Abbas Zahedi: Holding a Heart in Artifice

a dark image of an outstretched hand with a glowing dot on the palm
  • Abbas Zahedi, Holding a Heart, 2023. Courtesy the artist and Belmacz.

Abbas Zahedi works with people and places to help process difficult emotions and histories. In Holding a Heart in Artifice, Zahedi combines visual and sensory elements to create space for conversation and shared experience. Under his guidance, a gallery can function as an emotional utility into which we are all implicated.

Initially trained as a medic, Zahedi diverted his energies towards making art following a close bereavement. In this exhibition, Zahedi considers the parallels between the aesthetics of medical environments and contemporary art spaces – namely, the white sterility of both that he associates with sickness, dying and death. Accentuating this parallel, he borrowed ECMO (Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation) equipment from Glenfield Hospital in Leicester. ECMO is a form of life-support therapy that uses an artificial heart-lung machine to oxygenate a patient’s blood outside of their body. In the gallery, the machinery quietly hums, pumping moisture gathered from the gallery atmosphere through its system. In this way, it alludes to how a visitor’s presence energises and stabilises an institutional body. Neither can function alone.

Around the perimeter of the gallery, Zahedi has positioned several steel buttresses. Stretching from wall to floor, these industrial forms not only strengthen the gallery against external pressures, but conceptually function like cardiac stents, which hold arteries open allowing blood to flow around the body. Here, the buttresses hold the gallery open for a flow of conversations and moments of togetherness; moments enabled by Zahedi through the programme of “How to Make” events that will run throughout the exhibition. Elsewhere, two artworks subtly reference previous projects by the artist: a bronze cast of a work originally made in 2017, and a “PRESS TO EXIT” button, modified to play a sound work composed by Zahedi on command.

Holding a Heart in Artifice encourages us to think about interdependence; how art, audiences, workers, and artwork are all reliant on each other. By passing the threshold of the gallery, visitors can connect with different realities and support systems, becoming vulnerable to the opportunities afforded though new conversations and understandings.

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