Abbas Akhavan
Fatigues, 2014
Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal
22.10.14 – 04.01.15

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?
– ML

Fatigues is produced by La Biennale de Montréal for BNLMTL 2014, L’avenir (looking forward)


Born in 1977 in Tehran, Abbas Akhavan lives and works in Toronto. His practice ranges from site-specific ephemeral installations to drawing, video and performance. The domestic sphere, as a forked space between hospitality and hostility, has been an ongoing area of research in Akhavan’s work. More recent works have shifted focus, wandering out to spaces just beyond the home: the garden, the backyard and other domesticated landscapes.

Residencies have provided Akhavan numerous opportunities to develop his work: the Botín Foundation (with Mona Hatoum), Santander, Spain; Le Printemps de Septembre, Toulouse, France; Trinity Square Video, Toronto; Western Front, Vancouver, and Fogo Island Arts, Fogo Island, Newfoundland; The Watermill Center, New York; and the Delfina Foundation, Dubai and London. Recent exhibitions include Variations on a Garden, Galerie Mana, Istanbul (2013); Study for a Garden, Delfina Foundation, London (2012); Bucharest Biennale (2012); Tools for Conviviality, The Power Plant, Toronto (2012); Beacon, Darling Foundry, Montréal (2012); Phantomhead, Performa 11, New York (2011); and Seeing is Believing, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2011). Akhavan is the recipient of Kunstpreis Berlin (2012) and Abraaj Group Art Prize (2014).

He is represented by The Third Line, Dubai.

BNLMTL 2014 - Panel with Adaptive Actions, Abbas Akhavan, Raymond Boisjoly, Anton Vidockle and Pelin Tan