Zeshan Ahmed and Yasi Alipour: to bleach, to fold
August 6 – September 11, 2022
Transmitter gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn has put together an exhibition of works by artists Yasi Alipour and Zeshan Ahmed curated by Martha Fleming-Ives and Kate Greenberg. Both artists’ works consist of photographic images created without using a camera: Alipour favors cyanotype and inkjet prints while Ahmed uses RBG pigmented C-prints on transparency sheets. Alipour folds paper as one might origami, carving out straight horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines that unfold geometric forms. Ahmed, on the other hand, erases printed sheets of pigment with bleach, blocking shapes using masking tape. Both artists challenge the flatness of photography and drawing, whether we’re engaging with Alipour’s reliefs of undulating paper or Ahmed’s transparent sheets, hung off the wall in layered curtains that allow light to shine through.
Alipour’s works are full of surprises. To fold is to touch, to crease, and to hold. Though the shapes at first appear structured by a Cartesian grid, addressing geometry through intersections of rectangles and converging lines that form starbursts and spirals, they carry with them a soothing harmony and the warmth and imperfectness of human touch. In Mapping a Shoreline (2019), one section retains a small irregular area of black, surrounded by the expansiveness of the grid whose folded lines have pierced the original solid dark pigment of the paper, revealing light blue lines extending towards infinite space along multiple horizons. In this one spot we’re given a moment of mystery, transforming the grid into a sea, where we can feel the depth and blackness of open water. The theme of water reverberates also in Water as Surface (2020) where a constellation of starbursts is constructed through repetitive converging diagonal folds with multiple small foci radiating from the center. The space is boundless: we could be gazing at the universe or its reflection on the surface of dark waters, drawing harmonious affinities with the shamsa of Islamic art.
Sun Touched (2021) carries echoes of the geometrical growth of a sunflower, the floral shape twisting and turning also from a central point within the familiar blue indigo of cyanotype. Of Moving Center (2022) resonates with a decrescendo of one repeated design, moving as a spiral into a perspective point like a reflection in a double-faced mirror. These are reliefs as well as drawings, since the surface of an unfolded piece of paper, akin to a fan, is corrugated, sculptural, and textured. Combining multiple techniques, The Simultaneity of Two (2021) interplays folded geometries unraveled by handled paper with the contrasts of a soft marbled blue-white set against roughed-up paper touched by water. The work offers a thrilling diversity of images and sensations, thus overhauling the classic silhouetted cyanotype image as an additive process.
In Ahmed’s work, a pigmented substrate is also the starting point. The presence of touch is more subtle, however, disguised within the artist’s layered process. Natural light plays an important role as it shines through each hanging transparency sheet. If this not be I (2022), for example, is made up of a purple-pink sheet, then red-yellow one, and lastly a sheet in green-yellow. Each sheet is painted or treated with bleach, altering the pigment’s transparency and leaving behind protected and unbleached solid blocks of color. In I am sure. I am sure it’s…but would it make sense? (2019–2020) these are carved out into architectural shapes set against a completely erased transparent ground, washed away by the bleaching process. Plastic and bleach recall materials associated with protection, cleanliness and purity, while transparency sheets are linked with the overhead projectors used in education, as well as transfer and tracing processes. Color transparencies, meanwhile, bring to mind theatrical lights.
We enter a secret garden of color in I stood on a stair of water, I recited; is that what these are? (2022), where intuitively formed abstract floral marks flow into and out of more rigid lines. I don’t know yet…honestly, I didn’t even think about it (2019) has a simplicity to it. A dark block of color is displayed intact save for slatted vertical lines on the right side, obtained with rigid tape lines where one can observe a chromatic display of colors melding together like a sunset through a dark window grill. We can also observe on the left side a warmer presence of human touch with slight brushwork almost completely erasing the dark pigment, revealing its transparent support and leaving stain-like washes of bright hues floating on the sidelines of the more geometric straight lines. This piece carries a mysterious serenity and dialogues well with Alipour’s geometric and meditative works.
Common themes and processes tie the work of the two emerging artists in this duo exhibition in an engaging visual dialogue between photography and relief sculpture. Most dramatic is the process of removal of pigment, whether through the premeditated weight of a fold on paper or intuitively poured bleach on c-print transparencies. Each work undergoes a transformation, uncovering undertones and gradations of the original monochrome pigment through a subtractive process. Alipour addresses mathematics and finds relationships to Islamic architecture and art, while Ahmed experiments with light and floating abstract shapes. The work draws us in, allowing us, then, to look out and feel the infinite reflecting back into our mortal, physical selves.