Abbas Akhavan is a Toronto-based artist who was born in 1977 in Tehran. Akhavan received his BFA from Concordia University, Montreal, in 2004 and his MFA from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in 2006. Working with drawing, installation, sculpture, performance, and video, Akhavan often categorizes his works as “studies” or “variations” in order to foreground their speculative, ephemeral, and open-ended qualities. His work is rooted in site-specificity, which he frames in terms of the network of architectural, economic, natural, and social forces that shape the conception and experience of art within a given space.
In his work, Akhavan investigates the capacities and potentials of objects and systems by revealing the unexpected ways in which even domestic space can express stark contradictions such as hostility and hospitality, familiarity and strangeness. Correspondences (2008), for example, is a curious-looking array of objects and images—a brick, a dead carrier pigeon, a Molotov cocktail, a message in a bottle, smoke signals, and mushroom clouds—that register as instruments of both communication and destruction. Tied to a brick, the pigeon becomes part of a distinctly violent message-delivery system, while its own capacity for flight is denied by the obdurate weight of its burden.
In Study for a Garden (2012), Akhavan dissolves the boundary between exterior and interior by simulating the intrusion of nature—in the form of a garden—into a period townhouse in London. Within the building’s sprawl of rooms and corridors, viewers encounter creeping invasive plants, which emerge from the organic decorative patterns of the original carpet, from the rows of towering hedges, and from the spray of an oscillating sprinkler that leaves a ruinous pool of water in the third-floor bedroom. Here, Akhavan alters home’s typical associations with comfort, safety, and familiarity by rendering the space oddly menacing, limiting the viewer’s movement and enacting a process of material decay by allowing nature to trespass on human artifice.
Akhavan has had solo exhibitions at the Fonderie Darling, Montreal (2012); Delfina, London (2012); Western Front, Vancouver (2013); and Flora, Bogotá. His work has been featured in the group exhibitions How Soon is Now, Vancouver Art Gallery (2008); Seeing is Believing, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2011); Material Information, Permanenten Vestlandske Kunstindustrimuseum, Bergen, Norway (2012); and Common Grounds, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich (2015). He participated in the Bucharest Biennial: Tactics for Here and Now (2012); Athens Biennial: Agora (2013); Montreal Biennial: Looking Forward (2014); and Gwangju Biennial: Burning Down the House, Gwangju, South Korea (2014). He is the recipient of honors including the Kunstpreis Berlin/Berlin Visual Art Prize—Jubilee Foundation 1848/1948 (2012); Abraaj Group Art Prize (2014), and Sobey Art Award (2015), and is a Long-Term Visual Art Grant from the Canada Council for the Arts (2015). Akhavan lives and works in Toronto and Istanbul.