Sadness, nostalgia, fear ( Sharjah Biennial, part 1 ),
30th March 2009
In a long, empty dark room, a screen at the right shows an Indian worker in
uniform, a masson, a car-shop worker, a painter, and others in line. Each of
them poses fixatedly, classically, in a dignified and monumental way. The
man, skin tanned, stares ahead, the noises around him are industrial. On the
facing wall, a screen displays an Indian family in a small village: women in
saris, children, the elderly - but no young people. They also, dignified and
formal, stare ahead, listening to the hushed sounds of the Indian countryside.
In mid-space, mid-air, their glances meet: Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen
had, during a residence in Sharjah, filmed these workers and gotten
permission from each to film their family in each of the small Indian villages
that they come from. The Indian workers come to the Emirates for 3 or 5
years, leave their passport with their employer and don't return home till the
end of their contract. In that room of the Sharjah Biennial ( running through
16th May ) float: love, nostalgia, bitterness, sadness, the space is inhabited.
Each time one enters the room of Rendezvous, there are always one or two
Indian workers, guards, roadsweeepers, waiters who are there, quiet,
seriously leaving the space for you, sorry sir. It's uncertain if Sheikh Sultan
ibn Mohammed al Qasimi, ruler of Sharjah and an arts-lover, appreciated
the installation on his inaugural visit, but, judging by the sheer number of
visitors, it was one of the strongest in the Biennial.
There's also a sense of sadness and wonder which envelop the visitor in the
big room with the installation of the Indian N.S.Harsha, Nations. There one
can find flags of all countries of the world ( except Israel, the conflict is
binding ) painted on textiles presented on Chinese sewing machines of the
pedal type, new, lacquered black and ornamented with golden letters,
identical to that of my grandmother. The threads connect each machine
with others, drawing routes and convergences. Undoubtedly, it's a major
sweatshop, a representation of the abuse of the proletariat, but I saw these,
first of all, coffins on trestles, coffins of those dead in honor but not under
their national flag, a sort of United Nations' monument to the dead, a nonnationalistic song of the heroic death.
Many installations in the Biennial are a reflection on the Emirates, their
culture, their economy, their architecture. Laurent Grasso, the only
representative of France, shows the flight of a falcon, a bird very sought for
in the region, equipped with a video camera as a surveillance agent - an
image shaking because of the movement of the wings. That country of a past
so fragile, so concealed, can it marry tradition to modernity, falconry and
electronics? An artist also ornamented a long corridor with a neon in Arabic:
The wider the vision, the narrower the statement. The Italian Alberto Duman
wanted to create a monument utilizing supermarket trolleys and a neverending tower, echoing Brancusi and ironically commenting on local issues, shopping and gigantism, he presented a maquette in the Biennale, Decoder. A young Emirati artist, Reem al Ghaith, shows a roadwork in construction, donned by a ribbon: Danger, do not enter, the earth in dirty, the electric cords cross, the bags of cement posed by cardboard constructions. Silhouettes of workers dot the picture, its geometricity bringing to mind the camera of Alferd H. and the drilling joiner recalls a handgun. A cardboard falcon is placed at the end of the road. Dubai, what’s left of the land is a grim testimony to the wild construction of a country, but is also a cobbled, fragile, ephemeral installation which the visitor can enter, engage in, get dirty almost, and this poor and interesting approach is the message it wants to convey.
Another thread connecting different oeuvres here is, I think, fear
and anxiety. In the case of a vague and oppressive labyrinth of
the young Polish artist Agnes Janich, we are faced literally eye to
eye with howling dogs. Man To Man evokes the Auschwitz dog
kennels. The corridor walls get closer and closer as if trying to
smother you, while, in year head, you hear your own heavy
breathing. An assumed foreplay to a meditation zikr ( In this is a sign for
those who reflect, of the Pakistanian Hamra Abbas ). In the case of the
Peruvian Jose Luis Martinat which, in an obsure room, presents tiny
lightboxes with slides of his portrait, dead, commissioned from the street
artists of Lima (The commissioned drawing series).
Maybe because it was the last station on my journey, the work most
terrifying for me was Have a pleasant stay by the Palestinian Samira Badran.
Have a pleasant stay is the inscription which one finds on the Israeli
checkpoints in Palestine, in corridors, revolving doors under surveillance
cameras, searches and controls. Here, two cylinders turning against one
another in space, in a manner evoking that of Jeppe Hein, here, we tremble
inside, try to avoid the anxiety in plain sight, by vertigo, but we are not in a
panopticon, we are prisoners, in deliverance and solitude. With a great
modesty of means, Samira Badan realized a symbolic oeuvre, minimal, but
Today, it's memory.