Shirana Shahbazi, On Stellar Rays, New York

If photographs, especially of journeys, are traditionally meant to freeze specific moments in time that one can retrieve at a future date, Shirana Shahbazi’s solo exhibition at On Stellar Rays gallery, New York, does just the opposite. Images from the Tehran born, Zurich based photographer’s road trip taken in 2014 from Zurich to Teheran create unexpected time warps. By printing the photographs on lithographic press in two color print, Shahbazi effectively alters our perception of time and reality such that the works become an intriguing exercise not only about the use of materials and process, but also about larger questions of truth and apprehension.

In Dino (2014) a humongous dinosaur appears in the background towering over trees and is only slightly smaller than the mountains visible behind it. Probably shot in a European amusement park, Shahbazi’s choice of kiwi green and pink to distinguish the grassy foreground and palm trees from the pink dinosaur, ridges and sky gives the image a surreal aura. The dreamy evocation of Jurassic Park and the era of the dinosaurs are brought about by the way in which the artist modifies the colors and prints the image. Her process shifts the viewer’s discernment of objects, as they exist in the real world, so much so that an easily recognisable theme park is transformed into a hypnogogic setting. Actual time reels into limbo, and Shahbazi’s reshaping of the imitation of nature in which the ascription of location and moment is left to the viewer’s imagination raises important existential questions about how we perceive reality, and what is reality, as we know it?

Similarly, in Im Pool (2014), a seemingly nondescript image of a young girl frolicking in a swimming pool exudes a disquieting tone. Ominous silver streaks in the pink water that surrounds the child seems to infuse her with strange celestial powers. Her black dress matches the colours of the dark tress on the periphery giving the image an eerie quality. By presenting what would be considered as normal travel mementos in a completely different stance, Shahbazi makes one question the act of looking. She proffers images that draw scrutiny to slavish reproduction of the environment – with the intention of pointing explicitly towards our understanding of reality that keeps changing with time and circumstance. The Emersonian belief in a ceaseless flow of change is reflected through the ephemeral and mercurial nature of life highlighted in the photographs. Through these surreal make-believe veneers, Shahbazi probes the idea that nothing is really what it appears to be.

Yet even as the artist explores larger questions of reality by both obfuscating and augmenting its relevance, her images never stray from their aesthetic appeal. Beauty is as relevant to Shahbazi as is the philosophical underpinning of her work. Her choice of iridescent colors, whether it is a salamander orange sky contrasted against billowy white clouds, or the cerulean blue dazzling waters of a pool, give the images a phantasmagorical resplendence. Shahbazi’s well thought out two colour combinations allow her to tamper with time making, Diner, (2014), for instance, resemble an eatery from the 1950s when in fact it exits in a postmodern era. The notion of the ephemeral and the idea of imprisoning an image as one knows it are constantly at odds in this exhibition. In Gustation (2014) and Wuste (2014) time stands still as the beauty of her landscapes whether it is a mundane gas station or the expanse of the desert emerge.

What will remain in one’s memory of this journey from Zurich to Teheran, long after the photographs have decomposed and cyclically become a part of the earth, will be Shahbazi’s triumph in capturing the essence of the unattainable by deliberately removing her images from a straightforward narrative.

Shirana Shahbazi’s work appeared at On Stellar Rays 10 May – 14 June.

Bansie Vasvani

1. SHIRANA SHAHBAZI, Wü ste, 2014, Two-color lithography on Zerkall Bütten paper, 20-1/4 by 26 inches (50.2 by 66 cm).
2. SHIRANA SHAHBAZI Im Pool, 2014 Two-color lithography on Zerkall Bütten paper 49 by 38 inches (124.5 by 96.5 cm).
3. SHIRANA SHAHBAZI Dino, 2014 Two-color lithography on Zerkall Bütten paper 20-1/4 by 26 inches (50.2 by 66 cm).