #55: Mihye An on Law & Order at Kulturfolger

Zürich Kreis 3. 300m south-east of Sihlfeld cemetery. A 5-year-old offspace gave Shamiran Istifan carte blanche with their new theme, Only Vampires and Witches, asking, what if they were living here today with their stunning biological conditions and lifestyles? Shamiran Istifan teamed up with two other artists from Dubai (Ruba Al-Sweel and Persia Beheshti) to respond to the theme with an installation.  

Installation view, an arch cut in curtains of fibre-optic string hangs diagonally across the space

First Sight.      

No blood. No flame. No elements causing me angst. Instead, a double-layered Arabian arch of optical fiber. Neat and ethereal. Soon I realise there are some traces of life at the opposite corner, some evidence of heterogeneous bodies. Smells mythical. I wonder whether this corner is a kind of a waiting room where one has to take off one’s shoes like the horse may have done with its silver hooves. It’s decidedly quiet and subtle.  

Jinn’s Body.  

From the accompanying material, I learn that the body parts are from a jinn, like the Genie (or Jeannie) in the tale of Aladdin. The arch is burning with white heat because a jinn lives here. As a Korean myself I definitely have no clue what a jinn is like, or whether I am encountering a male or female one now. Tension, however, arises in the space as soon as I perceive it as a jinn, a being made of smokeless fire who is capable of much more than I am.  

The exhibition seen from another perspective. Beyond the fibre-optic arch some objects are placed on the ground in the far corner.

At His Place. 

With a minimum of caution (the mirrors) and safety measures (the metal rings on the body, which gently captures the jinn), I am invited into his natural surroundings, encouraged to act on the abstract ground. So I enter the multicoated zone; 1) metaphysical, 2) Arabian. As I sense no political nagging or potentially didactic instructions in how to behave, I accept the soft fetish, long to be with a jinn, wish to move airily like a jinn. It is welcoming. I slowly come to appreciate the piercings on the jinn’s extremities and on the teardrops. I can’t grasp them otherwise. Indeed an affair with a completely inaccessible ghost at his or her place would have been less «practical», as I would have no proportion and scale with which to improvise a pleasant simple blessing interaction in this place.   

Installation view with mirrored pieces extending from the wall in sensuous curves

Law & Order, or… Love, Hello & Orderdom?    

So the housewarming was successful. Not based on fear but on intimacy. But now I can’t resist demanding more of the framing of the whole thing. Law & Order. It is quite broad and stern. Especially when those words are put together in symmetry. The artists’ ambitions are clearly not related to Kantian rigidity or in finding political certainties. They seem to be interested in ethical uncertainties we grapple with, with other forms of being (be that a phantom, a demon, vampires and witches, aliens, AI, mushrooms or stones). The stage is, accordingly, set up to play with; my performance can invent new orders. In that sense, the grandiose title may not be necessary and could be loosened up. In fact, given such a spectral housewarming, I can simply say hello, be advised, make kin or have a brief residential affair with the exotic phantom so that I can appreciate the I’m-welcome-here-to-be-natural-world in peace and in orderdom (1). And whether it’s orderdom or law and order that the space wants to catalyse by any kind of «naturing affairs» (2), what seems to me slightly lacking is complexity and trouble. Things are already quite in order. In a more troubling situation, the jinn could probably show off his/her spiritual craft, cast an unspeakable spell, make me believe in things that I cannot, so I can re-appropriate my ethical ground and co-breed extra cognitive and moral agencies. A degree of orderdom could be achieved as a result of all that para-ordering and imagination, before (or while) mentioning any law, if this is what the title suggests?  

My Visitorship.

I confess, confidently, that my visit to the dwelling was made only virtually from the other side of the globe, mediated through a phone held in a friend’s hand. Absolutely without the presence of my body. In the words of the artists’ statement: «Disembodiment can be a relief.» 


Visit it yourself – or send someone else to the house. «Once again...welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring.» (Bram Stoker, Dracula)  


(1) A word that I make up here for the purpose of this review: order, plus the suffix -dom meaning «state of being», «condition», or «quality», as in freedom or wisdom.

(2) Approaching nature not as something pure or pre-given but as an «abundant zone of meaning» (John Durham Peters), «naturing affairs» here can be understood as constant enabling of symbolic worlds and our intimate articulations to inhabit such realities.


Law & Order by Ruba Al-Sweel, Persia Beheshti and Shamiran Istifan at Kulturfolger

3 July-25 July 2021 

Images courtesy of the artists; photographs by Anna Maysuk   

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