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TYPO / TOPO by Meena Khalili

August 25 - September 28, 2018

The following text was written by Julie Leidner for the exhibition TYPO / TOPO by Meena Khalili at Sheherazade in 2018.

During the height of World War II, Hollywood actress Hedy LaMarr co-invented a groundbreaking type of secret radio signal along with her friend, the pianist George Antheil.  Spurred by the hopes of helping the Americans defeat Adolf Hitler (LaMarr was a Jewish-Austrian expat), LaMarr’s “frequency-hopping signal” was modeled after notes on a player piano. It is now used to securely send wireless information over cell phones and the internet. This type of signal gets its strength from its unwillingness to stay still. Like a moving target, it can be seen, but its scattered motion makes it impossible for others to pin down. 


Meena Khalili’s TYPO / TOPO is a rotating digital projection that also resists being read. Fragments of words appear and then dissipate. Recognizable forms such as letters and architectural shapes move constantly across three multi-faceted plains, which further distort the images. These sculptural screens were developed by Khalili as an exploration of mapping both geographic terrain and volumetric sound waves.

Included in Khalili’s visual vocabulary is a quote about love and life by Hedy LaMarr, although the words have been turned into anagrams. We also see glimpses of the architect Le Corbusier’s building, Cité Radieuse, a post-war housing block that was built for families bombed out of their homes in WWII France and that has become an archetype of utopian city living and modular design. Flashes of analog typography, hand-printed by an antique press, are woven into the digital landscape.


Languages die, regimes fall, traditions are lost, stories are forgotten. But the elemental building blocks that made them—the pieces of the puzzle that combined to form institutions and mythologies—may become dispersed and disseminated back into new systems.


Meena Khalili is a native of Washington, D.C. and Assistant Professor of Design at the University of Louisville. She has a BFA in Illustration and received her MFA in Visual Communication + Graphic Design from VCUarts. Khalili's work has been shown at the Type Director’s Club of New York, Chicago Design Museum, and galleries throughout North America, Canada, China, Indonesia, Australia and Moscow, with book art in the permanent collection at the VCU Libraries Special Collections and Archives. Her research crosses boundaries between traditional design and studio art practices and explores typography and language through design, illustration, moving image, and book art. She completed study at the Illustration Academy, and the LdM Institute in Florence, Italy, and finds inspiration in travel, culture, and her experience as a first generation Iranian-American. In addition to her international exhibition schedule, she maintains an active speaking schedule with engagements and workshops throughout the U.S. and in Doha, Qatar.

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