An adventure into art in a digital time going online has been a trend for some time now, but it has never been as relevant and important as it has become during the covid-19 pandemic. Simply put, it has developed into a tool to connect the world virtually in order to continue business, with the aim of replacing the physical presence. In the art world, however, it has left many people perplexed as to how to continue having a ‘normal’ relationship with others through a screen. The challenge becomes even greater when it comes to experiencing artworks, particularly those that were not originally conceived to be experienced digitally. Can the representation of an image ever recreate or reflect the experience that would usually take place in a physical encounter? SELECTIONS set off on a quest to find out. We invited 10 guests to describe one artwork of their choice, first in an objective way, but then more subjectively and contextually. The results are as unique as our participants and form this issue’s experimental catalogue.
Dyala Nusseibeh describes
Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni
Haerizadeh and Hesam
Reem Park, 2019 – 2020
Acrylic on canvas, 318 x 151 cm.
Courtesy of the artists and Gallery
Isabelle van den Eynde
The first time I saw their work, I think it was Rokni’s works, was way back in 2005. I was on a starter salary in my second job ever (in Dubai) and I went to Third Line gallery and saw these works and I really wanted one but at the time it cost an entire month’s salary. I couldn’t possibly afford one and so I didn’t get one, but I have always regretted that. The first year that I became the director of Abu Dhabi Art, I included five beautiful works in the entrance in the atrium. I thought that it was important that I had artists from the UAE up front and centre at the fair because people needed to see what artists here are doing to give it that sense of place.
I went to Reem Park and saw the original installation that this particular work is based on in progress and I loved that. I also had the chance to go to the artists’ house in Dubai. I actually brought my kids, and my youngest one loved running around the house; it is an incredible space. The whole house is an artwork with painted tables and walls, and I fell in love with a chair there that I ended up buying. There is always a sense of humour and playfulness. Their mother was living with them at the time and it was the sense of family and community that they had about them that I loved. I am a big fan of theirs. I also love the way they think together and then think separately as well.
In 2019 I invited them to be curators for Beyond: Emerging Artists and I have seen first-hand how they work with artists in that context, how generous they are, how much of a family spirit there is. Their practice is this multi-layering of different artist voices that are represented in the work. I don’t think they define themselves as collaborative with each other as a trio but as working alongside each other. With other artists they were generous: they helped them extend their practices in a really interesting way through open discussions, sharing ideas, experimenting, accepting that the world is a little bit upside down and not ordered, and this is very much their overall outlook. They are incredibly smart and huge assets to have in Dubai. We are so lucky that they made their home in the UAE, as they bring so much creativity and energy, and share so much with the younger generations of artists.
About a year ago, Abu Dhabi-based real estate developers Aldar approached us because they were working on Reem Park in Abu Dhabi and they wanted to commission art for the skate park. I loved that this was investing in art for a public space, rather than in a domestic or a museum context, which is rare. We approached the artists and initially they were really busy and weren’t sure if they had the time. Later it all came together, and they committed the time to do it. I hadn’t realised that when initially they said they didn’t know if they had the time it was because whenever they do anything like this, they really put everything into it. That is their way of approaching things.
So, they came to Reem Park and started painting. They weren’t using aerosol sprays or the kinds of things you normally associate with graffiti for a skate park. They were actually painting onto these columns and using durable paint, which again is really interesting: this decision that they are going to treat that as a valuable space. And then a little bit later someone came and graffitied near it and they approached it as this is art in a public space and that’s fine for them. After they also started working on this particular work, which is a painting, so it is derived directly from the skate park: it is exactly the same landscape in the world that they created there. It took them about six weeks of working in this skate park and they found that all these families would come and picnic around them. It even became a form of entertainment to watch the artists painting while the artists themselves were bringing these visitors into their work. So, what you see here are the people that they saw in the park as they were painting.
There is a beautiful relationship between the artists and the community in that sense because they directly painted everyday people around them into their work. It is their language: daily life and the people around them, and then there are other motifs and symbolism. They draw on certain influences from local majlises they have been to, from muaalakat, the hanging poems, from old Islamic manuscripts with these shamses shapes that have religious writing inside, they use some of those shapes then they put people inside. And then the triangles which you see in many of their works are quite symbolic. They are layered to create a sense of movement, but it is slightly disordered and that’s because they play around with this idea of how we think that the world flows in one direction on its steady march but actually from their perspective the world is messy and unruly and tumbles around. As artists in exile from Iran who’ve come to Dubai and made their place there, that’s a message that resonates with diversity and fluidity in identity and all of this is important to at least draw as an inspiration.
I think already before this year there had been the development of an online world for art through platforms such as Artsy. We have a new generation of people who support and love art and who are very comfortable online. If you want to reach them, you have to be able to speak that language and communicate with them online. It’s a different way of thinking to the old generation. In order to survive, the art world has to adapt, to show art globally, and reach a global audience. Next year we will still have a virtual element for Abu Dhabi Art even if we have a normal fair, so that those who are unable to attend the fair in real life wherever they are in the world will be able to see it online. That’s not to say anything can replace the real experience of being in front of an artwork and feeling that kind of materiality of the work, but we have enabled anyone who cannot come in real life to be able to visit online.
Dyala Nusseibeh has been the director of Abu Dhabi Art since 2016. Having graduated with a BA from Cambridge University and an MLitt (with Distinction) from Glasgow University, she spent a year at the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi followed by four years at the Saatchi Gallery in London as head of education. In this capacity she organised annual student shows, the education programme at the gallery and a travelling exhibition of works from the Saatchi collection to Ipswich in order to broaden outreach. In 2013, Nusseibeh became founding director of ArtInternational Istanbul, managed by leading fair organisers Angus Montgomery, a position she held until 2016 when she joined the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #54