Has the popularity of Video Art in the Middle East been enhanced by this year’s pandemic and acceleration into the digital sphere? Rebecca Anne Proctor speaks with several curators and specialists on what makes Video Art in the region more appealing than ever
Rebecca Anne Proctor: As the curator of the successful Durational Portrait: A Brief Overview of Video Art in Saudi Arabia, which was staged at Jeddah’s Athr Gallery earlier this year, how do you feel that the genre of video art has changed and transformed due to the pandemic this year? Do you feel more artists are working in video given our now heightened digital world?
Tara Aldughaither: I don’t believe the pandemic has shifted artists’ medium of choice although it has resulted in an introspection or change of rhythm in personal and individual practices. Some artists who are accustomed to using the camera as a medium have found new ways to heighten the effect with video; like Yazan Khalili’s recent work Medusa. As a conceptual framework Video Art is not yet defined, similar to the notion of Islamic Architecture; it is a playing field that innately encompasses so many different aspects of artmaking and is still shifting with the transformations of our age of communication.
RAP: What then is the relevance of Video Art to the Middle East art scene in the age of Corona?
TA: When it comes to cultural and artistic practice in Arab regions, Video Art has marked itself as a primary medium through which artists are able to express themselves. Historically this is most evident in times of conflict or tension, such as severe lack of access to civic and/or physical space. Video Art was considered underground in the Arab world. Virtuality in times of our current global crisis has heightened our dependency on this medium to a degree that expands our use of the medium to include all types of artistic, institutional and curatorial practices. Although ironic, the ephemeral has become the reality. My prediction is that this majorly affects what was formerly known as an underground art scene. It’s an interesting time to observe the transformation of art and its infrastructure.
RAP: Rahul Gudipudi, you’re the Exhibitions Curator at Jameel Arts Center and also the lead on the opening show for Hayy:Arts, the Art Jameel-run exhibitions space within Hayy:Creative Hub in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. What are your thoughts on the increased circulation of video art this year?
RG: I’ve been thinking about the medium of capture and circulation. I think technology has played an important role in artists adapting to video, and filmmaking has become democratised with a higher quality of production now more accessible, thus impacting a rise in both the use of video and film in artists’ as well as filmmakers’ practices. In contrast to this, where experimental image-making and video art in the past still had a certain relationship with craft knowledge in terms of material, the ubiquitous presence of social media, video platforms and mobiles as documentation tools encouraged a rise in crowd-sourced digital archives, with video and cg material for artists to engage and work with—take for example, the works of Lara Baladi, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, and Nabla Yahya.
RAP: What about the use of smartphones in video art?
RG: Exactly. Artists have also started to use their phones as primary tools of production and to consider digital spaces and communities as primary sites for circulation. I’m thinking of more recent works like those of Meriam Benani or Farah Al Qassimi that emerged during the pandemic. The pandemic also caused a rise in the number of digital platforms with an increased circulation of video art, made primarily for online viewing, but it also became easier for exhibitions and festivals to consider video work (with shipping restrictions coming into place and shipping costs turning prohibitive). We also saw the emergence of programmes like Art Jameel Commissions: Digital and TBA21 that specifically commissioned for online platforms. Another trajectory is the rise in performative elements being incorporated within art projects that lend themselves to generate video art— I am thinking of Saudi artists Reem Al Nasser, Marwa Al Mugait, Sarah Brahim and Abdullah Al Othman. An early example of this is the use of the video camera in performance by Hassan Sharif.
RAP: Nora Razian, you are the Head of Exhibitions at Art Jameel and curator of the upcoming exhibition Hiwa K: Do you remember what you are burning? What are your thoughts on the way in which video artworks are displayed?
NR: In line with film and video practices globally, there is now more concern around producing video installations, rather than thinking about it as a flat medium. This means incorporating more sculptural or spatial elements to the work as Larissa Sansour did at the Venice Biennale, including sculpture with video in the work’s presentation. Also, overall, the arts are now better funded in the Middle East than they were 10-15 years ago, so more artists are experimenting materially, whereas previously video dominated artistic scenes due to constraints on funding, materials and abilities to circulate art easily.
RAP: Clearly, there’s been a swift rise in the popularity of Video Art as a genre but is there a particularly dominant demographic or age group that is keen on the medium? Dawn Ross, who is Head of Collections at Art Jameel as well as curator of the current ground floor shows including Larissa Sansour and Lawrence Abu Hamdan, both of which include video works, what are your thoughts?
DR: As an organisation that collects contemporary work, including sound, video, film and audio-visual, we’ve noticed more and more younger artists using film as a medium in their work or using film to complement other media and ways of making within their practices, especially in Saudi Arabia. In part in response to this, we are aiming to build a library of films by Saudi artists, with the aim of supporting artists working with this medium, that can complement and add research capability to Hayy:Cinema, which launches in autumn 2021, in Jeddah.
RAP: Have you also seen an increase in Video Art and film during the pandemic?
DR: Yes, through the pandemic, we’ve seen increased access to films online. Film festivals have gone digital while artists are also re-thinking how they show films. Pre-pandemic, the only access to see some films was in person but now artists are showing films online. Compared to other mediums, film is easier to experience online, although it shouldn’t replace the physicality and experience of seeing a film in person.