Aria Dean's first solo exhibition in the U.K. opens at the ICA. - FAD Magazine

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Aria Dean’s first solo exhibition in the U.K. opens at the ICA.

Aria Dean, Abattoir, Photo: Rob Harris, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London

The ICA London has opened Aria Dean: Abattoir, a solo exhibition of the New York-based interdisciplinary artist’s recent work and Dean’s first exhibition in the UK.

The exhibition explores the foundational relationship between modernity and death on conceptual and material levels. 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.


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 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 centre.

Aria Dean, Abattoir, Photo Rob Harris, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London

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, Artist,

ARIA DEAN: ABATTOIR, 8th February – 5th May 2024, Institute of Contemporary Arts

About the artist

Aria Dean Photo Molly Matalon Courtesy Greene Naftali New York.

Aria Dean (b. 1993) lives and works in New York. The selected writings of Dean were compiled in Bad Infinity, published by Sternberg Press in 2023. Recent solo and two-person exhibitions and performances include The Renaissance Society, Chicago (2023); Greene Naftali, New York (2023, 2021); CAPC, Bordeaux (2023); REDCAT, Los Angeles (2021); Artists Space, New York (2020); Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Geneva (2019); and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York (2018). Significant group shows include the Whitney Biennial: Quiet as It’s Kept (2022); the Hammer Museum’s biennial Made in L.A. 2020: a version (2021); the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (2019); The MAC, Belfast, Northern Ireland (2019); Tai Kwun, Hong Kong (2019); Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin (2018); Swiss Institute, New York (2018); and the de Young Museum, San Francisco (2017), among others.

Her writing has appeared in publications including Artforum, Art in America, e-flux, The New Inquiry, X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly, Spike Quarterly, Kaleidoscope Magazine, Texte zur Kunst, CURA Magazine, and November. Dean’s work is in the collection of the De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg, Netherlands; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.



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