Published on November 7, 2012 | by Elspeth Merry

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“No art store supplies” for Akhavan’s latest exhibition

Manure is amongst the installations [Tom Nicholson]

Rating: ★★

A stone’s throw away from Buckingham Palace, the Delfina Foundation sits untouched in the corner of a street— an old crooked house, humble in its stature, and easily missed by the unassuming passerby.

Soon to be renovated to become London’s largest international residency space, this obscure dwelling currently hosts Toronto-based Iranian artist Abbas Akhavan’s first UK solo exhibition; Study for a Garden.

Challenging the boundary between garden and domestic space, Akhavan explores the invasion of foreign elements into proverbial places.

When you enter the house, a large Leylandii tree acts as a barrier to the entrance hall— your initial reaction being what is a tree doing indoors? But this is only the start of an ongoing bewilderment.

On the ground floor, in a small room, a wonky table sits with a streaming watering can— two flannels cushioning the flow of the water which then drains into a bucket on the floor.

It is bizarre seeing a current gushing into the home, but this is exactly what Akhavan is playing on; the relationship between the domestic and the wild.

Up the creaky staircase and into another small room, a ’70s floral carpet is adorned with ivy which is randomly placed but flows into the design.

It is strange to see the plant and carpet together, you can’t help but feel more entranced by the floral carpet than the installation itself.

Further up another staircase, you are startled by the sound of a heavy flow of water which creates an eerie ambience — being the only person in the house at the time, running away seems like an option, but you carry on.

On the top floor, the source of the noise of water is revealed as a large sprinkler positioned in the middle of a room, spurting copious amounts of water onto the matt floor.

The smell is musty, and your eyes are drawn to the electricity plugs — is Akhavan trying to play on our fears? The placement of the sprinkler in a small room with a fireplace is peculiar and creates a sense of invasion; the water is creating a barrier in the home.

You somewhat hope this is the end, but on the way back down the stairs you realise there is still a basement to discover. Perhaps saving the best until last— a large table of dirt and manure, at least a metre high, rests in the middle of what seems like an old pantry.

The most interesting of the installations, you wonder whether Akhavan is trying to say that it is the house which acts as a boundary for growth.

Bemused and perplexed on this journey of a study of a garden, the man himself Abbas Akhavan happens to be waiting by the entrance, and explains the theory behind the madness: “I am inspired by natural barriers, and the vernacular of the everyday. I like exploring power systems and gardens as a territorial act. Violence is naturalised. ”

You suddenly start to appreciate the concept; the watering can and ivy carpet don’t seem so eclipsed by the house itself anymore. Akhavan then humorously states that he bought everything from a gardening shop, “no art store supplies”— But it is clear he is not trying to be the next Alan Titchmarsh, “a hedge is a space of division,” he whispers from the other side of the Leylandii tree.

Study for a Garden is open until Wednesday 20th November at Abbas, 29 Catherine Place, Victoria, London, SW1E 6DY.

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