Shirana Shahbazi

Centre d'Art Contemporain Genève

An exhibition by Shirana Shahbazi unfolds like a picture book on all sides, even continuing around a corner like two pages of an unexpected layout. The photographs themselves may not seem particularly notable at first glance—the kind of thing one’s seen in countless private photo albums or Internet postings. References to classical genres of painting are obvious too. These images don’t hesitate to show beauty in landscapes, portraits, or still lifes with flowers, fruit, and meat. Through the particular order of the images, though, each individual motif is treated from different, sometimes surprising points of view. Several of the photos here also appeared in different contexts in a concurrent show at Galerie Bob van Orsouw in Zurich. Often an image in black-and-white, repeatedly plastered to the wall like a series of posters, serves as the background for a hanging in rows or free-form blocks or for the shifting arrangement of individual color shots. A group of images becomes a group of imaginings. Cascades of memories and fantasies flow from the individual motifs, coming together in the installation-style presentation as a thought landscape that nonetheless yields no coherent stories.

Katja Garcia-Anton speaks of Shahbazi’s “anatomy of viewing,” but this ultimately also amounts to an anatomy of thought. We find ourselves again in interiors and at the urban edges of rapidly growing cities, Teheran or Shanghai, only to be presented at the same time with twilit landscapes that evoke those of Caspar David Friedrich in paintings like Das Grosse Gehege bei Dresden (The Large Enclosure near Dresden), 1832. On one wall, interconnected black-and-white images of forms in stone and ice make up the wallpaper-like setting for the colorful shot of a detail taken from a medieval tapestry, showing the death of a knight. Formal analogies require reconsideration of the pictures’ content. A wedding couple surrounded by green grass or a mother with child are images that oscillate between intimacy and social stereotype. Those who have existed between two cultures as the result of migration, as has Shahbazi, an Iranian artist living in Zurich, may be quicker to register the changes in coding that pictures may undergo as they circulate. How great, really, are these changes? The globalization of visual communication is both real and mythic. Shahbazi presents and creates this ambivalence in her photo constellations.

One untitled photographic image depicting a young woman (from the series “Flowers, Fruits & Portraits,” 2003) had been executed as a small carpet. Its fine knots not only lend the image a softly sculptural quality but also recall the pixels of a digital printout, thus finding an analogy between handmade and digital image production. The joining of some of the oldest and newest technologies only enhances the associative nuances of each.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.