Art Radar highlights 7 notable installations at the twelfth edition of the Sharjah Biennial.
Conceptual installations created by artists from Asia, Africa and the Middle East reflect the intertwining histories and visual cultures of these neighbouring regions.
The twelfth edition of the Sharjah Biennial opened on 5 March 2015, with exciting artworks installed in unusual art spaces, including The Flying Saucer building, which will be used in subsequent editions of the Biennial. Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, President of the Sharjah Biennial and the Sharjah Art Foundation, says in the press release:
The artists have transformed these spaces in ways that are magical, thought-provoking and sometimes playful. It is due to our emphasis on new productions and commissions that the Sharjah Biennial is known as a place where artists can experiment.
Art Radar highlights seven such notable installations created by artists from Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
1. The Incidental Insurgents (2012-15) – Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme
Created by Palestinian artist duo Basel Abbas (b. 1983, Nicosia, Cyprus) and Ruanne Abou-Rahme (b. 1983, Boston, United States), The Incidental Insurgents (2012-15) is an immersive mixed-media archive-plus-installation that combines video, sound, image and text. For the piece, the duo received the 2015 Sharjah Biennial Prize, an award recognising the recipient’s “contribution to the cultural landscape of Sharjah and the Middle East”.
The work consists of three parts: the first two, entitled The Part about the Bandits (Part 1) (2012) and Unforgiving Years (Part 2) (2014) respectively, were shown at the Istanbul Biennial in 2013 as well as the São Paulo and Gwangju Biennials last year, while the Sharjah Art Foundation partially commissioned the third. The artists named it When the fall of the dictionary leaves all words lying in the streets (Part 3) (2015).
All three parts are presented in the Biennale in screening rooms and an artist’s studio turned meeting area. In the works the duo combines fact and fiction, adventure and detective flair to create an “intricate network of histories, geographies and portrayals” that playfully interrogates the geopolitical urgency of our time. Frieze writes that the stories serve not so much to create linear narration, but to elucidate the artists’ inhabitation of
a moment of full radical potential and disillusionment, in continual search for a language for the moment.
2. Steel Rings (2013) – Rayyane Tabet
Created by Lebanese artist Rayyane Tabet (b. 1983, Ashqout, Lebanon), Steel Rings (2013) is a monumental installation that is “both formally elegant and conceptually strong”. Taking up an entire wing of the Sharjah Art Museum, the line of steel rings replicates those belonging to the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company’s 1213-kilometre-long, 78-centimetre-wide pipeline constructed in in the 1940s to transport oil from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon.
The pipeline was subsequently abandoned and its infrastructure left in the sand after socio-political transformations in the region in 1983. Today, it is the only physical object that crosses the borders of five countries in a region that is hyperconscious of its demarcated boundaries. The Biennial catalogue explains that each ring is engraved with its geographical coordinates,
thus tracing an arc of conflict in the terrain it covers, from the Six-Day War to the Syrian Civil War.
3. Cyprus (2015) – Rayyane Tabet
Tabet is also showing the work Cyprus (2015) in the Biennial. The piece features a wooden boat rented by the artist’s father 29 years ago in an attempt to flee Lebanon with his family. The journey lasted only thirty minutes before his father realised they would never be able to complete it. As the Biennial catalogue writes, in Tabet’s installation the 850-kilogram boat
hangs in precarious balance with its human-size anchor, underscoring its anthropomorphic qualities through both fragility and form.
4. Come to where the flavors are (2015) – Danh Vo
Vietnamese-born artist Danh Vo (b. 1975, Bà Rịa–Vung Tàu, Vietnam) is known for his full-scale reproductions of segments (250 in total) of the Statue of Liberty, a project entitled We The People (2010-ongoing). For the Sharjah Biennial the artist assembled a nine-metre-high section of the statue’s torch-bearing arm – the armpit, specifically – and combined it with empty cardboard boxes that were once used to ship Marlboro cigarettes and Lipton tea. The National observes that
the fragrance that emanates from the boxes is imagined as the alluring scent of Lady Liberty.
With a title borrowing from the well-known 1966 Marlboro slogan “Come to where the flavors are”, the conceptual piece playfully explores the circuits of capitalist commerce and consumption.
5. Karesansui (2015) – Taro Shinoda
The work of Taro Shinoda (b. 1964, Tokyo, Japan) explores the relationship between human beings and nature as well as between science and engineering. In particular, having been formally trained in traditional Japanese gardening from a young age, Shinoda has always been inspired by the ascetic philosophy of karesansui (‘dry landscape garden’):
During 2013-2014 Shinoda made a total of one hundred and eight landscape drawings in as many days to study the true essence of the garden, and these drawings are on view in the Sharjah Art Museum.
Shinoda’s first visit to Sharjah resulted in his first encounter with the desert. For the Biennial, he channelled this experience into his work, creating a sand garden based on the principles of karesansui. The resulting piece presents a slice of calm yet exotic serenity, with the engawa (‘shaded wooden platform’) offering a quiet space for contemplation as well as designating the ideal viewing point of the garden.
6. An Opaque Wind (2015) – Haegue Yang
An Opaque Wind (2015) is a large-scale freestanding steel installation that stretches across the courtyard of Bait Al Aboudi. Commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation and created by Korean artist Haegue Yang (b. 1971, Seoul, Korea), the work investigates the intertwined geo-economic histories of Korea and the Gulf region since the 1970s. The Biennial catalogue explains that starting from that time,
Korean labour and dreams of industrialisation lent thousands upon thousands of fathers, uncles and brothers to construct the oil infrastructure that drives today’s political economy.
Yang’s creation is monumental in size yet intricate and labyrinthine in detail, oscillating between transparency and opacity, openness and impenetrability. While employing ready-made objects such as fans, humidifiers, venetian blinds and clothing racks, among others, Yang customises them with found matter, handmade forms and sensory choreography.
7. Various Works and Interventions (2014–15) – Hassan Khan
In collaboration with Andeel, one of Egypt’s most well-known cartoonists, Egyptian artist Hassan Khan (b. 1975, London, United Kingdom) installed two prominent billboards atop The Flying Saucer building. The works reflect Khan’s fascination with humour as a form of social critique. The Biennial catalogue states that by occupying an 1970s building whose status is now in flux, Khan
examines everyday desires for happiness and the cold banality of the construct of capitalism.
In addition to the billboards, Khan remodelled the interior of The Flying Saucer with a series of interventions. For example, colour was used as a mediator between the internal and external experience of the building to explore the bridging of street and structure. Another work featured a glass sculpture combining a sleek and minimal column with a rough, maladroit shape – a composition referencing the contrast between “the aspirational forms we produce and our intrinsically irregular nature”.
Related Topics: Egyptian artists, Japanese artists, Korean artists, Lebanese artists, Palestinian artists, Vietnamese artists, installations, mixed media, video, sculpture, biennials, connecting Asia to itself, lists, events in Sharjah
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