Sharjah Biennial: Making way for new stories

There is a set of repeating images, voices and beliefs that clogs our space today but one can shun those and demand alternate points of view. At the 14th edition of Sharjah Biennial, artists from across the world raise these pertinent questions

March 14, 2019 05:38 pm | Updated March 19, 2019 04:12 pm IST

Imperfect Isometry

Imperfect Isometry

What happens when you find yourself in an enclosed space with walls that reflect sound? The sound comes back. It remains there for it can't escape out. With dominant and repeating images, voices, thoughts and beliefs echoing our lives and times, Echo Chamber is an often heard phrase today. Over 80 artists from around the world probe this subject at the 14th edition of Sharjah Biennial, which is titled, "Leaving the Echo Chamber".

Three major exhibitions featuring large-scale public installations, performances and films, curated by Zoe Butt, Omar Kholeif and Claire Tancons, are central to the ongoing Biennial.

While ‘Journey Beyond the Arrow’ curated by Zoe Butt harps on the necessity of exchange and diversity across the globe and throughout human history, ‘Making New Time’ by Omar Kholeif weaves in a narrative around technological culture, whereas Claire Tancons' ‘Look for me all around you’ is a response to migration, displacement and digitalisation.

Omar Kholeif

Omar Kholeif

“The largest narrative that comes out of this chapter is the continuing evolution of algorithmic and computational culture. However the artists do not deal with this in a literal way,” explains writer-curator-artist Kholeif in response to a question sent over email. The young curator resigned from the post of Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, last year, to focus on Sharjah and the V-A-C Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale coming up in a few months.

Kholeif points out Pamela Rosenkranz’s algorithmically powered snake, titled ‘Healer’ displayed at the centre of Bait Al Serkal, a 150 year-old structure that serves as one of the venues of SB. “The inspiration for this piece was thinking about the field of robotics, referencing snakebots, whose capabilities vary in size and range. Some are used for surgical means; while others go on search and rescue missions, some even conduct scientific research. But its locomotion resembles a real snake, as such the piece becomes about nature versus technology, the blurring of the real and the computational...I suppose my narrative is more optimistic than most about these technologies, i.e. how can we find creative potential to open up new ways of seeing through these technologies. Overall, however, Making New Time, is about much more than technology. It’s about reconvening and discussing history and its sediments in an era where we have become so accelerated that we seem to have forgotten. These reflections are made evident in the works of Marwa Arsanios, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Shezad Dawood, Lubaina Himid and so many others,” emphasises Kholeif.

Back home too, we have a lot of artists who use technology to create their work. Delhi-based artist Rohini Devasher, is one such artist who has often worked with video feedback. Her works, in fact, lie at the intersection of science and art. In ‘Journey Beyond the Arrow’, Devasher is exhibiting Spheres, a video projection on metallic paint, pan pastel, dry pastel, acrylic, charcoal, pencil, colour pencil on wall.

Rohini Devasher

Rohini Devasher

“Spheres is a work in three parts. In the first we see a crater, which stands as a sentinel of past upheaval; we see mist, cloud and fog, a distant horizon, an atmosphere. And we see a cylindrical sea, rising overhead. An artificial sun or suns simulate a daylight cycle, illuminating and obscuring the landscape by turns. Light becomes the medium through which video and drawing come together and gradually reveal distinct topographies, ‘strange terrains’; propositions, both geographic and metaphoric, of our deeply inter-connected relationship to the planet. With this work, I am interested in juxtaposing these ideas of the Earth with those of science fiction author Arthur C. Clark, specifically his 1973 book, Rendezvous with Rama in which an unidentified object enters our solar system,” writes Rohini from Sharjah.

In the crowded scene of international bienniales, SB has done well for itself. During every outing, the crème de la crème of the art world descends upon this port city to view newly commissioned art works, installations, art projects, displayed all over the city and a few off-site venues too like Kalba and Hamriyah. “It is important to us that, while we continue to grow on a regional and international scale with each edition, we remain anchored to our local community,” expresses Hoor Al Qasimi, Director, Sharjah Art Foundation.

At a time when our lives are fraught with competing information and fluctuating histories, Hoor feels, it raises important questions about the trajectory of contemporary art as well as the conditions in which it is made. “The three curators bring incredibly different perspectives to these questions and together represent the complexity of challenges faced by today’s artists and society as a whole. The aim of Sharjah Biennial 14 is to deepen the context of these questions through thought-provoking and often experiential works of art.”

Claire Tancons

Claire Tancons

Suchitra Mattai’s commissioned installation, “Imperfect Isometry” for Claire’s exhibition ‘Look for Me All Around You’ is one of the highlights of SB. The Denver-based Guyanese artist delves into her diasporic roots to create a three-part installation.

"The process of making this work was indeed very cathartic for me as it allowed me to connect with South Asians across the globe and over time. Through the work I hope to convey some universal experiences of diasporic communities," says Suchitra about her work.

(Sharjah Biennale is on till June 10)

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