- Abbas Zahedi born 1984
- Stainless steel pipes, sprinklers, plastic hand-pump, rose water, ceramic bowls, cotton pillowcases, sand, towel dispenser, steel shutter, illuminated exit sign and sound (stereo)
- Overall display dimensions variable
- Partial gift from Matthew Greenburgh, Julia Muggenburg and Belmacz, London and partial purchase with funds provided by Tate Patrons 2021
How To Make A How From A Why is an installation comprising a fire sprinkler system suspended overhead, through which rose-infused water circulates and drips into hand-washing bowls and jugs placed on the floor. The system is activated by hand-pumping the rose-infused water into a white and orange cistern, also set on the floor. On the wall, a hand-dryer of the type found in public facilities displays a short sentence: ‘why me/you not you/me’. A fire exit sign has been redesigned with an image of an arm and is positioned above a door. On another wall, a closed aluminium shutter suggests the presence of a concealed door and vibrates to the sound emitted by surface transducers installed within it. The sixty-minute sound piece, composed with musicians Saint Abdullah, Mohammad and Mehdi Mehrabani-Yeganeh, includes found sounds from Iranian field recordings, eulogies and poems.
The bespoke sprinkler system is made of food-grade steel, a reference to the food industry which runs through the artist’s practice and whose roots can be found in his biography. His mother’s family were drink-makers in their village in Iran, providing drinks for grieving ceremonies and religious occasions. Having himself worked as production assistant in a craft brewery in London, Zahedi organised grassroots interventions in the form of a pop-up bar (2015–17) and other projects involving the service of locally-sourced food in galleries (including at Tate Britain in 2018) or the making of drinks.
How To Make A How From A Why was created for the South London Gallery Fire Station in Camberwell, the result of Zahedi’s Postgraduate Artist Residency there in 2019–20. It combines research into the history of the building and local area – notably the deadly fire in a tower block on the nearby Sceaux Gardens estate which occurred in July 2009, almost a decade before the Grenfell Tower fire of July 2017 – and references to grieving and to the artist’s family’s heritage of ceremonial drink-making in Iran. Rose water is traditionally used in grieving rituals as a commemorative libation and to wash the dead before burial. For the artist, activating the flow of rose water contributes to the making of an offering to the space and suggests the act of cleansing the institution, a cyclical movement that also acts as a source of energy and life. This is embodied by the ceramic bowls, fired with crushed glass bottles that the artist had produced and distributed as part of his work for the Diaspora Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2017.
Through the incorporation of the shutter (referencing the original architecture of the South London Gallery Fire Station), Zahedi reflects on spaces of exit and threshold – both literal and metaphysical: ‘The points of entry, the points of exit, these thresholds, these borders situation: who’s allowed to cross? Which way? Who benefits from the crossings across these thresholds? These are all aspects that I wanted to highlight and that feed into the conception of the work.’ (Zahedi, in South London Gallery 2020, accessed 11 January 2021). As suggested by its title, How To Make A How From A Why refers to questions raised by experiences of death, loss and transformation. It echoes some of the artist’s personal experiences, but also invites the viewer to contemplate a material expression of grief and death. The presence of the verb ‘to make’ in the title anchors the work in the physical and bodily, via the act of turning the drops of rose water into allegorical tears.
Zahedi’s participatory practice explores his concept of neo-diaspora, the predicament of being a second-generation migrant in a hyper-connected world. His work questions methods of integration from a cultural rather than social or economic perspective. Curator Cédric Fauq has described Zahedi’s installation as part of an ‘updated conceptualism’:
a conceptualism that helps reformulating systems of oppression while emphasizing the need for the adoption of a radical affective sociality; a conceptualism that gives new meaning to potential flight for liberation and the beautiful crafting of strategies to refuse representational performances of blackness, in intersection with the abolition of labour as we know it. Or, simply put, a conceptualism that commands us to take a breath.
(Fauq 2020, accessed 11 January 2021.)
Abbas Zahedi, How To Make A How From A Why, artist interview, exhibition video, South London Gallery 2020, https://abbzah.com/2020/03/06/how-to-make-a-how-from-a-why/, accessed 11 January 2021.
Cédric Fauq, ‘Transactional Objects Full of Contexts in Voided Sites’, Mousse Magazine, no.71, Spring 2020, http://moussemagazine.it/transactional-objects-full-of-contexts-in-voided-sites-cedric-fauq-2020/, accessed 11 January 2021.
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