“Without obstacles,” writes Farok Ligvani, “the world as we know it could not exist.” Indeed, what world could? Trained as an engineer and a designer, Ligvani is only too aware that the dynamic of life comes from how the various entities of the universe, large and small, relate to each other. Reality exists not just in things, as writers as diverse as William Carlos Williams and Francis Ponge averred, but in how they encounter one another. Heisenberg proved that we know sub-atomic particles through their mutual contact – a contact that changes their nature even while revealing it. Hegel philosophized that we know existence through the conflict between entities. The word in various languages for “object” – Gegenstand in Heisenberg and Hegel’s native German, for instance – infers an opposition, an argument, a “standing against” the observer/encounterer. Language itself consists of subject and object, a Hegelian dialectic embedded at the heart of communication. And – to return to the sub-atomic – we describe electrical impulses according to the “resistance” shown them, the “impedance” on them, always an obstacle to the flow of energy, slowing it, diverting it, but never stopping it.
Energy, as Ligvani the engineer knows and Ligvani the artist describes, shapes our world not just by flow, but by interruption. Can one depict such a fundament of existence with a visual postulate? Wouldn’t it come out looking at best like a wiring diagram, everything reduced to notation? Ligvani’s obstacular considerations, rumination and illumination at once, are nothing if not notational. But they do not sit inertly on their “page” like so many unplayed musical scores. By embossing them, by painting them – practically crafting them – as luminous presences, by carving them into and onto painterly surfaces, Ligvani gives an active and palpable, not to mention alluring, presence to his propositions. The forms in his paintings do not simply communicate the concept of movement; they move.
And they move in a stop-start fashion, periodically confounded by contrary shapes that say in their own obdurate little way that matters have changed, so matter must change, and vice versa. If Rilke concluded his contemplation of an archaic sculpture with the realization that “you must change your life,” Ligvani imbues his highly contemporary painting with life drawn from change, from the myriad moments of discourse knocked off course, a simultaneous babble of voices and a clear, continuous line knocking continuously into what is not itself – challenges to its continuity, obstacles to the mereness of its existence.
Ligvani’s encoded descriptions of life’s obstacle course prove at once unsettling and reassuring. Their luster alone reasserts the primacy of beauty and the aesthetic integrity of struggle and conflict, antagonism and even destruction. One could imagine that at every point where Ligvani’s linear theses run up against antitheses in the form of circles, the result is not pain and annihilation but transcendence and freedom, irresistible force and immovable object disappearing into one another’s otherness. Can’t go on, mused Samuel Beckett, must go on, and in the impossibility of both going on and resting resides a sense of liberation, an unfettering of spirit from object, object from object, theses and antitheses achieving an autonomy that only sets them hurtling into each other with all the more fervor.
And thus are syntheses born of marriages and cataclysms, glancing blows and fusions. Implied in Ligvani’s choreography of lines and circles is a whole vocabulary of obstacles and courses, a range of impacts – and of impacted entitles – that may seem uniform on casual regard, but on inspection brims with particulars. In many works in this series – the first of three planned by Ligvani to elaborate his philosophy of obstacles – these particulars are highlighted in writing, Ligvani’s own remarks or quotes from Persian verse, commentary on commentary on universal conditions and how they become particular before our eyes. The networks of streaks and orbs that comprise Ligvani’s deceptively reduced universe in fact are driven along their paths by a resonant poetic, a grasp of the actual universe as a rich, complex, ordered but unpredictable tangle of phenomena. Embracing the poetic as they do, Ligvani’s crafted entablatures, we come to realize, are encoded not into reductive schemata but into expressive shorthand, a script as austere, elegant, and kinetic as Kufic.
And indeed, we might better regard Ligvani’s structures as maps than as diagrams, showing us not what to do but where we are.
From one vantage, at least, we might consider the charts, routes and regions described in this series of paintings as plans for navigating the course of the next two. From another vantage, these glistening panels say it all, obviate the need for extended examination, serve as obstacle rather than spur to further elaboration. But that’s Ligvani’s very point: every obstacle is a spur, not a rut in the road but a fork, a confounding moment that sparks decision, adventure, change. Our civilization is entering an era in which change – accelerating change – is to be the norm. Obstacles will increase in size and number. Ligvani’s art poses a note of caution, and an equally high and bright note of encouragement: if we embrace our impediments, whatever abyss we step out into will in fact support us.
Obstacles are terms, tools, teachers. Farok Ligvani does not only accept them, but cultivates them. And he would have us do the same – for the sake of art and of life.
Peter Frank Los Angeles