Neshan Magazine-15-Winter 2008
Saed Meshki: Does any of your work portray Iranian identity? Or shall I ask if you make any effort to create Iranian work?
Siamak Feilizadeh: When I work, more than anything I get involved with creativity and new ideas. I don't intend to deliberately create Iranian works. When I produce a graphic design work I have no premeditated plan to make it Iranian. I don't know why these questions remind me of the national automobile or any other national product that's becoming fashionable these days.
SM: In some of your work, especially the ones from 10 years ago, flower and bird motifs and lithographic print images of the Qajar Era are present. By saying Iranian, I meant the use of these images.
SF: I have no interest in creating an Iranian identity with old motifs and images and if I have to portray identity I seek it in modern day motifs.
SM: But you use those images anyways.
SF: I used to but not for creating the identity. I used their conceptual weight. If I'm supposed to use flower, bird or any traditional Iranian motif for creating identity I also have to live the lifestyle of our predecessors. For example, I will have to go to work by carriages or on a horse. I do believe that my identity in pictures is represented by existing elements but I put no effort to show them on purpose. I think if the graphic designer is living in the present, amidst the pictures related to the past, there will be a modern identity in every work he creates.
SM: As a viewer I may want to ask why you didn't use a modern element on designing the film festival poster. Notice that the Iranian cinema and the directors are not into flower and bird motifs.
SF: First of all, I explained about portraying my identity in my works. Secondly, for the festival poster the spirit of the produced cinematic work in its entirety is my concern. I am after the conceptual feeling that the work creates but if I have to make a poster about an artist or a filmmaker in which the portrayal of details such as clothing or shoes help display his identity and universal spirit, I will definitely do it. When I use certain images they relate to the subject I'm designing. I really have no interest to use past symbols and situations to portray my work as Iranian. Incidentally, when I found out some perceived it as that I left it. Interestingly, most of those who criticized me for doing that are making posters with these elements that please the foreign tourists. I repeat again, for me the hidden form and concept is important in image.
SM: You mean the image's symbolic meaning.
SF: Exactly. That this image is from where or when or whether or not it gives me an Iranian characteristic is not important.
SM: Now the question comes to mind that flower and bird are symbols of the Qajar Era but Fajr Film Festival is a modern subject and cinema is a 20th century technology. How do you link these together? Or for example, how do you associate pomegranate as an ancient Iranian symbol to Fajr Film Festival when you don't care where that image comes from?
SF: When I picked pomegranate as a symbol and token for designing the poster its ancientness had no importance to me. Although tokens are born in a certain era but many still maintain their meaning and concept today. To me the abundance of pomegranate, seeds in a single shell, represents the art of cinema which is comprised of various constituents but it serves one purpose; to me it represents birth and creation. To me a modern and lively perception of a form or image is important and I don't poke in it as far as precedence. For example, in the flower and bird motif I see an infatuation, love and life in the flower and bird relationship that's attractive to me and it is quite similar to the relationship of the artist and art. It's not important to me when and who with what intention drew the flower and bird or if it gives me an Iranian identity or that the foreigners will be stunned by looking at it. I have usually used old motifs and images with a modern look.
SM: Often graphic designers who design cultural works attempt to show that they belong to a certain geographical region. The simplest way is to use the symbols and signs of that region and the hard way are to show that particular region's environment even if there are no specific symbols. Presence of some tokens such as calligraphy is no reason for the work to have identity. Of course, you too are saying that you don't believe in creating identity through this approach.
