Sharjah Biennial 14

Open from 7 March – 10 June 2019, Sharjah Biennial 14 (SB14) will showcase three unique exhibitions, curated by Zoe Butt, Omar Kholeif and Claire Tancons, that explore the possibilities and purpose of producing art when news is fed by a monopoly of sources, history is increasingly fictionalised, when ideas of ‘society’ are invariably displaced and when borders and beliefs are dictated by cultural, social and political systems.”

SB14: Leaving the Echo Chamber:

In popular culture the “Echo Chamber” is a moniker for circuitous news media and its attendant feeds that are reinforced by a closed system, a network that is controlled and governed by private sources, governments and corporations. It is also a metaphor for the historical dominance of Capital and the cultural, social and political systems which dictate its access, production and distribution – this ‘capital’ wooing (and thus privileging) particular image, language, skill, history and geography. Most tangibly, the ‘Echo Chamber’ is the space wherein sound hits and reverberates, where memory and imagination echo across surface, across space, and across time.

‘Leaving the Echo Chamber’ does not propose a “how” to “leave” this context, but rather seeks to put into conversation a series of provocations on how one might re-negotiate the shape, form and function of this chamber, towards a multiplying of the echoes within, such vibration representative of the vast forms of human production — its rituals, beliefs and customs. The 14th Sharjah Biennial begs the viewer to consider: What does it mean to demand alternate images at a time when news saturation is spoon-fed to us by a monopoly of sources? How do we expand our narratives by acknowledging what has been hidden or removed? Moreover, how can we reflect on our own culturally located histories in an era whereby so many individuals have been forced to believe that they must surrender their own agency to the mainstream forces that exist and govern our world?

The echo chamber here could be construed as a modern day Faraday cage – an enclosure that covers conductive material, which prevents transmitting signals. Except here, artists are given the agency to tell stories that echo in a different way, thus creating new surfaces for a multiplicity of chambers revealing differing means of connecting, surviving and sustaining a collective humanity.

Curatorial Overview

Journey Beyond the Arrow
Curated by Zoe Butt

Journey Beyond the Arrow seeks to give deeper context to the movement of humanity and the tools that have enabled (or hindered) its survival. From spiritual ritual to cultural custom, from technological process to political rule of law, all such practices possess particular tool - object and action - that aids or abets mobility.

In this exhibition, artists reveal the generational impact of a range of physical and psychological ‘tools’, whose representation and meaning has shifted as a consequence of the journey from ‘departure’ to ‘arrival’; from ‘origin’ to ‘assimilation’. Their investigative record of the migration and transference of such tools necessitates a looking back in time, often beyond our lived memory, particularly to the perspectives of those previously spoken for, to those whose histories are fragmented hauntings resulting from colonial exploit, religious conflict or ideological extremism.
This proposal will also reveal how artists create specific social environments and communities as artistic projects, challenging social practices and beliefs assumed traditional, where specific tools are re-validated or initiated (at times controversially so), in relation to specific context or cause.

Journey Beyond the Arrow, focusing predominantly on artists from the globalizing souths, seeks to illuminate the necessary diversity in our chamber of humanity, where the movement of its echo – in all its relation of language, belief, ritual and cultural practice – has fundamentally forged strength in the human spirit, both egregious and empathetic in kind.

Making New Time
Curated by Omar Kholeif

Ours is in an age of constant speed; we barely have a moment to breathe. Time is the irreversible, indefinite and continued process of existing in the world. Yet technological, social, and political change has altered the means by which we relate to images, objects, and the concept of history itself. Spatial and temporal orders have shifted with the advent of a reality that moves like mercury in and out of our hands (our bloodstream) and into an abyss, a space of chaos – but also toward a new portal, a space of possibility: Reality and history have been augmented by the realm of the virtual. This process encourages us to look back with a critical eye at the history of material cultures as we think we know them. With all this in mind, how do we slow down and “experience” the experience? How do we make “new time”?

This exhibition is a provocation on how material culture can be re-imagined through the lens of a group of artists whose political agency, whose activism, and whose astute observations encourage us to extend beyond the limits of belief. We consider how economies have formed around technological culture, how narrative is created and deconstructed, and how these forces enable a reconstitution, or indeed a restitution of a history lost, or even unknown. Drifting in and out of hegemonies and entrenched structures of power; here, the sensorial, and the bodily intertwine becoming archaeological sediments in the landscape of Sharjah, imploring the viewer to consider their complicity in a world that is forever fleeting from our hands.

Look for Me All Around You
Curated by Claire Tancons

Look for Me All Around You is an open platform of migrant images and fugitive forms concerned with the alternatively dispossessive and repossessive disposition of diasporisation as an aporetic phenomenon of the contemporary.

Made manifest as after-forms and after-images in a state of emergence under conditions of performance, Look for Me All Around You operates as a metascore composed of multiple scores drawn from the many scales of Sharjah as city, emirate, and peninsular territory, straddling the lines of the cosmo-ecological, the techno-sensorial and the museo-imaginal in response to human and material displacement and digitalization to stand witness to the imperilment of the contemporary in the atomised space between ‘me’ and ‘you.’ Such a premise forms the basis from which to lay bare standards of display predicated upon the notion of exhibiting, rife with colonial underpinning, essentialist beginnings, and materialist ends—metaphors for contemporary operations of production and consumption whose spatial and temporal provisions of visibility are put under scrutiny through the miraculous arms of disidentification and misrecognition between piracy, clandestinity and fugitivity.

Par for the diasporic course, the migratory journey, the heretic pilgrimage, Look for Me All Around You takes as a point of departure Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr.’s (1887-1940) unrelenting address to “Look for me in the whirlwind or a storm, look for me all around you…” (1925). Sited in the consciousness of blackness as a state of political becoming and sighted through the retinal attunement to obscurity as enlightenment from the low, Look for Me All Around You brings the circumnavigation of global history to a circle full of concentric ripples at the confluence of the Gulfs of Mexico and Oman, the Atlantic and Indian Oceans thus functioning as an always-already othered time-space (dis)-continuum—a heterochronotopia. In revelling in ephemeral practices, performative gestures and provisional propositions in a call-and-response between the Americas and the Emirates, it reveals both the immiscibility of these regions’ respective historical flows and the constitutive qualities of their contemporary manifestations as a consequence of resource extraction and labor sourcing practices, their material aftermaths and displaced artefacts, coded languages and sonic disturbances.

Conceived as a contrapuntal proposal to the realm of the retinal embedded within hegemonic structures of looking, learning, and feeling, Look for Me All Around You is an address to the redistribution of the sensible and a call for the repossession of perception. In Look for Me All Around You, what is being ‘looked for’ is not what is being ‘looked at’—if only it could be seen. As Look for Me All Around You surges into a fugue to unsettle the chamber, it strives to release the echo.


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