Agnes Janich

Review 3

Of robot arms and installations


Oliver Good,

The National, UAE,

March 26h 2009



After just one week, the ninth Sharjah Biennial has already given art lovers

plenty to be happy about. Although the event's fine art exhibition runs until

May 16 in the emirate's many museums and galleries, the festival's film and

performance schedule concludes tonight, with the second night of Richard

III: An Arab Tragedy. Today is also the last chance to experience Call Cutta in a Box, which invites members of the public to sit alone in a room and engage in a conversation with someone over 2,000 miles away in the Indian city of Kolkata (hence, Call Cutta). The experience has been called deeply spiritual by some of those who have experienced it.



It is so powerful, I heard a lot of people went out crying, because it is so

intense. They called it one of the strongest human experiences, said

Mariam al Dabbagh, the spokeswoman for the biennial. The festival's artist

in residence program has already yielded some interesting results,

including a sound performance from the Lebanese artist Tarek Atoui.

Performing to a crowd of over 300 in the museum's courtyard, Atoui created

walls of noise using a laptop and a series of home-made pressure sensors that

translated his movements into noise.



My performance was very physical and very intense, it relied on body

movement to produce sound, said Atoui. The last week also included the

Biennial's March Meeting, a series of public discussions about art in the

Arab world, and the event's official opening by Dr Sheikh Sultan bin

Mohammed, the Ruler of Sharjah. The March Meeting included a joint

curator's workshop lecture which featured speakers from the Tate Museum,

the International Curators Forum and the Sharjah Biennial.



The film and performance program, Past of the Coming Days, awarded

prizes to its entrants last Thursday, with the jury's Grand Prize going to

Camp, a project which looked at dhows leaving Sharjah for Somalia and

offered a new way to think about business and global capital. The Biennial's

fine art program, Provisions of the Future, runs until May 16 at the

Sharjah Art Museum, the Sharjah Contemporary Arab Art Museum and a

handful of other locations across the city's arts area.



We are trying to break away from the thematic approach to exhibitions and

give the viewer a chance to ignore the boxes that curators usually put artists

into, said al Dabbagh. One of the sprawling exhibition's most

ambitious works is Man to Man by the Polish artist Agnes Janich.

Said to have given members of the Biennial's organizing

committee nightmares, the piece is a huge pitch-black labyrinth

scored with the sound of barking dogs and accompanied by wall

projections of close-up gnashing fangs and claws. This extremely

claustrophobic work is a comment about prisons and




Also causing a stir at the Sharjah Art Museum is 9 Volumes from the

Collected works of MK Ghandi by Simryn Gill, a collection of pulped paper-mache balls made from the writings of Mahatma Gandhi. Although the artist intended the work as a tribute to the Indian spiritual leader, some of the Biennial's attendees have called it disrespectful. Another noteworthy work can be seen, and heard, from the enclosed bridge which links the

exhibits main two museum locations. The public courtyard below, which has

been partially flooded by the Indian artist Sheela Gowda, is accompanied by

a sound that is somewhere between a drip and a submarine's sonar echo.

Emirati art is also represented at the Biennial by Reem al Ghaith's work

What's Left of Her Land. The piece, made from plastic, wooden boards and

loose tools and equipment, comments on the rampant rate of construction in

the UAE's cities. Also a nod to the Middle East's construction boom is Ka

(JCB) by the Palestinian artist Nida Sinnokrot. The piece's symmetrical pair

of life-size JCB arms at first seem to be giving a gallic shrug, but on later

inspection resemble the arm gestures of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.



With 72 works by 60 international artists, the exhibition takes several hours

to absorb. Running for another six weeks, it is likely to keep visitors smiling

for some time still.

© 2003 - 2018 Agnes Janich