SF: It is definitely as such. If you review my work trend you will see that I have not used these symbols in recent years. Thirst for new and modern experiences leaves no time to go back to the past. If I claim to be making new and creative work then I can not present it as new by repetitious forms that I was never involved in their creation and aesthetics that dates hundreds of years back. At the present, it is very important to me that my design will not have a clear geographical identity. One of the most pleasing experiences I have had was the use of pictures in their original form and for doing that I used to go to the photography studio to make the pictures for my posters and I would make and photograph whatever I needed for my designs. It was important that all pictures and elements belonged to me. It was there that I realized use of original picture and its correct designing are such a hard and laborious task and that's why most of our designers do not step foot into that domain. For example, suppose you need an angel for designing a poster. What do you do? The easiest way is to take a picture that belongs to a photographer without permission from the magazine or book and scan it and change it into a high contrast image or black and white. And then take a picture of the wings from elsewhere and do the same to it. If you stick these blackened images together the figure of an angel appears that you have had no part in its designing. Now imagine you want to take the picture and decide to have a completely real image of an angel. You have to design the outfit, lighting. You have to completely know anatomy and place the subject in a correct position and record a frame of a figure. You do the same with the wings. The most important part is connecting the wing while maintaining the anatomy and the direction of light and shadows. This experience was important to me because I didn't want to edit the pictures of others. Meanwhile, I tried to get to know print and use the techniques in my works. If you look closely at my work you will notice that from a certain point, the uses of printing techniques are visible in my work especially in my book illustrations. Photography and printing experience later on in my advertising work was useful and functional and I'm happy that in order to have a personal signature I did not resort to one style of work and its repetition.
SM: What about now?
SF: For the past 5-6 years I have been looking at things more simply and my works have become more minimal; of course, without any intention. My lifestyle has drifted that way. In this period like before there is no trace of the past. For example, look at the poster Cinema and Dialogue among Civilizations, Museums and Friends poster, Celebration of Hope poster, Cinema Museum poster, etc.
SF: Most of our motifs from the past have strong, sturdy and beautiful designs but they don't have any appeal for me to use in my own. I have been a graphic designer for eighteen years and know well how to use these images for viewer attraction and deception. But that is not my job. As I said before I have no interest to be a picture editor.
SM: In any case you resort to different and diverse methods to reach a personal conclusion. It seems that you seek your identity, for yourself. On the other hand this character is not apart from your own social and cultural location. If you had been born in another region in Iran you wouldn't have worked like this.
SF: That is right. I do all this effort and probing for healthier, more correct and creative transfer of concepts hidden in a subject of a client's interest. If I were only after gaining personal results and identity I would certainly choose another field such as music or painting that I find as pure art. Generally, if my works are embedded with my character and identity it was done without intention. Also, the graphic designer is not apart from the aesthetics of the society he lives in. He is not away from his social and cultural situation. The graphic designer represents the visual taste and literacy of his society but does this happen correctly in our country? Or if graphic design follows fashion and pleases the tourists? Take a look at works displayed in exhibitions abroad such as France. If a non-Iranian person sees these pictures and then travels to Iran, will he see the same spirit and look in our domestic graphic design works? Do the signs in the streets have the same taste? Does the packaging inside stores have the same spirit? At the present, the works of graphic designers are full of Iranian typography, Nastaliq letters and images designed in the past. But drop by a supermarket and you'll see Latin alphabets have been used on packages to attract consumers and they all have cheap Western looks. There's a great distance between our graphic designers' conceptions and that of people's who the main target of graphic design is whereas they both live in the same geographical boundary. For years, the works of Japanese designers were very attractive to me and I always enjoyed watching them. Two years ago when I went to Japan to hold an exhibition, that look and taste in their works were apparent everywhere in their country; in supermarkets, streets, temples, restaurants and even in people's attires. It was then that I felt Japanese designers live in the present and they are not apart from the people and their contemporary lives in their country.
SM: Political and social events provoke reactions among graphic designers that lead to certain movements and behaviors that externally deem as artworks but these internal reactions prompt graphic designers to find different ways. All of us designers can be good preachers and present our words as beautifully wrapped gifts to others especially that our guild has learnt it by experience how to elaborate on our work for the client. But it is our produced and published works that will be left before the ruthless but fair judgment of history. My first question is can we guess and see the social situation of Iran from beyond your works?
SF: Others have to be the judge of that.
