Matt Ryder, Fujairah Rock formations - Plein Air - 12”x16” - Oil on linen. Courtesy of Matt Ryder.

In this issue, we go back to basics and review definitions of frequently (or infrequently) words in the art world while referencing art from the MENASA region.

IN THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES, YOU’LL DISCOVER AN ALPHABETICAL LIST OF ART-RELATED WORDS PAIRED WITH ARTWORKS THAT BEST ILLUSTRATE EACH WORD’S MEANING. ALL WORKS ARE BY MIDDLE EASTERN ARTISTS WHO HAVE LEFT AN INDELIBLE IMPRINT UPON THE INTERNATIONAL ART SCENE.

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ELECTRONIC MEDIA

Interchangeable with the terms digital art and computer art, electronic art is an art form that uses electronic equipment as its medium of choice. The celebration of new technologies by artists who advocate electronic inventions and innovations is a staple of electronic art. Electronic art is a highly experimental field, often created with equipment that the artists themselves are still getting to know or are trying to tweak to serve their own unique and specific artistic purposes. It is considered a sister form to conceptual art, although it mainly differs in the way that the machine itself is often as important as the concept.

Although she is mostly known for her paintings, Palestinian artist Samia Halaby purchased a Commodore Amiga 1000 in 1985 and taught herself a basic programming language to create an interactive interface, which she also fully designed herself, with which she could create moving digital images she calls her Kinetic Paintings. Halaby has since very minutely altered this piece of equipment, and yet it still runs with ease. This digital longevity shines a light on the magical quality of “retro” technology. Her acute understanding of the programme she created humanises what might be otherwise rigid or mechanical aspects of electronic art.

Samia Halaby, Pyramid, 2011. Acrylic on canvas, 216.5 x 432 x 4.5 cm. Courtesy of Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation.
Samia Halaby, Pyramid, 2011. Acrylic on canvas, 216.5 x 432 x 4.5 cm. Courtesy of Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation.

EN PLEIN AIR

A French expression that literally translates to “in the open air” or “in the great outdoors.” En Plein Air is a manner of painting outdoors that was popularised in France in the late 19th century. It is a celebration of natural light and an embracing of vastness. As a means to break from the confines of the studio and the harshness of artificial lighting, artists who paint out of doors have to be more conscious of time passing and the natural changes that occur over which they have no control.

En Plein Air art isn’t necessarily popular in the Arab World. There is, however, one artist worth noting who seems to put himself through considerable climatic strain to accomplish his majestic and detailed landscapes. British artist Matt Ryder has lived in the UAE for over 12 years and can be found painting desert and mountainous landscapes of the region, such as Jebel Jais Early Morning Light. The massive natural structures he depicts immediately invite the viewers to consider the circumstances in which he accomplished his oeuvre.

Matt Ryder, Wadi Shawka pools - Plein Air - 9” x 12” - Oil on linen. Courtesy of Matt Ryder
Matt Ryder, Wadi Shawka pools – Plein Air – 9” x 12” – Oil on linen. Courtesy of Matt Ryder
Matt Ryder, Fujairah Rock formations - Plein Air - 12”x16” - Oil on linen. Courtesy of Matt Ryder.
Matt Ryder, Fujairah Rock formations – Plein Air – 12”x16” – Oil on linen. Courtesy of Matt Ryder.

ENVIRONMENTAL ART

An artistic practice gaining traction with the assent of the present day’s eco-conscious movement that was triggered by the signs of planetary deterioration. As a whole, it relates to a creative interaction and transformation of nature in order to celebrate it.

Examples include Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem’s first live performance, Flora and Fauna, in which he contains himself in a large concealed plastic bag along with a tree planted in the city, as well as Jananne Al-Ani’s Shadow Sites II, a series of photos of architectural remains of desert settlements. The shadows drawn by these structures make them only apparent when the sun is at its lowest. This kind of phenomenon is particularity familiar to archaeological digs.

Flora and Fauna, 2007. Coriander Pigment Print on Photorag Paper with 4 Silk Screen Glazes H 148 x W 209 cm. Courtesy of Gharem Studio
Flora and Fauna, 2007. Coriander Pigment Print on Photorag Paper with 4 Silk Screen Glazes H 148 x W 209 cm. Courtesy of Gharem Studio
Flora and Fauna, 2007. Coriander Pigment Print on Photorag Paper with 4 Silk Screen Glazes H 148 x W 209 cm. Courtesy of Gharem Studio
Flora and Fauna, 2007. Coriander Pigment Print on Photorag Paper with 4 Silk Screen Glazes H 148 x W 209 cm. Courtesy of Gharem Studio

Saudi Arabia introduced the Conocarpus erectus tree, native to Australia, for reasons of landscaping and to increase oxygen levels in their balanced equation, seeing how it tolerates saline water. But did it work? What we need to keep in mind is that nature is the one that sets this balanced equation, and the intelligent elements are the work of nature itself. So the introduction of new elements is never beneficial. It might give the desired results but always fires back and disturbs the balance. The salt cedar did in fact prevent corrosion, but in turn it killed and eliminated the cottonwood trees and the willow trees. Conocarpus erectus stayed green year-round and increased levels of oxygen in the atmosphere, but in turn, killed all the surrounding plants and destroyed structures in pursuit of water. These trees then created an ecological threat to the balanced environment. The department of housing at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals issued a statement of no responsibility for the Cornocarpus erectus planted on its campus due to the vast damage it causes. The work provided was to show how introducing foreign elements into the ecosystem, although beneficial, is not vital to the cause. Using indigenous elements has the same effect and doesn’t, in turn, threaten the ecosystem.

EPHEMERA

Generally composed of memorabilia with short-term popularity that have or had a temporary purpose. Example: tickets, stubs, postcards etc. Some artists tend to use this material in a collage as their medium of choice. Ephemera inspire a sense of cultural kitsch. Examples include works by Iranian artist Afsoon, such as Shah and His Three Queens (2009).

An example of ephemeral material used to produce art
An example of ephemeral material used to produce art
An example of ephemeral material used to produce art
An example of ephemeral material used to produce art

EPISTOLARY

Narrative structure in which a story is told through a series of correspondences, either real or fabricated.
How the Arab Understood Visual Art is a correspondence that initially occurred without the purposes of public consumption. An angry rant of one friend to another, from artist Saloua Raouda Choucair to literary critic Musa Sulaiman, concerning the bout against colonialism and its intellectual by-product. Friends and contemporaries got a hold of this document and decided to circulate it amongst the Beirut cultural elite, deeming its content innovative and daring. It was soon to be published in journals and gained enough traction to be considered an alleged manifesto for modernist art. The letter is still cited as the source by which the author is considered the “first true abstract modern artist in Lebanon (and perhaps the world),” according to London’s Tate Modern.

The opener of an article that appeared in ARTMargins Volume 4, No. 1, reprinted courtesy of The MIT Press. Artwork: Saloua Raouda Choucair. Chores, 1949. Gouache on paper, 25 x 35.5 cm. Image courtesy of Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation.
The opener of an article that appeared in ARTMargins Volume 4, No. 1, reprinted courtesy of The MIT Press. Artwork: Saloua Raouda Choucair. Chores, 1949. Gouache on paper, 25 x 35.5 cm. Image courtesy of Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation.

A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS, ART GLOSSARY #52 PAGES 68-73.

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