Abbas Zahedi

with Wells Fray-Smith

‘The most interesting type of collaboration is when you speak across different disciplines… it’s an idea of working in a multidisciplinary environment, where through this act of almost trying to translate each other’s thoughts and ideas is where new ideas emerge…multidisciplinarity really exposes you to new ways of thinking and of doing things, which, right now, feels very necessary in the world.

Listen to the full interview here:

 My name is Abbas Zahedi. My work is multifaceted. I’m always trying to do different things; working across installation, sound, performance, some moving image, photography. I’m often working in a way where I’m responding to a location or a situation. Or just the wider context of an invitation.

What are you showing in The London Open 2022?

The main part of the display is a painting that my father made in the 80s, I’m not sure exactly when. It’s an oil painting of a still life with some flowers. I found this painting after he passed away. I was quite young when he passed. This is just one of the things that I inherited. I became curious about it more in the last few years, as I started to practice art myself.

I am also showing a selection of documentary photographs of the painting installed in the former Brick Lane Police Station. This selection brings together some images taken with my fathers dilapidated SLR camera, photographs taken by my son using a disposable camera, and digital images from the photographer Damian Griffiths.

Was your father an artist, or did he have a relationship with the arts in any way?

No, actually. That’s a good thing to mention. He was self-taught and I think he was doing a local class. He just made three paintings. There’s no real record of him having done other works. In addition to the painting, I’m also showing documentation of that painting in a police station local to Whitechapel Gallery, formerly the Brick Lane police station, where I did an intervention for Nocturnal Creatures festival in 2021. It was an installation throughout the whole police station. And my father’s painting was exhibited there.

For your Nocturnal Creatures project, you called the old police station the BLF, which was the Brick Lane Foundation. Can you speak a bit about that project? Why was it important for you to be in the police station then and do what you did in that space?

 The police station is a very charged location and I felt that I wanted to try and find a way to really change it and integrate it into some role in the community. And I actually have connections to that community from my past, when I was doing organising work and community projects. I connected with one of the local councillors, Puru Miah, to discuss different ideas. The idea of the Brick Lane Foundation was to actually turn the police station into an art school. So that there could be this foundation course as I think they are a great thing that everyone should have access to. That was the plan, although the council were not willing to give the space for one year, but we managed to get it for long enough to trial the project. So, the display could be this speculative space called the Brick Lane Foundation.

That hints at what I think is a really important part of your work, which is collaboration and social awareness and bringing people together. How and why is collaboration important to you?

I find the most interesting type of collaboration is when you speak across different disciplines. Often collaboration could be just artists working together or scientists working together, but for me, collaboration is really working in a multidisciplinary environment, where, through this act of trying to translate each other’s thoughts and ideas across different disciplines, real creativity happens. I think, because of echo-chambers, as everyone becomes so specialised in their particular fields, multidisciplinarity really exposes you to new ways of thinking and of doing things, which, right now, feels very necessary in the world. That kind of collaboration feels key.

Works in the exhibition:
Faramarz Zahedi: Untitled, c. 1980s
Oil paint on board
51 x 37 cm

Digital Slideshow Documentation at BLF by Damian Griffiths, Abbas Zahedi, Yasiin Zahedi, 2022
Dimensions variable

Abbas Zahedi (1984, London, UK)
2019 MA Contemporary Art and Philosophy, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London
2006 BSc Physiology and Pharmacology, University College London

Selected exhibitions: TESTAMENT, Goldsmiths CCA, London (2022); SPACE Artists Award Exhibition, SPACE, Ilford (2022); 11 & 1, Belmacz, London (solo) (2021); Nocturnal Creatures, Whitechapel Gallery (2021); SUPASTORE SOUTHSIDE, SLINGBAKCS & SUNSHINE, South London Gallery, London (2021); D·E·VALUATION, Mécènes du Sud Montpellier-Sète, Montpellier (2021); Ouranophobia SW3, Chelsea Sorting Office, London (solo) (2020); How To Make A How From A Why?; South London Gallery, London (solo) (2020); Diaspora Pavilion (ICF), Palazzi Pisani a Santa Marina, Venice (2017)

What makes London’s art scene so vibrant? What are the concerns of the next generation of artists? What insight does their work offer in challenging times?

