by Britta Schmitz
Each culture, each passing epoch creates its own specific form of ornamentation.
Whether decorative or generating an order, whether as a support for metaphysi-
cal notions or pure decoration, ornamentation makes permeable the lines among
cultures, between art and everyday life, between applied and free art. Ornaments
are patterns that structure spaces, binding the individual in an order, assembling
building blocks into masses and fixing them in a framework. The effect is usually
fascinating, because something individual is integrated into an overarching whole,
protected, neutralized, which can be interpreted as openness. If a mere detail of
symmetry comes apart, the entire order collapses. Ornamentation fascinates quite
directly, possessing a faith in an overarching oneness. It is a cultural universal and
Orient and Occident meet in the symmetry of shapes.
Timo Nasseri, who first worked as a classical photographer, was born in 1972 in
Berlin as the son of a German mother and a Persian father. From his experience
with photography, destined for short-term use, he developed an artistic oeuvre that
builds up slowly and with endless precision on the foundations of mathematics and
suspends the separation between abstraction and ornamentation.
The drawings, white ink on black paper, are reduced in their spectrum of colours
and shapes. Squares and rectangles form grids, networks, and circles, or octagons.
What emerges on paper are strict spaces that can be continued endlessly and make
do without any external reference. The beholder finds himself placeless before a
possible firmament. One and One (2008–2012) and Everything Is Everything (2008–
2012) refer already in their titles to the notion of infinity that Arab scholars sought to
illustrate with the help of arithmetic, thus exploring the foundations of mathematics.
In Sufism, the rhombus stands for the sky, the square for the earth. By composing the
drawing using these two simple elements, he places the symbols for the world on
top of one another, as it were. The ornamental structure of the works on paper does
not necessarily lead to a thematic interpretation, but alludes to the debate that has
flared up once more in the twenty-first century on overcoming the stigmatization of
But leaving this aside entirely, the works touch us deeply, because in their shapes
individual memory comes to bear just as do religious references and universal princi-
ples. Reduction is taken to the highest level and pursues a strategy of seducing the be-
holders to gain their attention. Each line pushes the beholder further, and makes him
or her search for wholeness. Each bend in the line pulls the entire pattern with it. The
beholder roams about the system in search of the symmetry that the system promises.
Timo Nasseri uses the fascination that results from the symmetry and the order to
create a disturbance with his works from the series of Arabic Calligraphies.
Calligraphy is a form of ornament and is considered in Islamic culture the most
“esteemed” kind of ornamentation. The art of beautiful writing is one of the primary
forms of expression and is closely linked to religion. Unlike in the West, there is no
separation between the text and the image. Calligraphy combines the written word
with the image or allows it to become an image. The writing itself gains a three-
dimensionality. A feeling of disorientation takes hold, accompanied by an aware-
ness of a hidden, ungraspable content.
Nasseri’s relief objects, executed in wood, 22 centimetres thick and covered in shiny
chrome, are Persian words inscribed in beautiful calligraphy on the wall: words
such as shafagh (dawn, early period), fadjir (first light of day) or noor (light, the
divine light). They are not words with a mystical background. All these words refer
to times of the holy prayer, that are only truly decoded when we know their real
meaning, for they refer to weapons systems in Iran. By removing the religious con-
text, they are recoded entirely. Nasseri refers here very elegantly to the fundamen-
tally puzzling character of each form of language, which is especially revealed in
its military use and which strangely can be found in all the languages of the world,
regardless of which religion is dominant in the culture. With this work as well, Timo
Nasseri refers to a key bridge between the cultures.
Another work series are the muqarnas that emerged in 2008: like his drawings, these
are also made of simple mathematical elements, triangles. Their structure and form
are borrowed from mosque architecture. In these works, Nasseri explores the endless
possibilities of an order of a stylistic element of Islamic architecture. Since his jour-
ney along the Silk Road, Nasseri has been fascinated by muqarnas, the entrance
domes to mosques that consist of a large number of pointed niches stacked in tiers.
The virtually endless repetition and rhythmic composition of the motifs emblema-
tizes the act of creation and reveal notions of infinity as well as concepts of eternity.
Timo Nasseri takes his muqarnas down from the ceiling and transfers them to the
wall. This isolation opposite the beholder gives the form a completely different angle
and divorces it from the architectural context, making it into a sculptural element
with which volume and space are explored. His muqarnas have an open form: nei-
ther circles nor squares, they thus leave behind the original dome. As in a kaleido-
scope, patterns are dissected and created anew over and over by way of reflection.
Made of reflecting steel, cut into triangles and placed slightly apart from one anoth-
er in the wall, they refract the light thousand-fold. With depth reflection, refraction,
and diffraction Nasseri creates a sculptural space from the surface that is based on
a highly reduced formal vocabulary. Using triangles and mirrored surfaces, spaces
of reflection are crafted that challenge us with tautologies and at the same time
abduct us to magical visual worlds. Here, he takes up the mirror mosaic of Shah Cheraq
in Shiraz and transfers it to acontemporary material, referring to the trade in mirrors ,
from Bohemia and Venicemaintained in Persia since the sixteenth century: the close link
between Orient and
With Parsecs (2010), Nasseri develops his previous work in a new direction by creat-
ing a fully sculptural work. If his previous pieces were shaped by an ornamental
approach, he now develops a universal large-scale sculpture.
It is placed directly in the space without a plinth. As the beholder wanders around
the sculpture, its appearance changes immediately, and in particular the phenom-
ena of the triangles, so familiar to us, begin to enchant our senses. The web of the
mathematical structure reveals ever-new aspects.
These sculptures formulate a universal visual language. Here, they lose almost en-
tirely the original content of the appropriated signs. They are banned to the title.
The sculptures themselves remove the muqarnas from their original context. Timo
Nasseri recodes the form and through the manipulation of dimension and through
fusion creates something new.