The Sharjah Biennial concludes its 13th edition in Beirut with two programmes that bravely tackle the issues of today.
Art Radar highlights some outstanding exhibition and participatory projects within the two special programmes.
Organised with Ashkal Alwan – the Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts, the concluding programme of the 13th Sharjah Biennial presents the off-site projects “Upon a Shifting Plate” (14-15 October 2017) and “Act II” (6-22 October 2017). This final iteration is part of the Sharjah Biennial 13: Tamawuj, which unfolded in five ‘installments’ from October 2016 until October 2017. The year-long programme featured off-site projects in Dakar, Istanbul, Ramallah and Beirut. Meant as a platform to support contemporary artistic practices from the Middle East, the Sharjah Biennial has been instrumental in presenting art from the region to an international audience, often commissioning and producing large-scale public installations, performances and films.
Upon a Shifting Plate
Investigating why we eat and the way we eat, “Upon a Shifting Plate” features a weekend of performances, workshops, walks, talks and cooking sessions. Looking at culinary practices and their heritage, the off-site project brings together artists and collective groups such as Maya Abu Al-Hayat, Wael Lazkani, Candice Lin, Sandra Teitge, SPURSE and Sahar Mandour, amongst others. New commissions by Wael Lazkani, Candice Lin, Sandra Teitge and SPURSE will also be presented.
Two highlights to see during the exhibition include A Trashy Tale (2017) by artists Sandra Teitge and Franziska Pierwoss. A dinner performance that confronts the issue of waste management in Mexico City brings to the fore many of the urban concerns that plague cities today. With a menu specially designed to highlight the matters surrounding eating in cities, it brings together a wide range of attendees from different backgrounds, inviting them to converse about these problems over dinner. Uncovering the consequences that surround waste management, demands of consumerism and even “waste crime”, the dinner performance was conceptualised as a platform to draw out the full story behind our cities’ relationship between eating, trash and the urban landscape today.
Another similar work that deals with eating and ecology is Eat Your Sidewalk Cookbook (2015), developed by the collective SPURSE, a creative design consultancy that focuses on social, ecological and ethical transformation. Part recipe book and part investigative documentary writing, the cookbook contains over a hundred recipes and explores ways of eating in an ecologically ethical way. Presented at “Upon a Shifting Plate”, the project tackles the question of how we can eat in a better way for both ourselves and the world.
A culinary, ecological, environmental, social and urban exploration, “Upon a Shifting Plate” is a project that brings together debates and discussions that surround our eating habits today.
Conceived as the final chapter of the Biennial, “Act II” launches on 16 October and presents two exhibitions curated by guest curators Hicham Khalidi and Reem Fadda, at the Beirut Art Centre and Sursock Museum. “Fruit of Sleep”, curated by Reem Fadda, and “An Unpredictable Expression of Human Potential”, curated by Hicham Khalidi, are also accompanied by public programmes including talks, film screenings and performances across the city.
Fadda’s “Fruit of Sleep” brings together artists such as Praneet Soi, Tamara Barrage, Khalil El Ghrib, Rami Farook and groups such as Forensic Architecture and Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries.
Outstanding works include Khalil el Ghrib’s work Pain (2012). Consisting of bread, mud and mould, the work presents the artist’s practice of working with everyday and organic materials, exploring the notions of degradation and decay through the passage of time. Pain presents a meditative piece consisting of a slowly-decaying piece of bread, whittled away over time by the mould growing on it. Seen in the context of Fadda’s exhibition, the work seems to highlight the almost-dormant, seemingly inactive qualities of the growth spreading across the work, highlighting the contrast between appeared inactivity and the flourishing development of fungus.
Another project that deserves recognition is that of Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti, entitled Mujawara/ The Tree School (2014-ongoing). Hilal and Petti, both of whom are architects, artists and educators, co-founded Campus in Camps. Together with the Brazilian art collective Grupo Contrafilé, the duo developed The Tree School, a project aimed at bridging the two regions of the Middle East and South America. Believing that the two geographical regions had much in common, including experiences of revolt, social justice issues and inequality, Hilal and Petti developed a pedagogical programme aimed at knowledge-sharing.
Drawing insightful parallels between the spaces of the Brazilian quilombos (spaces of refuge and community originally established by escaped enslaved Africans and Afro-descendants), and Palestinian refugee camps, The Tree School became an experimental educational programme, based on fieldwork done in Southern Bahia. First presented at the 21st Biennial of São Paulo, The Tree School is directed by Hilal and Petti, and poses as an interesting educational intervention into approaching some of the most pertinent social and political issues faced by the world today.
Hicham Khalidi’s “An Unpredictable Expression of Human Potential”, on the other hand, responds to the current moment of disenfranchisment, disillusionment and frustration that pervades the lives of the younger generation all over the world. Understanding their anger as a product of a multitude of inherited problems that are perceived as imposed by previous generations of mismanagement and lack of ethics, the exhibition acts as a way to understand the potential of this particular generation to overturn the current status quo across political, social and economic realms. The works on show in this exhibition aim to express what they see as the potential of this current generation to reach their goals of changing and shaping the world as they see fit, asking if there is any real capacity for change within structures of power already long established.
Including artists such as Jesse Darling, Koropa, Randa Maroufi and Laura Henmo amongst others, the exhibition features works such as Maroufi’s Le Park (2015). Previously screened at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the short film is a glance into the world of the urban youth in Casablanca. Examining the site of an abandoned amusement park, Maroufi presents her findings in the form of a series of almost snapshot-like moments, revealing relationships and ties between the youth, the space of the park itself, their identity and smartphone technology that is shaping their lives.
Another work is CJ Clarke and Christopher Ian Smith’s Magic Party Place (2016). Part of a wider photographic series, the work captures scenes and images of “Brexit Britain”. The worls examine the mood of the nation as it struggles through monumental changes in the past decade, particularly the issues of economic uncertainty, immigrant pressures, and political instability coupled with growing distrust in national institutions. Shot in Basildon, a town statistically close to the national average, the photographs are a means of exploring the state of the nation.
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