Shila Khatami — It’s parallel lines that will never meet
It’s parallel lines that will never meet
Past: February 23 → April 7, 2012
A note on the work of Shila Khatami
The title of this exhibition is a truism. It states the obvious, to a point that makes it sound absurd. Never meeting is part of the definition of parallels. But Shila Khatami is not interested in quoting Euclid, the great Greek mathematician, but in the eponymous lyrics printed on the inner sleeve of the 1979 Blondie hit album Parallel Lines. Ironically there is no song with these lyrics on the record — it never existed.
So one could start looking at Shila Khatami‘s work with an idea of loss, searching for something that has gone missing. And it can be found in the inconsistency of her preferred means of support for her paintings: perforated high density fiber boards, commonly used as peg boards for the presentation of items, or formerly used as phonic isolation in sound studios. But this is not about turning a mass-produced industrial material into a fetish. Unlike canvases on stretchers these boards never deliver a coherent white plain to begin with. Depending on the size of the individual holes, the light and the distance to the painting, the viewer can see the white wall shining through. To put it in different terms: the world surrounding them seeps into the paintings, maybe not as much physically as symbolically. The holes also present another challenge; they not only deconstruct the coherence of the physical surface. Arranged to a grid they introduce a rigid organizational basic layer to the composition, as if to contain, contend and control any notion of fluidity of the paint in advance.
But Shila Khatami is a virtuoso. She can‘t be contained. Over the last years she has intuitively and emphatically developed a wide-ranging and eclectic arsenal of painterly means, that seeks inspiration not only from classic modernist painters but also in the observation of the design of everyday life and the aesthetics of punk or street graffitis. She has incorporated these seemingly antagonistic painterly idioms into her own language. It ranges from dramatic gestural paint marks in clouds of thinned paint that defy the grid, to straight lines, drawn with ruler and marker pen, as if from half-remembered geometry lessons, following the dots, like in children‘s books.
But the artist never resorts to retro-chic, ironic appropriation nor to outright homage. Playing against the grid of the boards she sheds the mythical weight and heroism of her tools, that allows her to construct these images of surprising economy, compositions of tension and beauty, of organization and power, with elegance and wit. Even her large scale sculptural or interventionist work displays her playfulness and humor, taking cues from characteristics of the exhibition spaces as much as from material properties. As when she stacks large sheets of perforated steel against each other, propping them menacingly between a wall and a column, they produce allusions to the sculptures of Richard Serra, as well as they undermine them by means of placement, perforation and subsequent Moiré patterns.
In her paintings lines start in one corner, follow the grid, yet somehow seem to end in the „wrong“ place. Executed swiftly, with the ease of a seasoned performer, and often in moderate size, her work is never far from a painterly sketch, obtaining a sense of lightness and simplicity, that may be deceiving. Because the central aspect of Shila Khatami‘s artistic enterprise is to expand a notion of painting as a contemporary strategy to make sense of this world, without adhering to naive mimetic approximations or formulaic simplifications. Her work is a highly poetic undertaking, where there is no final order, no real, nor right or wrong. If at all, this is for the viewer to discern. Bearing in mind, however, that the artist may be operating on parallel lines.