Amidst heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S., a Mexican band’s cassette tape brings artists in Tehran and Pittsburgh together.

Photo: “The Other Apartment,” now exhibited on the fourth floor of the Mattress Factory, is an exact replica of Tehran-based artist Sohrab Kashani’s apartment, located about 6,300 miles away. By Janine Faust

By Janine Faust

Somewhere in Tehran, Iran on Jan. 24., an iPad in a blue-lit bathroom hallway showed Iranian musician Niki Yaghmaee playing the violin while singing “Lunallena.” The next day, 6,300 miles away in the Northside’s Mexican War Streets, an iPad in the same blue-lit bathroom hallway showed Pittsburgher Patrick Breiner playing the saxophone and singing “DMA.” 

No, the apartment the videos were recorded in didn’t suddenly move time zones overnight; There are actually two identical versions of it. 

“The Other Apartment” is a collaborative project by CMU professor Jon Rubin and Tehran-based artist Sohrab Kashani. It occurs simultaneously between Kashani’s Tehran apartment—home to an artist space called Sazmanab—and an exact replica of it on the fourth floor of the Mattress Factory

Iranian musician Niki Yaghmaee plays the violin and sings “Lunallena” in the Tehran-based apartment while Pittsburgher Patrick Breiner plays the saxophone and sings “DMA” in the apartment’s replica. Photos by David Bernabo

The project celebrated the opening of its second and newest exhibition, “The Silence,” on Saturday, Jan. 25. Visitors drifted through rooms where films switched between artists in Pittsburgh and performers in Tehran singing covers of songs by Mexican band Para Decir Adiosss. 

Cassette tapes containing cover songs of music from Mexican band Para Decir Adiosss are now available for sale in both Tehran and Pittsburgh. Photo by Janine Faust

Kashani, who cannot obtain a visa to travel to the U.S., and Rubin explained in an email that following “VoiceOver (In Three Parts),” The Other Apartment’s first exhibition, they wanted experiences in their cities and the people visiting the apartment to shape future programming. “The Silence” was inspired by a DIY cassette tape the lead singer of Para Decir Adiosss left on the bookshelf of the Pittsburgh replica apartment in December. 

In between answering visitor questions at the opening of “The Silence” in Pittsburgh, Rubin explained that the two wanted to involve local musicians in both of their respective cities in an event, and decided to ask several artists to record covers of songs on the tape. He said “The Silence” is named after one Para Decir Adiosss song on the tape. 

A video showcases Pittsburgh musicians recording in the replica apartment’s event space. Photo by Janine Faust

“Times have obviously been pretty tough between our countries. Artists are kind of questioning what their response to these times are. Silence is one possibility. Making music is another,” he said. 

Rubin and Khushani said in their email that the past month of near-war had made them wonder if what they are doing is a “bit absurd.”

“However, it seems like our friends who are musicians never question what they should do when times get hard, they do what they always do, play music, because music makes equal sense in both good and bad times,” they wrote. “‘The Silence’ is a way of sharing the premise of parallel universes with musicians in three countries, each having an equal stake in the outcome.” 

Musicians in the bedroom of the original apartment, left, and the Pittsburgh-based replica, right. Photos by David Bernabo

Zach Bruce, a resident of Wheeling, West Virginia, stopped by “The Silence” while visiting the Mattress Factory for the first time. He said having musicians from Pittsburgh and Tehran both singing a Mexican band’s songs expressed to him how music brings people together.

“You can have people from different backgrounds, different cultures, speaking different languages, but it’s still music and you can vibe with that music whether you know the lyrics or not,” he said. 

Cassette tapes containing all the cover songs are available for sale in both the Tehran and Pittsburgh versions of the apartment.

“The Other Apartment” will be on display at the Mattress Factory until at least this summer.

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