Every Artwork is a Trap: Interview with Abbas Akhavan in Canadian Art
One of the rare pleasures of working as an art writer is doing an interview with an artist whose work you have long admired, and discovering they are just as intriguing as their work. That was my good fortune in interviewing Abbas Akhavan for the latest issue of Canadian Art.
At the time we met to speak, Akhavan was preparing to install his solo exhibition at Mercer Union, and had just been shortlisted for the Sobey Art Award. Six months later, and he has not only won Canada’s largest art prize, but is also showing one of his latest works, Study for a Monument (2013–15), at the Guggenheim (which they have reportedly acquired for their permanent collection). It’s been a big year for Akhavan, and I can’t think of an artist more deserving.
Gabrielle Moser: You have used the word “trap” a few times in relation to your works, especially in describing Guests, Ghosts, Hosts (2009), which was commissioned by Artspeak for their exhibition in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Study for a Curtain (2015). I’m curious about how you see these works as traps, and who they are traps for.
Abbas Akhavan: Every artwork is a trap, because it is supposed to be a window to something else, or a closure to an idea: it’s a conceptual trap. But because I work so much with natural materials, like plants and animals, I think it was also about how any kind of relationship to nature is a kind of trapping of nature for the benefit of humanity, whether that’s resource extraction, or human-centric therapy, or for the “wellbeing” of the human. In the case of Study for a Curtain, the artwork was a trap for an idea about the use of nature as capital.