Tala Madani. Still from FAN. 2020. Courtesy the artist

In the sweltering solitude of quarantine in summer, we see ourselves in Tala Madani’s FAN. Clicking and browsing almost automatically on our personal devices, we absorb an unrelenting barrage of information, until the lines seem to blur between other people’s lives and our own.

Madani’s short animated parables feature a repertoire of anonymous male protagonists. Ecstatic and miserable, these amorphous stand-ins play out our primitive fantasies and unimaginable realities. Allegorizing the ills of patriarchal society, they perpetually fall victim to public humiliation or self-obliteration, foiled by their own hubris. Each minute of this work consists of over 2,000 images on paper drawn with pencil and oil sticks, and recorded frame by frame. The physicality of the artist’s thick, gloppy marks, captured in the ephemeral medium of video, make the discomfort of her subjects intensely palpable.

“I never realized how much my work has to do with some kind of perceived calibration of the exterior and a response to that,” Madani said. “And so when the exterior shifted so dramatically through the pandemic, what I was doing was made to feel awkward and impossible. So making work directly about it became the only viable option.” Madani began by ruminating on bodies and air, drawing figures so weightless they were blown into oblivion by a small electric fan. This video animates one such scene, then zooms out to expose it as televisual content.

FAN reflects on the unbridled power of the media to convince people to act against their own interests. In Madani’s words, “We have undergone a major conditioning of our body and our brain. The medium of television and other information outlets have become replacements for anything spiritual or godly or educational.” As we are confined at home amid an ever-changing global pandemic, we may seek comfort in the inertia of objects. But in FAN, the media pits us against those, too—revealing our total reliance on a constant feed of information that is intrinsically unreliable. As we try to understand the role of art in our current moment, with this work Madani urges that “what we need is not a softening of reality through beauty, not a morphine for our pain through art, but ideas for shifts in consciousness.”