Ouranophobia, Chelsea Sorting Office by Sheena Patel, 2022

Abbas Zahedi walks about sixty of us through his exhibition
on Instagram Live. The show has been forced to close prematurely and
the building is being sold off to property developers so the stream
functions as a time capsule. Although I am lucky to have caught it in
person, I tune in because I want to see the show through Zahedi‘s eyes.
Rather than add objects into the space, he says he decided to explore
the idea of transplantation, moving one or many things to another
place within the building to frustrate or layer the meaning. There are
two floors, the main floor is flooded with bright white light, a corridor
saturated in red light takes you down to an expansive basement floor,
which once functioned as the postal workers’ break room. There is no
guidance, no wall text, nothing to separate the artist‘s acts of
intervention and what is part of the derelict building. On the Live, he
tells us he removed the mirrors from the downstairs bar‘s back wall to
expose the brickwork and glue patterns underneath. He also removed
eleven large squares of hard wood from the bar and refashioned them
into very tall stairs on the upper floor which now gives you a view
through the high set windows. He takes his phone over to a space on
the floor where he lifted eleven squares from the parquet and flipped
them to reveal their blackened backs. He says he placed the floor tiles
in a reverse parquet arrow and pointed them towards the red corridor,
which also points in the direction of Mecca. He tells us of his other
small acts—tying a label which has the Aquarius symbol drawn on it to
a square of wood which is then hung at an angle from the ceiling, and
of adding chain to the top of the door as you walk in. Moving through
the slabs of white and red light into black is like passing through
realms or a kind of initiation, the red bass throbbing from the heart of
the building lures you down into the pitch blackness, akin to a death.
Downstairs, the staff bar has been turned into a dimly lit altar where
distorted chanting bleeds from the panels like a memory. The removal
of the mirrors on the back wall reveals six panels and the ghost of the
glue which held them there, three with black straight lines and three
with white zig zags. Zahedi says it becomes redolent of a yin and yang
sign and this is echoed in a macro sense through the blackness
downstairs in the basement and the white light upstairs. When I had
visited in person, Victoria and I shrieked back up the stairs in fear
because why wouldn‘t two women react like this in a basement with
no one around—but then, tentatively, we returned and it became a
welcome oblivion. We were drawn magnetically to the altar, the
evaporation of self meant you could escape the confines of the flesh
and fill the room. The re-emergence back into the light had us blinking
wildly, unsure what else to take in. It is through the Live where I learn
more about the architecture of the building and how Zahedi has
threaded meaning into everything like a poem. On the upper floor, the
windows were high for utility and security, so no one from outside
could look in but also so no one from inside could look out. The
architecture was designed in such a way to prevent the workers from
wasting productivity by daydreaming. Zahedi pans the phone across
the top of the walls near the ceiling where several white windows are
now filled in. He tells us Management would watch the workers
through glass but due to the height, the workers were unable to look
back, a surveillance which is echoed through social media and our
governments. I learn that Zahedi‘s construction of the stairs is a way of
overcoming the architecture, of putting bodies at the level of the
managers and democratising the view out of the window in an act of
revenge on behalf of the spirits of the workers. Transforming material
kept in shadow and overcoming that which is hidden by making it
something useful and rebellious in the light, the meaning of this
reverberates within me. The building, Zahedi tells us, should be seen
as a body but I see it as a metaphor for the way the mind works too.
The show has a sexy confidence which is augmented by its supremely
quiet focus. It is akin to being touched slowly by someone you want to
be touched by, when you want them to go fast and of their slowing it
all down so you pay attention. It‘s the moment where you delay
gratification, withholding so you enjoy how much the other person
wants you, savouring your wanting of them, of their release to the
animal, experiencing a body outside of words. The refusal to fill the
space with objects but to move and reshape, invites chance and the
unknown through negative space—because is this not faith, believing
in what you cannot see? Is this not what invites God? An experience at
its most powerful when it is suggested or alluded to, when you have to
put the pieces together yourself.

Excerpt from I’M A FAN by Sheena Patel (Rough Trade Books, 2022)