For this new work, Abbas Akhavan has employed taxidermy to mount birds and mammals in postures that cast them as very dead creatures instead of the more customary practice of representing animals as lifelike or in action. Having been killed and skinned, these animals have now been assigned to a state of perpetual death, making them “doubly dead,” so to speak. Heightening the uncanniness of the work, the animals have been placed casually throughout the Musée d’art contemporain’s galleries and public spaces, in direct or peripheral sightlines, where one would not expect to find an artwork on display. The discreet nature of their placement is also designed to emphasize pathos and call on empathy. By avoiding narrative and direct dramatization, the artist hopes to trigger awareness of the fragility of life, rather than the unavoidability of death.
This suggested fragility is also at play in the artist’s second offering for the Biennale. To directly address issues pertaining to the increasing encroachment on privacy in public space, Akhavan is working with the Musée’s education workshops. The artist has designed a new activity wherein children and teens can select, from a chart, a face-paint pattern that disables facial recognition surveillance software. Weekly, on a given day, facilitators paint the patterns on the participants’ faces. Digital snapshots of the painted faces are printed on letter-size sheets of paper and posted casually on the walls outside the workshops.
The work attempts to playfully question, and raise awareness of, the potential issues surrounding the right to privacy in public space. It also seeks to question the intersection between the contemporary omnipresence of surveillance and its contradictory roles in child safety. Indeed, if it has become commonplace to question the ubiquity of closed-circuit surveillance systems in public space by developing techniques to resist recognition, how has the myth of safety above all in our risk-averse contemporary culture led us to accept individual alienation in exchange for a false sense of security?
Fatigues is produced by La Biennale de Montréal for BNLMTL 2014, L’avenir (looking forward)