Postponed from the original opening date of 21 March 2020 due to protective measures against the spread of COVID-19, Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) in Sharjah, UAE, opened the most ambitious exhibition in the Middle East to date exploring art in the age of the internet on 26 June 2020. Curated by SAF Director of Collections and Senior Curator Omar Kholeif, who also served as co-curator of Sharjah Biennial 14, Art in the Age of Anxiety brings together a diverse and global group of contemporary artists to explore the ways everyday devices, technologies and digital networks have altered our collective consciousness. The exhibition presents more than 60 artworks spanning sculpture, prints, video, virtual reality, robotics and algorithmic programs developed by more than 30 international artists and collectives including Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Cory Arcangel, Wafaa Bilal, Electronic Disturbance Theater, Cao Fei, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Joshua Nathanson, Trevor Paglen, Siebren Versteeg, United Visual Artists (UVA), Guan Xiao and YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES.
‘Art in the Age of Anxiety explores critical questions in contemporary art and society through the work of a diverse group of artists from around the world,’ said Hoor Al Qasimi, Director of Sharjah Art Foundation. ‘We are delighted to inaugurate Omar Kholeif’s tenure as Senior Curator and our first Director of Collections with this important exhibition.’
‘This is an exhibition that grew out of my own anxiety about the future. It completes over a decade’s worth of research exploring how artists explore, deconstruct and materialize the polemical issues raised by our accelerating society,’ said Omar Kholeif, Director of Collections and Senior Curator at Sharjah Art Foundation. ‘There are no easy answers here. Rather, this exhibition posits questions as experiences that physically and viscerally confront the viewer with their very own complicity in our everyday technological society. We look forward to seeing, hearing and feeling how our audiences will respond to the context that we have created with this special exhibition. This is ever more urgent in the wake of a new era that has brought forth new forms of social distancing, which has thickened the context of the digital sphere.’
Art in the Age of Anxiety conjures the bombardment of information, misinformation, emotion, deception and secrecy that invades online and offline life in the age of digital technology. It aims to illuminate the ‘post-digital’ condition—the manners and behaviours found in a world altered by the rise of digital technologies—and posits speculations for our future. The exhibition represents the culmination of more than a decade of research on the subject by Kholeif, who has previously curated internationally touring exhibitions such as I Was Raised on the Internet (MCA Chicago, 2018) and Electronic Superhighway (2016-1966) (Whitechapel Gallery, 2016) and authored and edited seven books on the subject, including You Are Here: Art After the Internet (Cornerhouse Books and SPACE, 2014) and Goodbye, World! Looking at Art in the Digital Age (Sternberg Press, 2018).
The exhibition features leading contemporary practitioners and works across a range of media, including Trevor Paglen’s Circles (2015), an epic single-channel video installation offering an atmospheric view into the surveillance state, presented alongside some of his most iconic photographs such as They Took the Faces from the Accused and the Dead… (2019), his infamous cloud photographs, as well as his portraits of historical figures whose faces have been run through Facebook’s facial recognition system; Jon Rafman’s Transdimensional Serpent (2016), a Virtual Reality commentary on the all-consuming nature of technology; and a selection of works realized from Cao Fei’s RMB City (2007-ongoing), a virtual city designed in the online world of Second Life that probes the boundary between real and virtual existence.
Other highlights include a new version of Siebren Versteeg’s iconic 2012 work Daily Times (Performer), which is re-imagined for the exhibition. Here, a giant screen draws from headlines produced by the UAE-based English language newspaper The National and produces abstract paintings in response to its content. Also on view is Jenna Sutela’s musical film Nimiia Cétïï (2018) exploring consciousness, neural networks and a new Martian language. Following its recent presentation at The Shed in New York is the first premiere of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Shadow Stalker (2019) outside of the United States. This ambitious film explores Predictive Policing, Identity Theft and the dangers of Data mining, featuring renowned actress Tessa Thompson and ‘The Spirit of the Deep Web’ played by January Steward.
The exhibition design for Art in the Age of Anxiety is created by architect, writer and historian—as well as Sharjah Biennial 13 participant—Todd Reisz. Reisz’s work often focuses on cities of the Arabian Peninsula from both historical and contemporary perspectives. Here, he has worked with curator Kholeif to imagine a physical maze of corridors and experiences that will fully immerse the viewer in the imaginary world of the ‘the internet’.
