Syrian artist Diana Al-Hadid’s “Liquid City” at San Jose Museum of Art

Exploring the fluid nature of boundaries, Syrian-born artist Diana Al-Hadid encourages viewers to question what they see and trust.

Art Radar takes a closer look at Diana Al-Hadid’s creative practice and her fascination with the nature of materials.

Diana Al-Hadid, 'Nolli's Orders', 2012, steel, polymer gypsum, fiberglass, wood, foam, plaster, aluminum foil, pigment. Image courtesy the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York (c) Diana Al-Hadid. Photo credit: Dennis Harvey

Diana Al-Hadid, ‘Nolli’s Orders’, 2012, steel, polymer gypsum, fiberglass, wood, foam, plaster, aluminum foil, pigment. Image courtesy the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York. (c) Diana Al-Hadid. Photo credit: Dennis Harvey

From 24 February to 24 September 2017, the San Jose Museum of Art presents the exhibition “Liquid City” by Syrian-born artist Diana Al-Hadid. Based in the United States, Al-Hadid (b. 1981) develops sculptures, installations and drawings using various media. She explores boundaries, where things begin and end, and what these border mean for the people who cross them. Her migrant experience gives her a rich understanding to draw from in her exploration of what it means to belong to a place.

Al-Hadid’s exploration of this border space is interpreted through her architectural and sculptural approach. She develops a conversation between two-dimensional drawing and three-dimensional sculpture, reflecting the pull between real world contrasts such as the interior and the exterior or belonging and alienation.

Diana Al-Hadid, 'Mob Mentality', 2014, polymer gypsum, berglass, steel, plaster, gold leaf, and pigment. Private collection, New York. Image courtesy the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York.

Diana Al-Hadid, ‘Mob Mentality’, 2014, polymer gypsum, berglass, steel, plaster, gold leaf, and pigment. Private collection, New York. Image courtesy the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York.

Experimenting with materials

Although Al-Hadid started her creative development in drawing, she committed herself early on to sculpture while studying at university. She explained in an interview with Hammer Museum that

I loved experimenting with materials and I loved imagining places and worlds I could build-it felt more limitless…I (personally) felt I could think more creatively and had more fun experimenting with more tactile materials, as if I were a lab researcher.

This search for tactile materials has led to a fascination with architecture. Architecture, and how things change and layer upon one another, is a manifestation of how people relate to and build the space around them. Through looking at buildings, it is also possible to see the way bodies move in space, and how they are restrained. This fascination with the built environment has led her to study a number of architectural theories and traditions, including the historical influences from classical architecture and mythological characters.

Diana Al-Hadid. Image courtesy the artist and San Jose Museum of Art.

Diana Al-Hadid. Image courtesy the artist and San Jose Museum of Art.

Experimenting with form

Al-Hadid has an intuitive process that develops as the sculptural pieces take shape. She explains this creative process thus:

I do a lot of experiments with materials, there’s a lot of adding and subtracting and inching things over to the left then to the right and back to the left again. That’s maybe what the process looks like […]. It’s a giant jigsaw puzzle and it’s just a matter of having all the pieces in order.

Through this process,  she often brings in new elements and experiments that then become part of her practice. For example, in the piece the Water Thief (2010) she created a water clock drawing from a 13th-century invention. She followed the generic layout of a water clock while incorporating artistic invention. While the clock does not work – and is not intended to – the piece questions the reliance on time and critiques the arbitrary measurement of time.

Installation view of "Diana Al-Hadid: Liquid City" in San Jose Museum of Art's central skylight gallery. Image courtesy San Jose Museum of Art.

Installation view of “Diana Al-Hadid: Liquid City” in San Jose Museum of Art’s central skylight gallery. Image courtesy San Jose Museum of Art.

Through this process, Al-Hadid gains a fine-tuned understanding of the nature of materials, what structures are important and which ones can be manipulated. She fines the line between fluidity and solidity, a space where she often works in her creative practice, which incorporates an architectural structure behind her approach.

It has been observed that Al-Hadid’s work evokes the idea of the ruin. She has explained that she does not necessarily seek to portray ruins as such, but rather it is a result of her creative process. She elaborated on this with Interview Magazine:

I have a tendency to build in a spontaneous way. Messy and rough around the edges. I have the sense that it’s partly in my personality to make work that looks ruined.

It is perhaps her process, combined with an exploration of the limits of materials she works with, that lead to an aesthetic reminiscent of ruins.

Making us look closer

A key piece in the exhibition is the sculpture Nolli’s Orders (2012). The piece refers to Giambattista Nolli’s 1748 map of Rome, which is unique because it was the first map to outline the city’s public spaces. The buildings were visually divided into public and private access, showing at a glance the routes of the city.

Giambattista Nolli, 'Nuova pianta di Roma' (detail), 1748. Image courtesy the artist and San Jose Museum of Art.

Giambattista Nolli, ‘Nuova pianta di Roma’ (detail), 1748. Image courtesy the artist and San Jose Museum of Art.

In this piece, Al-Hadid draws from this map to explore not only the idea of public and private but also themes such as apparent void spaces, as well as transparency and opaqueness.

In an interview on the occasion of her exhibition at the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, Al-Hadid described how her work plays with the border between what is real and what is an illusion:

I also think that when that line between what’s illusion and what’s literal is confused, it makes us question what we see and trust and it makes us look closer, and I think that’s a valuable experience. I tend to get a bit bored when something is too far in either direction – so illusionistic, it’s all about the deceit and the trickery, or so literal it’s is depleted of mystery or magic.

Al-Hadid’s works beautifully balance this engagement between the literal and the mysterious, which she often explores. The exhibition demonstrates the strengths of Al-Hadid’s practice, including the incorporation of primary source materials into her pieces. By taking materials out of their original context, Al-Hadid is encouraging visitors to see these historical contexts within a new narrative.

Claire Wilson

1664

Related topics: Syrian artists, sculpture, museum shows, events in the USA

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