Shirin Neshat Partners With Ornellaia to Offer 'A Moment of Social Sharing'

By Roxane Zand

N ow in its eleventh year, the Ornellaia Vendemmia d'Artista partners contemporary artists with the world's leading wine producers, to create a limited edition series interpreting the spirit and personality of this exceptional vintage. Iranian artist Shirin Neshat takes on the commission this year, turning her attention to Ornellaia 2016 - "La Tensione". She sat down with Sotheby's Roxane Zand to discuss the process.

Roxane Zand: Ornellaia have a long history of working with artists, and have recently announced a partnership with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. What does it mean to you to take on this commission?

Shirin Neshat: It is always a challenge for an artist to do something out of their own milieu. There are positives and negatives: on the one hand, it is very positive to be forced out of your comfort zone and to think of ideas that might appeal on a more popular level. I personally welcome my ideas being translated into something outside my practice, something that has a functional purpose.

Even if this purpose is quite removed from what I normally deal with in my work – as a product such as wine, for example – because I would still have to bring something meaningful to it, and give it an aesthetic shape that is of my own signature. Ornellaia’s commission was a welcome one for me.

Roxane Zand: You have mentioned ‘a moment of social sharing’ as a theme. Did the nature of the brand and the wine itself influence the way you approached the brief?

Shirin Neshat: It was wonderful for me to look for some of my own cultural associations within the theme of wine in this commission. As it’s commonly known the concept of wine is a constant reference in the mystical tradition of Persian literature as an element of ‘existential joy’. I used the poetry of our legendary Persian mystic Omar Khayyam who speaks of wine as the means by which to escape banalities, unfetter the imagination, and reach mystical heights. Ornellaia embraced this aspect of bringing my own cultural heritage into the context of their wine, and allowed me to apply my own visual and conceptual vocabulary.

Roxane Zand: You often incorporate text in your work giving your photography a graphic element alongside sensual depictions of the body. Can you explain the relationship between text and the body in your work? What does the script on these bottles convey?

Shirin Neshat: I felt I needed to remain true to my own voice, vision, and signature. One aspect of the commission was for me to create artwork that would be rolled out to 10 quite different bottles. I really enjoyed that process as I ended up using the image of a pair of hands like in an animation. First completely closed, then slightly open to reveal Khayam’s text, then completely open where the words begin to fall off the hand, and then eventually the hand closed to its first position.

There was an element of choreography here which I enjoyed a lot. I applied traditional decorative motifs over text, creating an interplay with the images. The limitations the bottles imposed ended up making me think sculpturally. These restrictions and parameters injected an element of playfulness in the creative process.

Roxane Zand: As a visual artist, you have more recently designed opera and expanded your work into several arenas. How do you see the scope of your practice?

Shirin Neshat: Expanding my artistic work into film, opera, design, curating, and other areas has meant pushing myself outside of my own comfort zone. There is resistance at first, but doing something new is stimulating and attractive. It's important to push your boundaries, to prove yourself all over again. It brings you new audiences, a new scrutiny that will not accept any excuses: there is expectation for the same level of creativity both within and outside your familiar milieu.

This collaboration with Ornellaia gave me a unique and exciting chance to explore something new, all the while celebrating the theme of wine which is close to my heart and culture.

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