Art in the Age of Anxiety is also accompanied by a major publication of the same name that contains more than 400 pages of originally commissioned essays, reflections and artistic interventions by some of the leading cultural figures of our time. The book is co-published by Sharjah Art Foundation and Mörel Books, and distributed by MIT Press. Edited by Omar Kholeif with a foreword by Hoor Al Qasimi, Art in the Age of Anxiety includes new critical writing by thought leaders in the field of image and internet culture who interrogate the digital realm from a variety of perspectives. Essays by artists and writers including Saira Ansari, Cory Arcangel, Douglas Coupland, Simon Denny, Aruba Khalid, Norman M Klein, Heather Dewey-Hagborg and WJT Mitchell are presented alongside beautifully produced artistic interventions, creating a book that operates as an exhibition in its own right.
The complete list of artists included in the exhibition follows below.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan
Thomson & Craighead
Electronic Disturbance Theater
Lynn Hershman Leeson
Eva and Franco Mattes
Andrew Norman Wilson
YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES
About the Curator
Dr Omar Kholeif, FRSA, is a writer, curator and cultural historian who has curated more than 100 exhibitions and authored or edited more than two dozen publications. He currently holds the position of Director of Collections and Senior Curator at Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE. Over the last decade, he has held senior curatorial positions at some of the world's leading arts institutions and initiatives, including Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives at MCA Chicago; Curator at Whitechapel Gallery, London; Senior Curator at Cornerhouse, Manchester; Curator at FACT, Liverpool; Artistic Director, Arab British Centre London; Head of Art and Technology, SPACE; Guest Programmer, International Film Festival Rotterdam; and Founding Director of the UK’s Arab Film Festival. He has also curated exhibitions at the Venice Biennale and co-curated the Liverpool Biennial and co-curated Sharjah Biennial 14.
His contributions to books and major publications have been translated into 12 languages and his publications have sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide. He has held senior editorial positions as co-founding editor of Portal 9 and Senior Editor of Ibraaz Publishing. Kholeif has also served in university professorships and teaching roles at leading educational institutions including the University of Chicago; Hunter College; City University of New York; and the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. He has received awards from the Warhol Foundation and the Graham Foundation, and is a finalist for the University of Glasgow’s World Changing Alumni Award.
Dr Kholeif is a Trustee of SPACE, London, where he chairs the Access and Inclusion Action Group, and is a member and fellow of numerous organisations focused on issues in the fields of culture, diversity, human and social justice. He holds degrees in Political Science, Film, Curating, Cultural Studies and Art History.
About Sharjah Art Foundation
Sharjah Art Foundation is an advocate, catalyst and producer of contemporary art within the Emirate of Sharjah and the surrounding region, in dialogue with the international arts community. Under the leadership of founder Hoor Al Qasimi, a curator and artist, the foundation advances an experimental and wide-ranging programmatic model that supports the production and presentation of contemporary art, preserves and celebrates the distinct culture of the region and encourages a shared understanding of the transformational role of art. The foundation’s core initiatives include the long-running Sharjah Biennial, featuring contemporary artists from around the world; the annual March Meeting, a convening of international arts professionals and artists; grants and residencies for artists, curators and cultural producers; ambitious and experimental commissions; and a range of travelling exhibitions and scholarly publications.
Established in 2009 to expand programmes beyond the Sharjah Biennial, which launched in 1993, the foundation is a critical resource for artists and cultural organisations in the Gulf and a conduit for local, regional and international developments in contemporary art. The foundation’s deep commitment to developing and sustaining the cultural life and heritage of Sharjah is reflected through year-round exhibitions, performances, screenings and educational programmes in the city of Sharjah and across the Emirate, often hosted in historic buildings that have been repurposed as cultural and community centres. A growing collection reflects the foundation’s support of contemporary artists in the realisation of new work and its recognition of the contributions made by pioneering modern artists from the region and around the world. Sharjah Art Foundation is a legally independent public body established by Emiri Decree and supported by government funding, grants from national and international nonprofits and cultural organisations, corporate sponsors and individual patrons. All exhibitions and events are free and open to the public.
Sharjah is the third-largest of the seven United Arab Emirates, and the only one bridging the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Reflecting the deep commitment to the arts, architectural preservation and cultural education embraced by its ruler, Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Sharjah is home to more than 20 museums and has long been known as the cultural hub of the United Arab Emirates. In 1998, it was named UNESCO's 'Arab Capital of Culture' and was designated the UNESCO ‘World Book Capital’ for the year 2019.
Sharjah Art Foundation:
Alyazeyah Al Reyaysa, firstname.lastname@example.org, +971(0)65444113