I don’t know when this architecture tradition started, but I believe most of us are familiar with it. You enter a giant building, and at the entrance, you come across a glass box displaying the building’s scale model/maquette. You are inside the building, yet you are observing a miniature rendition of the building from above.
If you visited Las Vegas City Hall last month, at the entrance you would have stood in front of a full-scale maquette for a housing studio built out of cardboard on 160 sq ft. This maquette represents one of the weekly-rental studios that are spread all over the city. It may also remind you of the housing projects that the city and its civil society afford for the homeless. But when you get close, you will find a modest label with the artist’s name on it: Nima Abkenar.
The maquette/artworks invite you to enter. No doors to open. You walk into a small kitchen, a space intended for the bed, and a couple of squares allotted for the restroom. In the end, you are confronted by a wall with fluorescent lights hanging on it. Fluorescence is Nima’s fingerprint; we could spot it in most of his artworks, an aesthetic he took from his home city where fluorescent lights are widely used on mosques and shrines.
Outside of the city hall building, swarms of homeless and vagrants were taking over the streets, sleeping under the shade if they found it, or roving around in a circle that led nowhere.
I couldn’t separate the homeless situation in Las Vegas from Nima’s installation at the city hall, where people who work daily in the building are the ones who are responsible for finding a solution to this problem.
But this was my perception of an art project that has other layers and roots. Some of them go back to Nima himself, who arrived as an immigrant here only to end up revolting against the art school at UNLV and the Art Institutes of Las Vegas — although he lost and was spurned by them for several years. Now he was showing his work in the most official place in the city, revolting against the kitsch/cliché art that dominated Las Vegas’ public image for decades.
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