An exchange exhibition between Iran and Austria
Curated by Tarlan Rafiee and Yashar Samimi Mofakham

One time when Sheikh Abu Sa'id Abi'l-Kheyr came to the city of Tus, the people entreated him to speak before an assembly. The Sheikh consented. At dawn a platform was set up in the Khanqah of the Master and people began arriving and seating themselves. Meanwhile, so many people had come in that there was no more room left. The master of ceremonies rose to his feet and said: "May God have mercy on each person who takes one step forward from where he is." The Sheikh drew his hand down over his face and said: "Everything I wished to say and everything the prophets declared has just been said: 'May you advance one step from what you are.''" And the Sheikh didn't say another word but came down from the platform and with that he brought the assembly to a close.

The RTL:LTR art project is a joint exhibition between Iran and Austria to be held in 2016. The initial idea of this exhibition was developed during Peter Assmann’s trip to Iran, following the same lines as the Bread & Salt Curatorial Projects.


Bread & Salt is a project based on an old Iranian concept– which exists in many other cultures as well. Bread and salt is the least thing we offer to our guests in order to create a lasting friendship. A connection created over a table where bread and salt has been served is one of the strongest bonds in our culture. In the Bread & Salt Curatorial Projects that have taken place up to now, the goal has been to create such a bond.


After several years of darkness and silence, relations between Iran and the West are gradually improving. During this time of political upheavals and diplomatic ups and downs, what has suffered more than anything else is cultural dialogue. Cultural exchanges are what allow a society to endure and evolve, and without such exchanges language and culture becomes outdated and worn out.

Prior to the internet, our understanding of Austrian culture and art, and their understanding of ours, was limited to older sources such as books, magazines, newspapers, and such, which would provide pre-selected information, sometimes with great delays. In the internet era this connection has become freer and easier, yet it still includes an element of pre-selection. In this era of communication too, one who has more power is able to place his information at the top of search engines, and often the information made most accessible to users is of the same type as that published by official media.

This exhibition has been arranged in such a context to create a cultural exchange between Iran – one of the oldest, most important cultural centers in the Middle East – and Austria – an important European center of culture.

The title of the exhibition has been taken from the acronyms LTR and RTL, which are used to indicate the direction of writing from left to right, or vice versa in information technologies. These abbreviations are used in programming and web-design particularly to distinguish Latin text from Farsi and Arabic. Right to left and left to right are also used to define what is sent from the East to the West (and vice versa), the direction of reading and writing, as well as the direction of movement in hands, bodies, and the gaze. This orientation has always been of concern in visual, cinematic, educational, and psychological theories, and perhaps such theories have been translated from Austrian to Farsi and conversely many times before, without considering the concept of orientation.

A long time was spent to determine the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of this exhibition, as well as the selection of artists based on their thought process and work, and the piece to be exhibited by each. The pieces were eventually selected based on the exhibition’s overall view. Each piece had to individually represent a part of the art/culture/language of the artist, and the collection of the pieces will ultimately provide the viewer at the other end with a representation, albeit incomplete, of the contemporary culture of the artist’s country. The individual pieces and their juxtaposition with one another may seem out of synch and incompatible, but the goal was to represent a polyphonic society. The discussions held with Austrian artists along the way, and the exchange of information that took place during the process, may in fact be more important than the exhibition itself. There were many discussions about the works, about the language of each side, and about life, politics, economy, art, and culture, and we realized that we still have a lot to learn from one another and about each other.

In the very near future we will undoubtedly learn and understand more about each other. Perhaps the first step, just one step, may be the present exhibition.

Iranian artists participating in this exhibition:

Samira Alikhanzadeh, Mojtaba Amini, Reza Aramesh, Ghazaleh Avarzamani, Mazdak Ayari, Ala Ebtekar, Saeed Ensafi, Behnaz Ghassemi, Nargess Hashemi, Sahand Hesamiyan, Farrokh Mahdavi, Farnaz Rabiejah, Tarlan Rafiee, Yashar Samimi Mofakham, Golnaz Taheri.

This show launched at Galerie Forum on 1 June 2016. | Galerie Forum, Wels, Austria

The show was running at Artmark Gallery from 19 August 2016 until 2 September 2016. | Artmark Gallery, Vienna, Austria

This show is running now at Lajevardi Foundation from 23 September 2016 for three weeks. | Lajevardi Foundation, Tehran, Iran

This Exhibition is supported and part of the Bread & Salt Projects.

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An exchange exhibition between Austria and Iran

“Our heads are round so our thoughts can change direction.”(1)
On the Austrian contribution to the exhibition LTR-RTL. Back and forth. Iran-Austria.

The exhibition LTR-RTL. Back and forth. Iran-Austria displays works by Austrian and Iranian artists. The title itself promises a mutual multifaceted engagement with the Other on an artistic level. The two different directions of reading and writing LTR-RTL (left to right/right to left) and the Back and Forth, the constants of cultural exchange on a level playing field, form the central theme of the exhibition.

The Austrian contributions to the exhibition approached the idea of Iran in very different ways. The process of studying the Other often unexpectedly brought out encounters with the familiar or brought to light that which is Other in the familiar. What is foreign is often closer to us than we think, or as Karl Valentin once aptly expressed it, “A foreigner is only a foreigner in a foreign land.” Mutual cultural exchange often appears where it is not expected. The view from outside opens up new perspectives.

As meta levels are uncovered, underlying and often forgotten aspects are brought back into consciousness. The links and points of contact between “us” and Iran demonstrate an astonishing range of different aspects that connect us to Iran or also divide us. Except for the work by Peter Assman, all the Austrian contributions were created without a direct encounter with Iran or Iranian culture.

Every artistic work opens up its own cosmos. Each one shows a theoretical construct and a network of relationships to the back and forth of the mutual relationship Iran-Austria or Austria-Iran, or simply the relationship between artist and observer. Ultimately, visitors to the exhibition will continue or complete the discursive process in Austria as well as in Iran with their individual culturally and socially formed interpretations and associations regarding each work of art.

Austrian artists participating in this exhibition:
Peter Assmann, Christine Bauer, Josef Bauer, Herbert Egger, Thomas Enzenhofer, Ursula Guttmann, Markus Anton Huber, Walter Kainz, Marion Kilianowitsch, Maria Meusburger, Josef Ramaseder, Wolfgang Maria Reiter, Markus Riebe, Eckart Sonnleitner, Erich Spindler, Isa Stein, Andreas Strohhammer

This show launched at Galerie Forum on 1 June 2016. | Galerie Forum, Wels, Austria

The show was running at Artmark Gallery from 19 August 2016 until 2 September 2016. | Artmark Gallery, Vienna, Austria

This show is running now at Lajevardi Foundation from 23 September 2016 for three weeks. | Lajevardi Foundation, Tehran, Iran

This Exhibition is supported by c/o:K .

(1)Francis Picabia: 1995, Our Heads are Round so our Thoughts Can Change Direction. Translated from French by Pierre Gallissaires and Hanna Mittelstädt, Edition Nautilus, Hamburg