Zahedi developed conversations around the Dagenham Idol, a Neolithic wooden human figure, to find common points of departure that connected with the young women’s lived experiences on Becontree Estate, and to symbolically continue the story of the Idol. In the video set designer, Michalis is seen sculpting a series of Dagenham Idol replicas, one for each theatre group member to embellish and inscribe with their own experiences and narratives.. Woven into the film is footage of artist and designer Madelon Vriesendorp’s extensive collection of domestic artworks and figurines, placing the newly formed Idols in a dynamic landscape of personal work and souvenirs.
Coinciding with the building of the Becontree Estate, the Dagenham Idol was discovered beneath the banks of the River Thames. This small, ancient wooden statue – now on permanent display at Valence House Museum – dates to the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age, the same period in which stone circles such as Stonehenge were built. Looking at maps of these ancient sites and aerial photographs of the Becontree Estate, artist Abbas Zahedi was drawn to their visual similarities, in particular, their circular forms. To Zahedi, these architectural configurations relate to primal processes of marking the landscape. Anthropologists believe circular constructions – memory palaces – enabled ancient cultures with an oral tradition to record and pass on important pieces of information, such as local knowledge, cultural values and intergenerational wisdom.
Inspired by the idea of reframing Becontree as a modern-day memory palace, Zahedi worked with Arc Theatre’s young women’s group Raised Voices to develop an ongoing dialogue around the Dagenham Idol to find common points of departure that connected with the young women’s lived experiences on the estate. The resulting conversations, anecdotes and statements act as contemporary myths, symbolically continuing the story of the Dagenham Idol.
To help visualise the process of collaboration Zahedi – working with Raised Voices and set-designer Michalis – has produced a new video work. In which we see Michalis sculpting a series of Dagenham Idol replicas, one for each theatre group member, who then embellish their personal idols, inscribing them with their own experiences and narratives. Instead of the ancient technique of mark making, Zahedi chose everyday household paint for this embellishment, thus imbuing these newly crafted idols with a substance of our time which is common to all.
Woven into the film is footage of artist and designer Madelon Vriesendorp’s extensive collection of domestic artworks and figurines. Audio from a video call between Vriesendrop amidst her home-based collection and Raised Voices accompany these visuals, situating the newly formed Dagenham Idols in the context of a dynamic landscape of personal works and souvenirs that spark a multiplicity of stories and narratives.
Key to this work and Zahedi’s wider practice is his determination to manifest the reflections and experiences of his collaborators. His video work combines cinematic elements with music video transitions and a kinetic style of visual storytelling that responds to cues from undirected oral dialogue and the urban soundscape. He carefully composes images and audio to generate a deliberate compositional rhythm that creates interconnections between the sound and the visual elements that are often out of sync. to convey multiple states of mind through a single channel of film. This approach relates to Zahedi’s interest in the phenomenology of online video sharing platforms and Raised Voice’s adoption of YouTube as their main ‘stage’ for showcasing their annual theatrical productions.Abbas Zahedi’s practice blends contemporary philosophy, poetics, and social dynamics with performance, sound, sculpture, and moving-image. With a focus on how personal and collective histories interweave, he makes connections with people involved in the particular situations upon which he focuses, to invite others into the conversation.
Zahedi produces layered interactive installations serving as emotional interventions that are elegiac and symbolic whilst also rooted in the real world. Zahedi composes his installations with a sensitivity to architecture and space that he further emphasises through the arrangement of deliberate bodily encounters, a process is also designed to bestow agency to the human experience and is seen by the artist as a form of hosting and care.
Commissioned by Create London, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund