– Autumn/Winter 2016

The Body in Ruins: Abbas Akhavan's Study for a Monument

Georgina Jackson

Abbas Akhavan, Study for a Monument (2013–15), cast bronze, white cotton sheets, dimensions variable. Photograph: Toni Hafkenscheid. Courtesy the artist and Mercer Union, Toronto

The way we act toward ‘others’ is shaped by the way we imagine them. Both philosophic and literary descriptions of such imagining show the difficulty of picturing other persons in their full weight and solidity.

– Elaine Scarry, ‘The Difficulty of Imagining Other People’1

Abbas Akhavan’s Study for a Monument (2013–15) presents bronze plants laid out on a series of white cotton bed sheets across the gallery floor. These are the forms of Asperula insignis, Delphinium micranthum and Ornithogalum iraqense, amongst many others. 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. Yet here on the floor there is an assertion of horizontality over verticality: materials are laid out like a forensic experiment, a mass grave or funerary tokens. These plants are not being used as simple adornment, nor to disguise support systems. These are all species native to an area between and around the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, in present-day Iraq. From plant pressings and digital images, they have been enlarged