Earlier works have explored the relationship between the house and nation state and how the trauma and systemic violence enacted upon civilians can be inherited and re-enacted within the family. More recent works have wandered into spaces just outside the home – the backyard, the garden, and other domesticated landscapes. His research is deeply influenced by the specificity of the sites where he works: the architectures that houses them, the economies that surround them, and the people that frequent them.Comprising a series of sculptures, video and photographic works, variations on a garden, curated by Georgina Jackson, is Akhavan’s first solo exhibition in Ireland. In the central space of the upstairs galleries an enlarged fountain sits with the intermittent sound of small drops of falling water. The sculptural installation study for a monument (2013-2016) presents a series of bronze plants laid out on white cotton bed sheets across the downstairs gallery floor. These are the forms of Asperula insignis, Delphinium micranthum and Ornithogalum iraqense, amongst many others, native and endemic species from the area in and around the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, in present-day Iraq. Eighty kilometres south of Baghdad, it is the same area where the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon were presumed to be built, and includes the salt marshes which were destroyed by
Saddam Hussein in the 1990s in his campaign against the Marsh Arabs, and subsequently ravaged by the Iraq wars. Working with images from the ‘The Flora of Iraq’ (1) archive at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, Akhavan has enlarged the plant species to monument scale. They have been sculpted into plasticine, cast into wax, encased within plaster, melted, cast into bronze, and then charred. Reminiscent of flora at the base of a monument, the bronze plants look like artillery fragments and shrapnel. Their scale is close to a human body, flowers like human heads, stems like spines, and broken parts taking on the appearance of shards of human bone.
Akhavan employs bronze as a material that is steeped in history: it connects the invention of human tools and language with the fabrication of weapons and the erection of monuments. These forms are presented as an archive, a forensic experiment or funerary monument on the gallery floor. The remnants of the material processes remain: shattered plaster invades the anatomy of the plants, creating a kind of ghosting against the white cotton sheets. study for a monument is an act of occupation and commemoration within the white cube, the physical haunting of the acts of war. The plant pressings
contained within an archive are enlarged and given volume; they hold space.
In the lower gallery, the film installation, Ghost (2013), presents excerpted footage of returning US army troops to their families fades from image to white. Screams of joy are heard, but the spectre of trauma and the invasion of space remains. A series of dark framed images are revealed to be the backs of mirrors, the image facing its reflection is undisclosed. A passport sized photographic image of a young Iraqi who presents himself twice in and after and after (2003/2008), once with ink on one finger to denote the act of voting in democratic elections, and the other with all fingers inked marking admission into police records and border controls.
The garden lingers as both a symbolic site of labour and leisure, private and public, nature and humanity, but furthermore, as a site of sovereignty and war.
(1) Begun in 1960 by the Ministry of Agriculture in Baghdad in collaboration with Kew, this archive project sought to gather and categorise over 3,300 species of flora native to Iraq’s deserts, marshes, plains and mountains. The archive is incomplete, with three remaining volumes currently in development. Governmental changes led to the project’s cessation in 1985, but it commenced again in 2011. See http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/research-data/science-directory/projects/flora-iraq