Return of the Art Night...
May 2nd, 2011, saw the long awaited return of DIFC’s ‘Art Nights @ Gate Village’. This initially started back in January 2010 with the promise of happening once a month, but it seems to have been on hiatus in 2011 until now. It’s a shame that it has taken until May to reintroduce Art Nights this year since the heat of summer is almost upon us, and the next evening of art will not be taking place until this subsides in autumn. To my knowledge the reintroduction of Art Nights at all this year is in chief thanks to efforts on the part of the galleries that reside in DIFC’s Gate Village rather than DIFC itself.
That aside, it proved to be a relaxing and enjoyable night with plenty of socialising to be had, and much more art to be seen. Keeping true to the promise of Art Nights to combine different arts forms, there were two wonderful musical performances from Gayathri Krishnan and Noush Like Sploosh in addition to all the galleries staying open late.
Gayathri and her supporting band put on a powerful set, her ethereal voice soaring over the crowds watching. The performance was a preview for Movement, a creative collaboration which will see over one hundred musicians and artists from the UAE working together to put on an immersive visual and musical extravaganza. This was followed by a jazzy performance from Noush Like Sploosh. Fronted by Noush, the band has a whimsical, artsy feel that is very evident in their first music video for the single ‘3 Act Circus’, which employed stop-motion animation.
Art Night was perhaps missing some live art elements, the only outdoor art being two large scale sculptures. One of these, the sculpture titled ‘The B in Brad’, belonged to American artist Brad Downey, who has recently completed a residency at Cuadro Fine Art Gallery. Downey is known for his playful interventions in the public arena, and his questioning and subversion of systems and signs present in everyday life. Past interventions include stuffing a telephone booth with brightly coloured balloons, installing a black hole in Berlin, and manipulating black police night sticks in sculptures that are very, shall we say ‘suggestive’, in both form and title…
The sculpture in DIFC, ‘The B in Brad’, lies blocking the walkway, a spindly fallen star constructed from various road signs, including a warning to watch out for camels. It is a good example of Downey’s oeuvre - signposts that form a part of our everyday existence in travelling from A to B, ordering our movements, are transformed into an obstruction. The signs have mutated into meaningless relics of a system that they are now causing to fail; but these works are inherently humourous rather than troubling, and the piece feels more like it is injecting some fun into these usually banal materials than critiquing the road system and all its signs.
Inside Cuadro there is more of Downey’s work to be found, with video pieces downstairs, and photography upstairs, including a few ‘before and after’ photos from his ongoing revolt against Big Brother. For years the artist has been systematically removing the CCTV cameras that observe and record our behaviour, and documenting this act himself in a kind of ‘spying on the spy’ scenario. Whether you see his actions as those of a vandal, or of a noble fighter for our right to privacy, the project is indicative of the thread of light hearted rebellion against the world of systems that runs throughout his artistic practice.
Alongside the exhibition of Downey’s work, which is entitled ‘We are Beginning’, there is Cuadro’s group show ‘Right Here, Right Now’, featuring six artists who, as the curatorial statement says, ‘share the experience of having a transnational identity’. The artists selected feel a little disparate as a group, tied together by fairly broad themes which could on some level apply to most artists, but a real highlight are Ali Taptik’s beautiful and haunting photographs, taken in his homeland of Turkey.
Taptik has a background in architecture, and a fascination for the urban environment, with all its juxtapositions of beauty and ugliness, closeness and alienation, is evident throughout the series of photographs on display in Cuadro. Buildings bleeding black grime and etched with the history of their existence seem more human and full of life than the people in his work, whose faces are often hidden from the camera. The scorched scene of a fire or an abandoned tray of used crockery has an extraordinary ability to evoke sympathy and a sense of loneliness.
The photography of Steve Sabella in ‘Beyond Euphoria’ at The Empty Quarter seems positively joyful after the gloom of Taptik, despite the fact that a lot of his past work has stemmed from a sense of exile, which would seem to relate it to Taptik’s photography. The weakness in this new solo exhibition of Sabella, whose private preview coincided with Art Night, is that the gallery has overcrowded their space with an unneccessary selection of several photographic series. A more astute decision would have been to show Sabella’s newest body of work ‘Beyond Euphoria’, made in 2011, and perhaps its immediate predecessor, ‘Euphoria’ (2010). Instead two more bodies of work have been included, ‘In Transition’ (2010) and ‘Cecile Elise Sabella’ from 2009, which in particular feels quite isolated from the other series in terms of aesthetic content.
The other photography on show draws from the natural world, splintering it and reweaving it together in fractal photomontages, which according to the essay accompanying the exhibition by London-based art historian Christa Paula, ‘emanate cathartic relief and a transcendence of the state of “mental exile”’. ‘Cecile Elise Sabella’ is much more understated in nature, a deeply personal and poignant project that reflects on Sabella’s relationship with his daughter and the initial language barriers they faced trying to communicate with one another when she was three years old.
Ayyam Gallery also chose to open their new show on Art Night, with a solo exhibition of Syrian artist Mouteea Murad, whose glowing abstractions provided a definite highlight of the night. It is interesting to see another solo show of an abstract painter, still in the fairly early stages of his painting career, following on from Ayyam Gallery’s recent exhibition of Samia Halaby, a painter who is now in her late career and an innovator of abstract painting in the Arab world. Though very different artists, there is that same spirit of experimentation and pushing boundaries in the work of both; Murad labels all his works with the word ‘trial’, suggesting that these canvases that we see which seem so expertly resolved, have in fact been the site of a rigourous process of testing and flux.
Poetry sometimes infiltrates these clinical titles, as with ‘Trial No. 41 - Light in a Damascene Night', which, when looking at the glittering shards of colour (courtesy of glossy paint) compressed at the upper corners by impenetrable black, immediately calls to mind thousands of twinkling city lights in Damascus below a deep night sky. In one of the most striking works, ‘Trial No. 39 – Cool Green’, Murad swipes through said Cool Green with tantalising glimpses of a tropical explosion, as if this soothing exterior is a blind through which we can peek at the colourful and dangerous world outside.
The closer you come to the surface of the paintings, the more their full complexity comes in to focus, as what, from a distance looks like a sleek, smooth surface, reveals itself to be a dense, multilayered and chaotic affair. These are the kinds of paintings that beg for close study in an attempt to uncover their making and the combination of techniques that took them from blank canvases to enigmatic objects with hidden depths.
Conceptually there is also a multi-layering, this time of art history with spirituality, of order with chaos. Murad is deeply engaged with Islamic art, which he draws upon and combines with lessons taken from abstract art movements from the 20th Century, elucidating ‘how the origins of international abstraction lie within the essential principles of Islamic Art’ (From the accompanying press release). Sometimes I feel like art history is a little like the theory that we are all only about seven people away from knowing everyone in the world, except that it is even more tightly formed.
I’ll conclude this look at the ‘Return of the Art Night’ (which sounds a little like a Hollywood horror flick), with the same way I concluded my actual experience of it - with The Farjam Collection’s charming cup cake decorating station inspired by the Farhad Moshiri cake paintings on show there. It’s always nice when a serious art space doesn’t take itself too seriously, and this activity was a perfect end to the night, leaving me with a delicious sprinkle covered souvenir which admittedly didn’t last very long as a token of remembrance.