This triennial exhibition showcases a cross-section of the most dynamic artistic talent from across the capital. Established in 1932, this much-celebrated open submission show features 46 London-based artists working across painting, sculpture, moving image, installation and performance.

Since the last London Open in 2018, the city has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, demonstrations demanding racial and climate justice, and widespread questioning of institutions and their structures.

The London Open 2022 traces the ways in which artists have witnessed and responded to these events with resilience and heart. In times of hardship and crisis, and when exhibitions were cancelled and moved online, these artists experimented with new sites of production and means of dissemination, from the kitchen table to the back garden.

The exhibition is loosely structured as a journey from the personal to the social, moving from individual to collective concerns, the cathartic to the poetic, the political and the environmental.

The artists were selected from over 2,600 entries by a panel of experts including collector Maria Bukhtoyarova, artist Shezad Dawood, curator and art historian Christine Eyene, gallerist Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja, with Whitechapel Gallery curators Emily Butler, lnês Costa and Wells Fray-Smith.

Gallery 1, Downstairs

The relationship between our bodies and the material world kickstarts the exhibition. Rafał Zajko‘s wall-based reliefs appear like hybrid beings, processing the gluten found in wheat and barley flour, leaving us unsure if this is for machine or human consumption.Likewise, Madeleine Pledge‘s stretched fabrics and ceramic boots imply absent bodies and their physical role in manufacturing.

Materiality and belief systems intersect in Candida Powell-Williams’ handmade objects. A unicorn and swing inspired by medieval tapestries are fenced off by a trellis, prompting questions about the divisions between what is mythical and real. Alicia Reyes McNamara‘s paintings feature non-binary, shapeshifting figures drawn from various mythologies, from Meso-America to Ancient Egypt, to consider alternative notions of time and embodiment.

Gallery 9, Upstairs

This gallery features works that delve into the impact of technology, algorithms and quantification on our lives. In his series The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free  2019, Ben Yau looks at the parallel rise of Neoliberalism and the CIA’s role in sabotaging the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, bringing together both economic data and declassified documents.

Set in a parallel present reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Blade Runner 2049, The Underlying by Ami Clarke considers the implicit role of capitalism in environmental disaster.

Meanwhile, Rory Cahill and George Mackness offer a walk through a dystopian, corrupted digital landscape of the future, with an immersive soundtrack. They consider: what does a digital wasteland look like, what happens there and what is its afterlife?

Gallery 8, Upstairs

The artworks in this gallery reflect on family, identity and community. Seema Khalique travelled to Bangladesh to photograph two communities of transgender people called hijras. In this behind-the-scenes series, she questions the prejudices they face, revealing the economic hardships they endure alongside the strong network of mentorship and care they create.

Pioneering photographer, curator and writer Sunil Gupta took photographs of his neighbourhood on Walworth Road during lockdown. This work celebrates the increased relevance of our localities during the pandemic, as well as reflecting on the processes involved in created photographic images.

On three vintage TV monitors, Hussina Raja‘s short narrative films look at the subject of migration to the UK from post-Partition India, tracing the continued experiences of displacement and exploring nuanced notions of identity.

The works in the last part of the show focus on our relationship to and impact on the environment. In Agrilogistics (2022), Gerard Ortin Castellvi films in an automated greenhouse, in which the growth of tomatoes, tulips and chrysanthemums is controlled by cameras and sensors, in order to question the future of food production.

Having spent lockdown excavating her back garden, Maria Roy Deulofeu meticulously records each layer of soil like an archaeologist, collecting artefacts and ecofacts, before assembling a kiln to fire hand-thrown urns with the different layers of clay. The process is recorded in a video shown alongside the objects. Finally, a flock of parakeets cast in lead are scattered on the ground in Patrick Goddard‘s Blue Sky Thinking (2019).The parakeet exemplifies a non-native species increasingly common in London parks and hints at a mass extinction event, highlighting mankind’s role in the impending climate disaster.

See the full list of works here.

An illustrated catalogue is available to purchase from the bookshop.

Artists have generously made limited editions to coincide with the exhibition to support the Gallery’s education programme.