Born in a small city near Washington, D.C., Golnar Adili spent most of her youth in Tehran, to which her family returned after the revolution, in 1979. Her parents’ activism forced Adili’s father to move back to the United States a few years later, however, and she was reunited with him only when she came to the States for college. Last year, Adili produced a puzzle book, She Feels Your Absence Deeply, revisiting her father’s personal archive of family letters and photographs, which she has worked with since his death.
The book’s exterior is a small, fabric-covered portfolio box that delicately enwraps its contents, suggesting the safekeeping of a treasured memento, even as its intimate scale allows it to be quickly packed and stored. Unfolding this container reveals twelve wooden cubes that form a grid of “pages.” Each face is printed with a fraction of an image from Adili’s father’s archive—including informal snapshots of the artist with her mother, black-and-white passport photos of her mother, and a letter between her parents—so that together the cubes can be assembled into six complete images and many more partial collages. In one such composite arrangement, her mother’s eye pierces through otherwise happy tableaux. Like the memories they must evoke, the contents of this book are malleable, playful even, easily shifted out of place.
As recently displayed in Adili’s solo exhibition at CUE Art Foundation in New York, the book lay open, the cubes placed to show a color photograph of Adili and her mother in Iran. One stretch of adjacent cube faces provided a glimpse of that faded letter; in Persian, the artist’s mother uses the work’s title to describe Adili’s temperament after her father left.
In changing the scale and position of her source materials, Adili reflects how memories become more or less important and harder to see over time. The travel-size puzzle book form, as encased in a portfolio, reinforces the source materials’ prized yet slippery status while facilitating new connections among them. Although the book is activated by rearrangement, in the gallery Adili has opted to leave the work on that single page, offering momentary control over what memories the piece jostles free.