Abbas Zahedi Invites Us To Play the Waiting Game

For his Frieze Artist Award commission, the artist addresses questions of access, power and shared purpose via structures inspired by Soviet bus stops

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BY Eva Wilson in Frieze London & Frieze Masters , Frieze Week Magazine | 07 OCT 22

Located within, outside and around Frieze London, emerging artist Abbas Zahedi’s commission for the Frieze Artist Award addresses questions of access, power and shared purpose, by broadcasting new voices through structures inspired by the design of bus stops. It’s a waiting game, as Eva Wilson explains.

Waiting is killing time. Time spent waiting is wasted. What sadder space than a waiting room? Wait long enough and you encounter Franz Kafka. Wait long enough and you come apart, to the extent that you forget what you are waiting for. Waiting is inertia of the most passive kind when the end of the wait is ensured by an external authority: the train arriving at the station; the doctor seeing the patient; the laws of thermodynamics allowing the kettle to come to the boil.

But waiting can also be a shared experience. In Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960), Jean-Paul Sartre describes the urban bus stop as a site of specifically metropolitan isolation: united in mutual disregard of one another, waiting commuters inhabit a ‘plurality of separations’, a dissociative reality so static it’s only semi-consciously experienced. Writer Arsalan Isa, whose concept is paraphrased here (Dissociative Realism, 2022), describes its effect as a lens through which (self-)perception under the traumatic conditions of capitalism may come to pass. Abbas Zahedi points out that Sartre also identifies a utopian potential in that public space — one where, in Sartre’s words, ‘practical and theoretical participation in common being’ might be activated and achieved. Everyone may be on their own journey, but we are all waiting for the same bus. There is relational potential here.

bbas Zahedi, Brick Lane Foundation, 2021. Installation view in the Old Brick Lane Police Station as part of the ‘Nocturnal Creatures’ festival. Courtesy: Whitechapel Gallery.
Abbas Zahedi, Brick Lane Foundation, 2021, installation view in the Old Brick Lane Police Station as part of the ‘Nocturnal Creatures’ festival. Courtesy: Whitechapel Gallery

The structures that comprise Zahedi’s 2022 Frieze Artist Award commission, Waiting With {Sonic Support} – the larger one installed outdoors in the Regent’s Park, a smaller one inside Frieze London – are both modelled after Central Asian bus stops of the Soviet era. (This architecture remains in place today, but is forever suspended in anticipation of the arrival of a utopian future, a dream of a civic transportation system as socialist rapture.) Zahedi describes the twinned structures, inside and outside, as hybrids: a mixture between a bus stop and a bandstand, although obviously they are neither. The domed structure outdoors in the Park hosts an open mic, collecting sonic offerings, which will be transmitted both to the sibling structure within the fair, as well as into the fleet of shuttle cars provided to VIPs by Frieze. Riding on the wavelengths accompanying the fair’s ‘most valued’ visitors, the individual voices of the contributors to the open mic (who are recruited by open call) both originate from and arrive at unforeseen places: delivering an address in both senses of the word.

As a kind of bandstand, the structures function as a tool for temporary synchronization, where time and space can be inhabited communally. Here, now. Here, now, waiting/activating. ‘Actiwaiting.’ Waiting in the round, waiting in the gerund. A gerund derives from a verb but acts like a noun. It is both an action and a thing, a bit like frozen water. With a gerund, the specific nature of its verb-like attributes of directed, finite activity is suspended into an extended or sustained period of presence, a state of being: looking, talking, feeling, waiting. Waiting With: a gerund and a preposition, a grammatical adhesive between unknown components, a blind hem stitch.

Performance of Rose and STEMM for An Alternative Map of the Universe, ICF x Guest Projects, 2019. Photo: Katarzyna Perlak. Courtesy of International Curators Forum.
Abbas Zahedi, Performance of Rose and STEMM, 2019. Courtesy: International Curators Forum. Photo: Katarzyna Perlak

Good things come to those who wait. The participants of the open mic will receive VIP tickets for themselves and a guest to enter Frieze London, as an acknowledgement of their contribution. In this way, Waiting With {Sonic Support} actively addresses the questions of thresholds and accessibility: marking the boundaries and exclusivity of the fair on one hand, and making this threshold more porous and permeable on the other. If in some way Zahedi gratifies a desire to be on the ‘inside’ of this complex symbol of the art world, the work also forces the listener – whether seated on the circular ‘bus stop’ bench in the fair or on the back seat of a VIP car – to tune into the voices from the supposed ‘outside’. Thus, a large speculative framework infiltrates the host body: a support structure, a shelter, ‘a space of immanence’, as Zahedi formulates it, superimposed on the art fair’s premise.

In the spirit of pirate radio, Waiting With {Sonic Support} is a prototype that can be reproduced and hosted elsewhere and anywhere. It can be used for multiple purposes: group therapy, group crits, performances, monologues, dialogues, silences, diatribes. It provides a space for people to come out of isolation and to sit in the round or in the gerund, embarking on a journey while remaining in place. Along with the adjacent art fair, it is no more and no less than an interface: ‘a place around which to organise a system of relatedness that gives us space to think through what it is, this thing that we’re doing’, in Zahedi’s words. ‘It brings us to a point where we can almost make demands of the space.’ Afforded a certain amount of time and space, Zahedi hopes, we can ask: ‘Where do we get from here? What do we want from that?’

Waiting With {Sonic Support} (2022), Abbas Zahedi’s commission for the Frieze Artist Award, is on view throughout the week at Frieze London P2 and outside the fair entrance.

Main image: Abbas Zahedi, Brick Lane Foundation, 2021, installation view in the Old Brick Lane Police Station as part of the ‘Nocturnal Creatures’ festival. Courtesy: Whitechapel Gallery

Eva Wilson is a writer and editor. She lives in London, UK.

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