Bringing together various elements, including 32 works-on-paper and a sound sculpture, KH-21 evokes a heightened awareness of mechanisms of surveillance and the civilian’s role in an ever-growing vertical occupation. Titled in code, KH-21 makes reference to the recently declassified HEXAGON Program whereby 20 photographic reconnaissance satellites were launched between 1971-1986. The installation builds upon a previous work, Architectural Studies 1-17 (2011) in which cut-out details of spy planes accompany floor plans of historic mosques. Collected data gains new relevance as Waheed’s images become the catalyst for reclaiming marginalized histories. Moving through the installation, a story emerges about an estranged ex-flight engineer who has dragged something in, something lost from the sky. Unable to decipher fact from fiction, viewers find themselves in a space where the real merges with the imagined. KH-21 continues the artist’s preoccupation with undisclosed documents presented in a distinct minimalist formal aesthetic. Compositions are often sparse and centred on coded arrangements of image and text. Driven by a tendency to catalogue, categorize and re-organize selected fragments into multiple works within a series, Waheed’s re-appropriation of found material – specifically photographs – enables her to expose details that would have that otherwise been lost.
KH-21 also features a sound-sculpture: an intermedia object that transmits the reverberation of its own flight path. Suggestive of space debris, this large spherical presence relays its own story. Individual viewers access the piece via a custom mono-pod headphone. A collaborative effort with musician Laurel Sprengelmeyer, the sound component is suggestive of the intimacy often created by the artist vis-à-vis her work and the viewer. It is as if we are looking back, yet the inquiries that surface are presently as important as ever: surveillance and civilian data collection, high altitude occupation and activity, and our current global reality of decades of space debris now descending upon us. While grounded in historical fact, the installation excavates collective memory to project into an imagined future.