Aria Dean: Abattoir is the New York-based artist’s first exhibition in the UK. The exhibition of the artist’s recent work explores the foundational relationship between modernity and death on conceptual and material levels.
I cannot think of a more exciting exhibition to inaugurate our newly reopened and renovated spaces. Dean’s work represents a unique strain of interdisciplinary thinking that recognises the connections and influences between images, sound, architecture, and philosophy, and applies this thinking towards critical investigation of the nature of subjectivity in our time. Her perspective, and specifically Abattoir, could not be more timely.Bengi Ünsal, ICA Director,
The ICA’s main gallery features Abattoir, U.S.A.!, a site-specific film installation with immersive 8-channel sound. The animated film traverses the interior of an empty slaughterhouse. Rendered using the 3D computer graphics tool, Unreal Engine, the film weaves the viewer through corridors and chambers, an imaginary patchwork of 19th, 20th and 21st century architectures. The film is mimicked in the ICA’s gallery through physical echoes of the virtual space. Composer Evan Zierk’s accompanying score samples field recordings, cinematic instrumentals, algorithmically generated sound, as well as a familiar pop cover. A new object-based work will be presented alongside Abattoir,U.S.A.! in the adjacent gallery.
As an artist and writer, Dean is invested in a theoretical critique of representational systems, analysing how aesthetic theory, image networks and visibility map onto questions of race and power. The works on view continue Dean’s interest in addressing Blackness in terms of aesthetics in a way that doesn’t rely upon cultural signifiers and lived experience, but rather positions Blackness as a structural force and structural object. Abattoir, U.S.A.! is a response to two tandem questions that intersect concept and form: on the one hand, the literal and allegorical subject of the slaughterhouse as a particular collision of industrialisation, human and non-human actors, architecture, and death; and on the other hand, a response to structural film.
Conceptually the work began via Dean’s sustained engagement with the writing of French philosopher Georges Bataille, specifically his mention of the slaughterhouse as a site that must necessarily sit outside of what we deem ‘civil society’ to uphold the boundary and function of that society. We literally and conceptually situate animal slaughter on the outskirts. As we move into 2024, the subject of Dean’s exhibition looms large. Against a contemporary backdrop of systemic violence and subjugation, the analogy of the slaughterhouse accommodates the question of structuralised death as a cornerstone of modern life. The exhibition deliberates on critical functions of cinema and the origins of modernist architectures—topics long-debated within these walls—and puts them in conversation with histories of industrialisation, anti-Blackness, fascism, and colonialism that demand urgent attention. Here at the ICA, situated on The Mall in the seat of the establishment, Dean places what has been pushed to the outskirts squarely at the centre.
It’s a long and convoluted story of deadly modernity whose chapters’ order hardly matters. More important is the room tone before the loop restarts itself. Bloody interstices make teachable lessons, where images can only make little poems of igneous histories.Aria Dean,
Abattoir, U.S.A.! was commissioned by the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, where it was curated by Myriam Ben Salah with Karsten Lund and Michael Harrison and presented in February 2023 and travelled to The Power Plant, Toronto where it is on view through 7 January 2024. The film was co-produced with The Vega Foundation.
About the artist
Aria Dean, born in 1993, is an American artist, critic, and curator. Until 2021, she held the position of Curator and Editor at Rhizome. Her written work has been featured in various art publications, including Artforum, e-flux, The New Inquiry, Art in America, and Topical Cream. Dean’s international exhibitions include showcases at venues like Foxy Production and American Medium in New York, Chateau Shatto in Los Angeles, and Arcadia Missa in London. Additionally, she co-directs As It Stands LA, an artist project space established in 2015. Aria Dean resides and works in both New York City and Los Angeles, and she is represented by Greene Naftali.