Academics and Research

Mehran takes on science, politics and religion in new museum exhibit

Laleh Mehran’s “Men of God, Men of Nature” is on display at the Denver Art Museum through Feb. 17. Photo courtesy of Laleh Mehran

Standing inside the giant cube that’s at the heart of Laleh Mehran’s temporary, site-specific installation at the Denver Art Museum, you may feel like a ruler looking down on his subjects, or like a character in AMC’s zombie show “The Walking Dead,” about to be devoured.

With its motion-sensitive video screens that send a horde of computer-generated, head-like spheres swarming toward each new visitor, the piece—titled Men of God, Men of Nature—puts a visitor at the center of some kind of big event, but the specifics are open to interpretation.

“Basically they’re masses, however you decide you see that,” says Mehran, an associate professor of emergent digital practices at the School of Art and Art History. “Whether you’re there to bestow words of wisdom onto the masses and they really want to hear it, or you see yourself as a rock star and the concert’s begun and fans are coming toward you, or it’s a parasitic relationship and you’re the host and the parasites are coming to feast—there are a lot of interpretations.”

Mehran started working on the piece two years ago at the invitation of museum director Christoph Heinrich. It addresses her trademark issues of science, politics and religion, but it also is inspired by the unconventional architecture of the DAM’s Frederic C. Hamilton Building.

“I teasingly call this a collaboration between myself and the architect Daniel Libeskind, because I would never have made a cube in a white-wall gallery,” says Mehran, who built the structure in collaboration with her husband, Chris Coleman, also an assistant professor in the emergent digital practices program. “But in this space, where nothing is perpendicular, a cube just works. It feels so alive to me.”

The daughter of Iranian scientists who left Iran during the Cultural Revolution in the 1980s, Mehran has worked at DU since 2007. Men of God, Men of Nature pays tribute to her Middle Eastern heritage as well: The installation’s cube is inspired by the Kaaba, a sacred Islamic structure that draws millions of Muslims during the annual Hajj pilgrimage; and the outside of the structure is decorated with etchings inspired by the topography of the region.

To set the appropriate mood, Mehran and a sound designer put together a soundscape that melds sacred songs, ambient noise from a bazaar and an American shopping mall, the sounds of helicopters, bees and more into a sonic “soup” that is equally soothing and hypnotic. Inside the cube, a deeper rumbling aids further reflection.

“On the most ideal level, my piece is a place of contemplation,” Mehran says. “Most of the surfaces are reflective, but at the same time all the reflective pieces are in parts, so you’re constantly getting interrupted—your perfect understanding of yourself or your surroundings is constantly cut or imposed by something else. So ideally it’s a place where you would be reflective about these very deep ideologies that make you who you are and influence the ways in which you make wise decisions about how you understand your position in relation to others and navigate the world.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *