How To Make A How From A Why?

Fire Station, South London Gallery, 2020

Exhibition copy:

The SLG’s Postgraduate Artist in Residence, Abbas Zahedi, presents How to Make a How from a Why?, a newly commissioned installation and sound work in the ground floor gallery of the Fire Station.

Installation view at the South London Gallery. Photo: Andy Stagg

In his ongoing practice, London-born Zahedi creates social projects with collaborators and audiences, often involving spiritual rituals. He has worked with migrant and marginalised communities in the UK to explore the concept of neo-diaspora, and the ways in which personal and collective histories interweave.

During his residency Zahedi has focused on lamentation rites and other moments of literal and metaphysical exit. Reflecting on the history of the building as a former fire station as well as the emotional and physical implications of ‘Resistant Exits’, Zahedi questions who can leave and who can enter, both politically and socially.

Installation view at the South London Gallery. Photo: Andy Stagg

At the centre of the installation is a bespoke fire sprinkler system made from food-grade steel, which dispenses rose-infused water. Drawing on his family’s heritage of ceremonial drink making in Iran, Zahedi references rose water’s use as a beverage and commemorative libation in Iranian culture.

Visitors are invited to pump the cistern by hand, with a view to consciously contribute to its flow, making an offering to the space. The drips from this process are collected by domestic objects, which include hand- washing bowls fired with glass from shandy bottles that Zahedi previously produced in 2017 for the Diaspora Pavilion in Venice.

Installation view at the South London Gallery. Photo: Andy Stagg
Installation view at the South London Gallery. Photo: Abbas Zahedi

Zahedi’s reflections on historical fires and exits are directly referenced through the presence of adapted fire exit signs installed in the gallery space, and throughout the building. Photographs of a bodybuilder replace the typically static running icon. The use of these images stems from the artist’s exploration of bio-hacking, a movement that seeks to ‘optimise’ the body and mind with different technologies. Zahedi reads this movement as a mode of exit or resistance, where an increase in bodily strength serves to compensate for a lack of structural support from ones’ environment, shining a critical light on the role of self-help in an age of networked solitude. The installation calls into question the effects of making exits, enforced or otherwise, on the mental, social and financial security of an individual while simultaneously considering who has the privilege to exit at all.

Installation view at the South London Gallery. Photo: Andy Stagg
Exit sign design, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

An accompanying soundscape, In This Space We Leave (60 mins), produced in collaboration with New York based musicians Saint Abdullah, is played via a series of surface transducers – devices that turn any object into a speaker. In this instance the Fire Station doors and shutters are activated, highlighting the material threshold of the gallery’s architecture. The work was created over a number of months, with the artists exchanging found sounds from Iranian field recordings, eulogies, poems and the wider media.

A version of this work will feature on a cassette mixtape, available to buy from the SLG bookshop from April 2020.

Installation view at the South London Gallery. Photo: Andy Stagg


Mohammad and Mehdi – Saint Abdullah
Ed Taylor – Square Root Soda Works
Iris Lin – The Kiln Rooms, Peckham


WED 11 MAR, 7–9PM

Abbas Zahedi hosts a Long Table, a format of discussion devised by artist Lois Weaver. During the evening, participants can choose to join a conversation that considers approaches and attitudes towards expressions of grief, and grieving through the process of lamentation. Participants who leave the table can continuously re-join as desired.
Collaborators: Joshua Leon, Julia Warr and Toby Upson.