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Aria Dean: Abattoir
Institute of Contemporary Arts
Metal abattoir doors closed in front of a darkened screening room showing a single hanging screen

Aria Dean, Abattoir, U.S.A.!, 2023, single-channel video, sound, colour, 10 min. 50 sec., courtesy the artist, Greene Naftali, New York and Château Shatto, Los Angeles
Aria Dean: Abattoir, is the New York-based interdisciplinary artist’s first exhibition in the UK. The presentation includes two artworks related to the artist’s investigation of the foundational relationship between death and modernity on conceptual and material levels.

The ICA’s main gallery features Abattoir, U.S.A.!, an immersive film installation with 8-channel sound. Commissioned by the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago where it was presented in 2023, the film traverses the interior of an empty slaughterhouse. The film was rendered using the 3D computer graphics tool, Unreal Engine, and 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. In the US context, the way an industrialised slaughterhouse establishes and perpetuates a particular relationship between human, animal, and machine resonated with the structrualised violence against Black Americans. Presented in the UK at the start of 2024, Dean recognised the capacity of the analogy to accommodate broader architectures of modernity – colonialism, industrialisation, fascism – and has created a new sculptural installation for the London context.

Abattoir, U.S.A.! addresses its subject in a seemingly straightforward way: it is a short survey of the corridors and chambers of an imagined slaughterhouse. Death, that quintessential candidate for symbolism in art, is here approached materially, via the 19th, 20th, and 21st century architectures of a killing maze. The film addresses intersections of 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; on the other hand, structural film, which prioritises the processes and materials of filmmaking over narrative content. The secondary gallery contains Vitrine*, an installation of four large vitrines and an accompanying wall text by the artist. The vitrines are empty save for a single word marked on their red velvet lining with a branding iron. The brand, a tag of ownership usually burned into living flesh, emphasises the palpable lack of a body. As with the film installation, the implication of violence is through the structural elements at hand.

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. Conceptually this 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. Against a contemporary backdrop of systemic violence and subjugation, the subject of Dean’s exhibition looms large. 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.



Online exhibition guide

Large print guide
Sensory map


From the shop


Abattoir, U.S.A.! was commissioned by the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, where it was curated by Myriam Ben Salah with Karsten Lund and Michael Harrison and presented in February 2023 and travelled to The Power Plant, Toronto where it is on view through to 24 March 2024. The film was co-produced with The Vega Foundation.

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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04:00 pm
Tue, 05 Mar 2024
Lower Gallery
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Thursday 8 Feb – Sunday 5 May 2024

Tue to Thu, 4 – 9pm
Fri to Sun, 12 – 9pm

Tickets £5, valid all day

Free for ICA Members, some concessions, and on Tuesdays

Book online, by phone 020 7930 3647 or email sales@ica.art


Event programme

Saturday 9 Mar 2024, 4.30 pm
Site and Simulation curated by Aria Dean
Programme of short films that explore the entanglement of sites and their simulations. Introduction and Q&A following the screening with Aria Dean via video conference.


Past programme

 Wednesday 7 Feb
Exhibition Preview
Join us for the opening night of the show.

Friday 9 Feb
Artist Talk
Artist and writer Aria Dean discusses her recent work and the thinking behind her current exhibition at the ICA.



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An empty glass vitrine with red velvet. There is a logo that reads 'vitrine*'
A yellow cloud of smoke disperses on a black background, in a darkened room