Of robot arms and installations
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.