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Mika Agari at Bijan Ferdowsi in Nashville

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Installation view of “Friction Fruit” at Bijan Ferdowsi in Nashville.

In Nashville’s still-expanding art scene, roles like artist, curator, preparator, gallery designer, lighting technician, and opening night bartender are all hats to be juggled by one or a few people. This balancing act was recently demonstrated when artist Mika Agari—who co-curates the gallery Mild Climate with David Anderson—had a weeklong exhibition at Bijan Ferdowsi, another artist-run space located in the basement of the house where Anderson lives with his brother Benji and dancer McKay House.

The F Word at Hunter Museum

“Friction Fruit,” which was on view from February 18 to 26, featured a pair of installation spaces packed with furnishings, objects, photographs and videos that all speak to intimacy in cozy spaces. The setting—a regular basement—was an important component of the exhibition’s context. It provided the same sense of close collaboration that Agari and Anderson create at Mild Climate, which is partially why “Friction Fruit” was so affecting.

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Agari’s installations incorporate video and objects from
the artist’s personal history.

Climbing down a steep stairway, viewers turn back into a dimly lit space in the far corner of the basement, where a big rug entices them to sit down in front of a video projection featuring a loop of Agari chewing on the end of a straw sticking out of a Styrofoam to-go cup. The plastic masticating conveys an anxious fixation; it’s the kind of behavior you might unconsciously engage in among familiar company. Of course viewers couldn’t converse with the artist on the screen, but watching the video made it feel like you were in the midst of a conversation. Agari also obscured the image’s edges, creating a vignette-style frame of soft white light that focused viewers’ attention on her chewing mouth.

Objects that reinforce a sense of intimacy were littered around the rug. Viewers could thumb through a photo album filled with pictures of the altar of the church where Agari’s parents were married, and a series of glass vials full of Agari’s saliva hung from plain necklace chains along an exposed stone ledge. Agari had written the names of people she’s kissed on single grains of rice that were in various stages of dissolution at the bottom of each vial.

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Grains of rice bearing the names of people kissed by Agari dissolve in small vials hung by necklace chains along the wall.

Back near the bottom of the stairs, behind a half-closed door, there was another display in a dark room—I didn’t even think to look inside when I first saw the show. In this space, viewers lied down or sat together on a mattress on the floor to watch a video on a very small tablet half-buried in sparkly black aquarium sand. The video features Agari in closeup again, but here she speaks directly to the viewer as if she were trapped inside the tablet. She repeatedly calls out lines like “I’m still here,” “I miss you,” and “I want to touch you.” Agari smiles at the beginning of the video, as if a bit nervous about expressing these feelings. But by the end she is crying, with the desultory delivery of her words becoming desperate and direct.

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Installation view of Agari’s video Floor Piece at Bijan Ferdowsi.

Unlike many of her peers, Agari’s performances are actually compelling, especially in the Floor Piece video. Too often performance artists engage in some activity that fails to capture viewer’s attention, and their video documentation is also often just as thoughtless—as if simply pointing a camera at a performance automatically creates “video art.” Agari pulls off some emotional acting in an affecting performance, and while I mostly know the artist as a photographer, I’ll be looking forward to more videos like these from her.

Mika Agari’s “Friction Fruit” ran at the basement gallery Bijan Ferdowsi in Nashville from February 18 to 26.

Joe Nolan is a critic, columnist, and intermedia artist in Nashville. Find out more about his projects at www.joenolan.com.