Abbas Akhavan’s Untitled Garden is an imposing hedge wall of tall Emerald Green Cedar trees that confronts the viewer upon arrival in the ICA’s Beverly Reynolds Gallery. Cradled in their cedar planter boxes, the trees look soft and round, but they simultaneously stand iron and erect, firmly blocking the path. While the room around the hedge wall is large, the plants engulf the negative space; they are suffocating.
There is no doubt that the hedges in Untitled Garden are beautiful, even mysterious, feats of horticulture. Beyond this, however, there is a deeper meaning as intended by the artist. What, then, do Akhavan’s hedges mean - especially in the context of Richmond?
The use of hedges as highlighted by Akhavan is that of a separation of people. The perceived separation of civilized from uncivilized; the rich from the poor; the white from the other. It is these domesticated parts of nature which are used to create a physical barrier to entry, an affront.
Akhavan uses his artistic practice to comment on the environment in which he finds himself. In his first solo show in London at Delfina Foundation, Study for a Garden, Akhavan made use of the British suburban privacy screening, Leylandii hedging. It was a specific reference to the UK’s 2005 High Hedges Act, one which tackled “resolving differences with your neighbor” over high hedge disputes. This can be connected to the current current context in which his art is exhibited: take a drive down River Road, or through Windsor Farms, and you can easily see to what Akhavan is referencing. The yards are vast, the plants are intensely manicured, and the hedges are high. While there is no sign that states some are not welcome nor desired, the message is clear.