SM: The second question involves what happens within the graphic designers, also affected by world events. In a period you too like all of our generation designers worked with types and manuscripts. You created cuts in types that were apparent in your works. Every one of the Iranian designers also took on personal experiences that later on led to personal conclusions.
SF: I am too lazy to look into resources and foreign books. In my library there are few books on graphic design. The only graphic designer that I like is Makoto Saito from Japan and I still enjoy his work. I don't believe in external influences then. In 1990 I did my first shenanigans on types which I still have kept. Later on, this wrestling became a part of my apprehensions and I furthered my experiments in that area. What I mentioned as an internal reaction in graphic designers, willingly or unwillingly affected all designers. Change in type and font also deemed a need and it is not limited to one individual. It is a move out of collective need and reaction. Whether it is palatable or unsavory will be judged in the future. I wish that 50% of what happened to our types would happen in our pictures. What I sense right now is sort of weakness and illiteracy in imaging that is spreading like a disease. Everybody is heavily involved with type and typography and little work we see with an original and designed image.
SM: I prefer to go back to your work. You work both in cultural domain and advertising and commercials. How do you manage to do both?
SF: I don't see the two separate from each other. Only the subjects and scope of audience are different. Client and audience exist in both. In commercial advertising the issue of product sales and return of profits to the client is quite vital. Perhaps a graphic designer that works on cultural subjects can do more in artistic realm and create artistic work but it is harder to work in commercial advertising. If a graphic designer creates asuccessful commercial work he has done an important job. He needs to evaluate and observe many external factors so a soap packaging for example, appeals to the consumer to want to pay for it. And it has to be profitable for the manufacturer and worthwhile as far as its graphic design. That is why in Iran we see few successful commercial works. Graphic designers often stay away from doing
commercial works and are more inclined to artistic endeavors because then they regard themselves as more artistic. Advertising agencies give no importance to design issues and are more interested in advertising brokerage. They anticipate the advertising media fees and the graphic design fee do not satisfy them. Commercial advertising was a precious experience for me because it taught me to sit in front of managers and high-ranking director generals of a factory and speak for hours about my job and defend it. It taught me how to exchange with the client and what concessions to give to gain greater ones back. This is precisely the weakness of graphic designers in the cultural domain. Those with high reputations try to use the power of their names and those with less experience become disappointed or surrender to client opinion or completely relinquish the work. That is why many graphic design works are done in the cultural domain without a client.
The other advantage that commercial advertising had for me was that I got to know and experience the operations of various media. For example, I got to know how a billboard should be. What advantage or disadvantage the body of a bus has for the commercial and where I should do what? I became familiar with various techniques of print and understood its capabilities. I understood the importance of money in helping to advance the idea and achieve human demands. All of these opened new horizons for me that I used duly in my cultural graphic design work and I am very happy about that.
SM: Apparently, besides doing graphic design professionally, you also perform other experimental works.
SF: A few years ago I wanted to hold a graphic design exhibition. I found it repetitious. A graphic design exhibition is the city walls and the windows of shops unless a designer's work in a certain period is to be reviewed which I found unnecessary. I had certain viewpoints in confronting people's daily lives and looking at their social relations and their reactions towards various imported phenomena. I wanted to visually express them. So I thought of holding an exhibition titled as Bread, Cheese and Picture that was comprised of some posters, logos, advertising slogan and a video art. It was an exercise and experiment for me in graphic design and digital art. I had been able to display a new realm of visual culture, experiment and freely criticize some of the society's problems. I also had a group exhibition in Japan in which I showed a video art. It was a great experience for me. When working for a client I try to observe all professional principals of graphic design and not merely seek to stage myself. I don't boast about creating a personal artwork but along with graphic design I also get engaged in making video and digital art and attempt to exhibit my artistic apprehensions in this arena as well.
SM: What are you doing now in fall of 2007?
SF: I am in pre-production process of a big video and installation art exhibition on a subject that has preoccupied me for years. I hope that this exhibition will open a new window in the area of displaying artistic works. With regards to commercial graphic design I have been working as art director for a gold and jewelry making company.
SM: Thank you.