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Installation view of Green Art Gallery, Dubai at Art Basel Statements, 2017

Installation view of Green Art Gallery, Dubai at Art Basel Statements, 2017

Installation view of Green Art Gallery, Dubai at Art Basel Statements, 2017

Installation view of Green Art Gallery, Dubai at Art Basel Statements, 2017

Installation view of Green Art Gallery, Dubai at Art Basel Statements, 2017

Installation view of Green Art Gallery, Dubai at Art Basel Statements, 2017

Press Release

Art Basel

Utopia is a slippery idea. For as many times as utopian projects have dismally failed, some have left legacies that linger in our landscapes, lasting testament to humankind’s idealistic efforts to break with the status quo.

Extending her by now well-known exploration of Brutalist architecture, Seher Shah examines utopia as a succession of single moments—these isolated “uprisings” when ideology and technology fused in an architectural expression of social reform.

For her Art Basel project, Shah continues to work across drawing and sculpture, contemplating the aesthetics of two buildings that encapsulate solemn materiality and sculptural might, but also a singular idealism. Golconde (1935-42) in Pondicherry, India, is a humble building, almost insular in its stance. A dormitory for the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Golconde is the union of the Modernist credo with the vernacular context, at the fulcrum of ideology and spirituality. Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower (1972), an emblem of the Japanese Metabolism movement, is a tower composed of modules—that mainstay of Modernism. The repetitive, cantilevered capsules captured a spirit of social reform hovering between pragmatism and idealism. In settling her gaze on these two structures, Shah visually and materially interrogates how architecture responds to ideology.

Using a drawing technique developed in her Brutalist Traces series (2015), Shah almost dissolves the two buildings: the fine graphite lines outline “ghosted” images of these structures, teetering between presence and absence. Both the Golconde’s louvered façade and the metastasizing modules of Nakagin Capsule Tower are eerily freeze-framed as residual after-images. Shah uses line not to faithfully render the repetitive linearity or recurring modularity, but rather to abstract and erase.

If line functions almost as material in the drawings, the floor-bound cast iron installation amplifies materiality into three dimensions. The aesthetic of repetition at work in both Golconde and the Nakagin Capsule Tower is fertile ground for developing the cast iron piece. The drawings inspire the sculpture: not only are formal components of the former echoed in the latter, but their shared materiality is palpable—the leaden graphite, the hazy contours, the craggy surface of the cast iron and its elemental heft. The sculpture further plays with the tension between singular and multiple: just as the Nakagin’s modules fit into a composite whole, or Golconde’s louvered lines comprise a fully mobile façade, so too are the singular components of the floor-filling sculpture inserted into a wider grammar of multiplicity.

For Shah, there is an idealism inherent in the aesthetics of these two buildings; these very aesthetics seem to superintend how the structures are meant to be inhabited. With Single Utopias, the artist continues to mine Brutalist architecture, yet shifts her exploration into novel and somewhat surprising realms. In her drawings, she upends the autonomous, almost rebellious stance of the Brutalist building by casting it as an “absent” presence. Yet she fathoms the sculptural quality of the buildings—the burgeoning modules, the layered linearity—extrapolating it into cast iron. Together, the works constitute a confident new chapter in her on-going practice of re-shaping architectural representation, now within the context of utopian moments.

 

Seher Shah, Object Repetition (Wall and Landscape), 2017, Cast iron, Dimensions variable

Seher Shah, Object Repetition (Wall and Landscape), 2017

Cast iron, Dimensions variable

Seher Shah, Single Utopias (Golconde I, Pondicherry), 2017, Graphite on paper, 127 x 101.6 cm

Seher Shah, Single Utopias (Golconde I, Pondicherry), 2017

Graphite on paper, 127 x 101.6 cm

Seher Shah, Single Utopias (Golconde II, Pondicherry), 2017, Graphite on paper, 127 x 101.6 cm

Seher Shah, Single Utopias (Golconde II, Pondicherry), 2017

Graphite on paper, 127 x 101.6 cm

Seher Shah, Single Utopias (Golconde III, Pondicherry), 2017, Graphite on paper, 127 x 101.6 cm

Seher Shah, Single Utopias (Golconde III, Pondicherry), 2017

Graphite on paper, 127 x 101.6 cm

Seher Shah, Single Utopias (Golconde IV, Pondicherry), 2017, Graphite on paper, 127 x 101.6 cm

Seher Shah, Single Utopias (Golconde IV, Pondicherry), 2017

Graphite on paper, 127 x 101.6 cm

Seher Shah, Single Utopias (Nakagin I, Tokyo), 2017, Graphite on paper, 165 x 127 cm

Seher Shah, Single Utopias (Nakagin I, Tokyo), 2017

Graphite on paper, 165 x 127 cm

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