I wanted somehow to eternalize those moments of passion and pain."
Kiarostami fully explores the dichotomy of these heightened instances in a quartet of works unified by the artist's steady perspective (nothing seems to disturb his calm) and ability to appreciate the hushed prescience of transformation in mind, body, and physical surroundings where preoccupied passersby might only see oil slicks and burkas. In the Roads and Trees series, Kiarostami depicts in grainy, high-contrast black-and-white photos the byways and trunks that stretch onward and upward forever, bisecting his country vertically and horizontally into socially segmented fields of ground and sky. Whether smoothly paved or roughly pebbled, the roads are nearly empty, bereft of the comings and going that typically signal industrial progress and limitless options. Stasis defines the stunning Snow White series as well. Absence is palpably present in these bleak yet beautiful images in which anthropomorphized trees are starkly silhouetted against unending fields of pure white snow.
Winter's monochromatic chill thaws into vibrant color in the Trees and Crows photographs, all taken on the verdant grounds of palaces in Tehran where flocks of birds have taken up residence as the winged heirs apparent to ousted royals. Crows are highly valued in Iran as a special species that lives longer than most and bears witness to national history. Kiarostami reverently views them as birds of pray, pecking and genuflecting on deep green lawns that appear freshly painted.
Kiarostami is back on the road in the Rain series, now behind the wheel of a car and looking through the windshield at patterns of water on glass and raindrops falling on yet more tall trees. ("If I were not a filmmaker, I would have become a truck driver," he told Deborah Solomon in a New York Times interview earlier this year.) Careening across flooded two-lane blacktops, these gorgeous, pictorialist photos drive straight into abstraction.
Many of Kiarostami's poems begin with the lines "The more I think<\!s>/ The less I understand," an admission of epistemological uncertainty and unfettered emotional sincerity that informs every image in this show. Like the archetypal wanderer who quests for a life worth living in his award-winning 1997 film Taste of Cherry, Kiarostami concludes in these photographs that the search for meaning is an affirmation of time well spent on the road to nowhere.<\!s>*
ABBAS KIAROSTAMI: IMAGE MAKER
Through Sept. 23, $4<\d>$8 (free first Thurs.)
Wed. and Fri.<\d>Sun., 11 a.m.<\d>5 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.<\d>7 p.m.
UC Berkeley Art Museum
2626 Bancroft Way, Berk.