In 'The Other Apartment,' A Parallel World Opens Between The U.S. And Iran

Feb 17, 2020

A painstaking recreation of an Iranian artist's apartment in Tehran is on display at the Mattress Factory Museum through July. "The Other Apartment" is a joint project of Carnegie Mellon University art professor Jon Rubin and artist Sohrab Kashani, who have been friends for more than a decade.

The project is a detailed reimagining of Kashani's home. Due to President Trump's travel ban, Kashani was unable to obtain a visa to work on the installation in person.

"It took us four months of solid work with a team of builders and fabricators to meticulously recreate the apartment's facade, interior architecture and all of my personal possessions," Kashani said over email. "We had to work entirely through spreadsheets, photographs and sketches to communicate back and forth."

The entrance to Sohrab Kashani's Tehran, Iran apartment (left) and the facade of "The Other Apartment" at the Mattress Factory Museum (right).
Credit Siavash Naghshbandi (Tehran) / Tom Little (Pittsburgh)

Visitors to "The Other Apartment" in Pittsburgh walk through the recreated brick facade of the building and through the home's five rooms, with much of the furniture, floors and smaller objects made by hand to emulate those in the Iranian apartment.

"I'm obsessive-compulsive, and this came in particularly handy when I was documenting everything in great detail to send to Jon," Kashani said.

Kashani's apartment in Iran is also an art space that can be visited by appointment only. 

CMU's Rubin said working on this project with Kashani has been interesting in light of the tense political situation between the United States and Iran. Last week, the U.S. Senate voted to curb Trump's war powers in regards to Iran in an effort to prevent conflict.

"In some ways the project has been an anecdote to the kind of desperation and hopelessness that our political situation has created," Kashani said. "It's created an opportunity for us to find a path to work together, that bypasses politics and sanctions."

Sohrab Kashani's bedroom in his Tehran, Iran apartment (left) and the recreated bedroom in "The Other Apartment" at the Mattress Factory Museum.
Credit Siavash Naghshbandi (Tehran) / Tom Little (Pittsburgh)

The past few months have been "nerve-racking and surreal" for people living in Iran, according to Kashani.

"The recent tragic events in Iran and the general instability as [a] result have perplexed people in Iran to the point that everyone is trying their best to keep sane," Kashani said. "Jon and I have been questioning whether what we're doing is a bit absurd."

Rubin said "The Other Apartment" has allowed him and Kashani to explore the idea of parallel universes.

"In a small way, Sohrab and I are constructing a situation that we don't think currently exists in the world for ourselves, a way to be together and to work together," Rubin said. "In a way we hope that this loophole we're constructing is something that other people might feel sympathetic towards."