April 8 – May 17, 2014

Pitstop II, the title of Shila Khatami’s current solo exhibition, is based on a Commodore 64 (C64) computer game from the 1980s. It draws on the metaphor of car racing itself, but especially the imagery where it is most ubiquitous. Taking the utopia of the constructivists as a point of departure, Shila Khatami uses their formal vocabulary in today’s society and investigates the contexts where it is most prevalent. These contexts could not be more different or far-flung. She encounters this vocabulary in a computer game that uses a perspectively distorted grid as a speed-simulating element, in pictograms and targets. She pulls these forms, which are derived from modernist painting, from her surroundings and re-incorporates them back into painting. All of the works show Khatami toying with the act of painting and the expressive potential of the respective symbols; it elevates them only to dissolve them again in the texture of brushstrokes. Though subtle, this alienates or estranges the meaning of the sign.

The grid, a basic element of painting in general, is a central focus of „Pitstop II“ – a work that oscillates between sculpture and painting. The work, which alludes to the movement of a black and white checkered flag, also recalls the split screen of the computer game of the same name. Dominating the exhibition space, it assumes the form of a “screen layout” and occupies not only the wall, but also parts of the floor, lending it a three-dimensional effect. The displacement of the vanishing point gives the illusion of depth, as though one would be drawn into it. This work is bracketed by Shila Khatami’s Young Targets, which draw on the formal and contentual symbolism of the target. At the same time, they also recall the “target paintings” of Pop Art – though in this case they are not round, but diamond-shaped. In her process of analyzing images, Shila Khatami mines the possibilities of the square canvas. She toys with geometry by subtly manipulating the square so that it becomes a rhombus. In “Hochspannung” (High Voltage) in the back room of the gallery, Shila Khatami takes up the lightening bolt pictogram — yet the sign for high voltage appears only as a cut-out; the colors are reversed.

Works in Shila Khatami’s exhibition center on phenomena – speed, focus and tension – that are characteristic of today’s society. In taking these forms and pulling them back into painting, she preserves their original meaning while maintaining their new appearances and contexts. We see how they have advanced from the simple form to signs whose meaning is inevitably associated with them. In the image analysis and picturesque transformation of these symbols, Shila Khatami touches on the maxims of our society while simultaneouly pointing to their fragility.


Sabine Schiffer