Major Eastern Biennial Reflects Crisis,
La Feulha de Sao Paulo,
April 4th 2009
Ambitious Project to Build Branches of the Louvre & Guggenheim Under Threat
The Sharjah Biennial 9 continues until May in the United Arab Emirates with the
Portuguese Isabel Carlos as its curator; this edition's artists explore silence
Five times a day, the calls to prayer break the silence of Sharjah, an
emirate neighboring Dubai's iron and glass towers. These calls are as an
integral a part of life in Sharjah as the sounds of the port. In the patio of a
construction on the edge of the Persian Gulf, forty-four loudspeakers bellow for
silence and this accompanies a gesture in which the residents raise their index
fingers to their lips. The artistic contribution by Brazilian artists Valeska
Soares and O Grivo to the Sharjah Biennial 9 emanates in part from these calls
to prayer. Much of the meaning here is not conveyed explicitly but is rather
implied, says the Portuguese curator of the display Isabel Carlos, 47. Here,
you are attentive to the sound.
In a city where children still play ball in the streets and the mosques at
certain designated times still accumulate a plethora of shoes in the doors, the
Sharjah Biennial 9, the Middle East's most important contemporary art event, has
been scheduled to coincide with Art Dubai. In the midst of a construction boom
that has only abated with the global recession, the United Arab Emirates decided
to build in the Saadiyat Island's Cultural District of Abu Dhabi branches of the
Louvre and the Guggenheim, a performing arts center designed by Zaha Hadid, a
maritime museum with concept design by Tadao Ando, and a number of arts
pavilions. However, the global credit crisis has compromised the viability of
some of these ambitious projects and mitigated the bustling ambience of the construction boom.
Disconcerted by an emphasis on certainty, the artists who have contributed to the Sharjah Biennial 9 have created works that explore ambiguity. For example, Sheela Gowda, an Indian artist who is among the most recognized in the international arena, built a maze of iron pipes in which each edge emits phrases and verses in unknown, almost inaudibly low languages. This is tantamount to a silent cry against the pageantry that is so dear to the princes and sultans. In a room that is almost hidden from the public and is ensconced in a subterranean level of the museum, another voiceless riot emerges in the creation of the British artist David Spriggs. Mr. Spriggs evokes a huge cyclone through a work that incorporates one hundred sixty layers of acrylic. He hopes to convey a sense of how many facets in the world have a tremendous potential for both beauty and destruction.
The Polish artist Agnes Janich created a labyrinth in which dogs' barking guides the visitors to projections of dogs displaying their teeth. This labyrinth is an allusion to the ways in which animals were treated better than the victims of the Holocaust held in Auschwitz. Moreover, it evokes the extent to which an almost complete state control of media and culture stifles humanity's potential. This exhibit challenges people to open their eyes to everything that is occurring around them. Another powerful manifestation of this effort is evident in the creation of the Italian artist Lara Favaretto: a cube composed of white confetti that looks perfect from a distance but is actually on the verge of collapsing if you look at it more closely.