The Calder Valley is a place in which time takes curious turns. Much as it does in dreams, its passage can become untethered, slipping from the moorings of the present; sometimes memory, sometimes premonition.

Uprooted from her native Tehran, Nikta Mohammadi has settled into its sometimes unsettling surroundings, locating in its terrain both familiarity and mystery; a coiled circle in which The Watchers, Richard Fraser’s Todmorden-set short film of alien abduction and its raptures, produced in 1969, prefigures a more down-to-earth close encounter, called in by its purported victim, P.C. Alan Godfrey, more than a decade later.

Commissioned through The Lowry’s artist development programme, her first solo exhibition, Memory Stone, traverses both external and internal geography; the eeriness of one calling to the numinous in the other. In this, it shares common ground with both the uncanny pastoral of the folk horror strain in culture and its conjoined sibling, the Weird Walk movement. The latter, a tongue-in-cheek self-described cult, might roughly be characterised as flaneurs of the disquieting countryside, revivers of its half-forgotten lore.

Mohammadi’s film, also titled Memory Stone, the centre piece of the project, follows one such flaneur, both everyman and culturally Iranian, displaced into a digital dreamscape in which place and time are captured and looped, as though to evoke the purgatory of trauma. Mohammadi emphasises that it is a collaboration, drawing in contributions from Salford’s Doosti group of Farsi-speaking women, as well as the cast and crew.

Nikta Mohammadi, Memory Stone, 2024. Image: Jules Lister.

It opens with a mourning procession, its stately progress across the valley’s horizon an echo across the decades that have elapsed since Anton Corbijn’s video for Joy Division’s Atmosphere. Bestriding and dwarfing the landscape, pylons and wind turbines thrum with energy while beneath them the lone male figure treks from letter box to letter box, hand delivering flyers for a mattress that ambiguously promises dreams. Descending mist envelops landscape and traveller both, so that each gate vaulted, each stile passed through becomes a portal. Recalling an earlier project of Mohammadi’s, emphasised by the discordant squall of Babak Mirsalari’s soundscape, the wind itself seems a spirit, guiding the traveller’s right of passage, his presence awakening the stones and the memories laid down within them, as they awaken his.

In what plays out, as the traveller is beckoned into the stones’ dark circle by a woman in red, while mourning women spin like the fates of Greek mythology, the distinction between the dead and the living, the mourned and the bereaved, the past and the present remains unresolved. Nothing is left behind, their presence suggests, that does not linger still within us.

The installation, housed in a separate gallery space, picks apart the constituents of the film, fractured and physically present, like organs removed in the course of an autopsy. Tactile and traversable, but crucially displaced, its fragments are puzzling, like partial recollections of a dream that fails to withstand the cold light of day. Lacking the narrative arc that the film itself imposes, its separate components spark off one another, yet remain somehow apart. In keeping with Mohammadi’s explicit emphasis on dreams, the effect is surreal in a sense that the first definer of the term, Andre Breton, would recognise, looking, in many respects like a de Chirico landscape erupting into the ‘real’ world.

The cumulative effect is haunting, a reminder that, though we might seek to assure ourselves otherwise, we are all temporary presences, scratches in the surfaces of landscapes whose strange depths our rituals assert ownership of in vain. In thrall to the old dreams, we religiously repeat their traumas, unable to break a circle so familiar it may as well be invisible.

Memory Stone whispers of new maps, fresh connections, reawakened dreams; dreams of leaving.

By Desmond Bullen

Main image: Nikta Mohammadi, Memory Stone, 2024. Image: Jules Lister.


Memory Stone is at The Lowry, Salford until May 5, 2024. For more information, click here