When you’re standing on the corner of Queen West and Gladstone Avenue, a certain curiosity forms when looking at the front facade of the hotel. On the second floor, a warm orange glow fills the corner bay windows during the day, later turning into a cool purplish blue if you pass by at night. Enter the hotel and travel up to the second floor gallery and you’ll find the source of the glow in Studio 207.
Safoura Zahedi is the maker and designer of Connect, an installation which launched at Gladstone’s annual Come Up To My Room exhibition (and will remain active for a full year). CUTMR invites artists and designers to create 4-day site-specific immersive installations throughout the hotel that stimulate the imagination and encourage discussion and dialogue between contributors and visitors alike.. For CUTMR 2019, Safoura was selected to create an installation to activate and enhance Studio 207, which is used as a meeting and event space.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Safoura Zahedi, getting to know the artist behind the geometric glow from Studio 207, and talking about being part of Come Up To My Room 2019.
Safoura is an architectural designer at an internationally renowned architecture firm in the downtown core, where she collaborates with a team designing civic, institutional and cultural buildings. Born in Tokyo and growing up in Tehran and Toronto, her Iranian heritage plays a heavy part in her work as a designer and has influenced her love and fascination with geometry.
“My earliest, richest, memories of art and design are of my family visits to historic architectural monuments in Iran – mainly Isfahan (where my parents were born). There is this wonderful range of complex geometry and patterns everywhere; from floors, walls, ceilings to small hand crafted objects you can still see being made by craftsmen in the bazaars. I think my obsession with geometry is definitely rooted in those early memories.”
Her installation Connect is part of her ongoing design series “Beyond the Surface”, which explores geometry and its potential as a contemporary universal design language of unity. Her main creative mantra and philosophy of the work “multiplicity in unity and unity in multiplicity” is repeated during our conversation. She explains:
“[It’s] where every part depends on the whole and the whole depends on the part. From our cellular structure to the order of the planets—there is a subtle meaningful ‘geometric’ order underlying our universe—and it unites us all.”
She focuses her practice on generating connections between her work and the viewer, as well as the viewer and themselves, and the world around them.
While the shapes of Connect may appear simple, the construction process was complex. Translation of her geometric structure began with developing a design process from a 2D perspective and bringing it into a 3D spatial experience that would reflect the same ideas as the initial flat design.
Starting on the computer, she created small renderings to visualize how pieces would fit together within the overall structure. To create a work that had structural integrity on its own, Safoura developed modular units that could stack and be duplicated to build something much larger. Material and fabrication tests were made with scaled down versions of these geometric modules, which were then 3D printed and assembled to test construction and design methods. Once the module design and construction methods were set and tested, the shapes were made to appropriate scale, constructed out of acrylic and mirrors coated with dichroic film, which causes the colour and reflection shift when viewed from different angles. The mix of the film and mirrors gives the piece its colourful aura and mystical sense of displaying multiple dimensions.
Says Safoura, “[…]A mirrored finish allows a 4th dimension of geometry – where the three-dimensional geometry of the installation is reflected within itself (multiplying infinitely), as well as its physical environment and, most interestingly, its viewers – who are at once captured and spread across the geometric facets of the installation. As a viewer you become part of the piece. And the piece absorbs and reflects you as part of itself – it reflects you in perspectives you may not have ever seen yourself before.”
Two months of fabrication, two days of installation, 70 individual units, 770 faces and 1400 edges (as well as design hours impossible to count) produced the spectacular end result.
How have viewers reacted to the installation? Connect is one of the most instagrammed spots in the hotel this year. When we asked her about this she modestly admits that it confirms the message that the piece has for her and what she hoped it would have for others.
“It’s very important for me to create work that interacts with the viewer. This was studied and considered at length during the early design stages.” She explains, “I think one of the most powerful and interesting parts of art/design is its impact on the viewer. How does it make people feel? What does it make them think and do? Does it draw them in? Make them excited? Create a spark inside? Inspire reflection?”
That special kind of reflective magic that she describes when art and design come together is the heart of Come Up To My Room at the Gladstone. It is an exhibition that defies specific categorization of art and design and encourages the mix of perspectives and approaches to being creative. It’s one of the rare opportunities for art and design to intersect and create magical and inspiring works.
We asked Safoura about her experience being part of CUTMR and how its impacted her work.
“[The] Gladstone Hotel and CUTMR were perfect venues for me and my work as they are all about blurring the lines between art and design. Also, as such an open and reputable venue, [the] Gladstone attracts viewers from all kinds of disciplines and backgrounds – whose feedback and reactions to my work I value immensely!”
What’s next for Safoura and the “Beyond the Surface” series? She’s thinking in bigger and more immersive terms. She hopes to build structures like Connect that are more complex, taking up entire spaces, allowing the viewer to further engage with the work. She even sees how the geometric module could be an idea of architecture for the future.
“I think that art design and architecture are at a moment of enormous potential. The software and fabrication technology we have at our fingertips today give us the ability to reach a complexity and resolution that was never before possible. And today these details can serve both an aesthetic and functional purpose. […] I enjoy creating work that is immersive and look forward to opportunities where I can test the boundaries of what this means.”
Want the chance to be part of Come Up To My Room 2020? Submissions are now open to apply! More info on guidelines here
Check out Safoura’s other geometric creations and ideas here