Sharjah Art Foundation announces Zoe Butt, Omar Kholeif and Claire Tancons as curators of the 14th edition of Sharjah Biennial, opening March 2019 in Sharjah.
Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber will explore the possibilities for creating art when material culture is under constant threat of human destruction and climate degradation, offering artists from the UAE and around the world an internationally recognised platform for exhibition and experimentation.
The biennial will include three distinct exhibitions organised by each of the three curators, presenting works by contemporary artists to explore the ways in which contemporary life, enabled by rapid technological change, has created a seemingly inescapable “echo chamber” of information, complex personal networks and shifting narratives that are physical, spiritual and virtual. Presenting new commissions, large-scale installations and films, the biennial will be on view in SAF buildings and courtyards, as well as other locations in Sharjah.
Leaving the Echo Chamber
Incessant newsfeeds enabled by rapid technological change have created the conditions of a seemingly inescapable echo chamber. Leaving the Echo Chamber, the fourteenth edition of the Sharjah Biennial ponders the causal realities and residual qualities of this perpetual loop via the distinct voices of its three curators.
Each of their curatorial proposals will ignite critical questions that dwell within this echo chamber. Resisting spaces of enclosure, they reveal a complex polyphony of artistic practices, positions and possibilities within the hyperbolic mediated cultural state in which we live. How do we map our way forward into a realm that seems to be in continual free-fall? How do we choreograph a future when narratives are formed through algorithms and history fictionalised or obliterated? How do we mobilise what is left of the idea of the social, let alone the ideal of society, under conditions of dispossession and diaspora? How do we live in a world where borders and beliefs – whether tangible or intangible – need constant renegotiation? How do we frame the body in an age of augmented and virtual reality, when the sensorial seems evermore beholden to the retinal?
How do we produce art when material culture is under constant threat of human destruction and climate degradation, and the world appears as if it were a mirage?
Sharjah Biennial 14 aims to deepen the context of such questions, presenting a unique set of experiences. It intertwines questions around the demands made on our society and seeks to expand art’s potential as a space for agency.
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 (think traditional medicine and its imbuing of spiritual power in endangered animal flesh); from technological process to political rule of law (the religious symbol as violent viral call to arms, or the map and its division of ‘territory’) - 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 ‘tool-kits’ are re-validated or initiated in relation to specific context or cause.
Journey Beyond The Arrow seeks to illuminate the necessary diversity in our chamber of humanity, where the movement of its echo – its value and method – 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 out of our hands 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: a singular and collective experience. We begin by exploring how our bodies and lived experiences have been devised historically, through the lens of a group of artists who have represented figures and forms in vibrant ways, questioning how we experience ourselves in relation to the environment around us. We move next into a universe of poetry and play, where we witness the expanded possibilities of how the digital world has enabled new forms of shared experience. We close with a chapter that reflects on the trials and tribulations of our history and the traces that it leaves behind. “Making New Time” proposes a break in established forms of thought, opening possibilities for ways our existence can be changed, altered, re-imagined.
Look for Me All Around You
Curated by Claire Tancons
What if obscurity were the harbinger of futurity, darkness the site of seeing and blackness the scene of unmasking? 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 a 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.
Searchlights on the open seas of disaster, flickering flames in the encampments of catastrophe and night vigils of foreclosed hope foreshadow encroaching conditions of dispossession and diaspora no longer confined to the wretched of the earth, but reaching our planetary humanity and standing witness to the imperilment of the contemporary in the atomised space between ‘me’ and ‘you’.
Borrowing from the articulation of an early historical call for collective African diasporic self-determination, Look for Me All Around You reconsiders the legacies of broader African, European, Asian and Middle Eastern cultural circuits, ecological collaborations and political circulations to and from the Americas to claim their locality, subjectivity and specificity for the worlding of the present.
Defining blackness as a state of consciousness, darkness as a political position and obscurity as enlightenment from the low, Look for Me All Around You defies standards of display predicated upon the notion of exhibition where the lines between objects and bodies once drawn on essentialist grounds continue to be drawn to much the same materialist ends.
Look for Me All Around You proposes instead a heterochronotopic approach whereby objects and bodies cohabit to create decolonial agencies using the tools of disidentification and misrecognition between piracy, clandestinity and fugitivity. Turning towards the aural, it posits that challenges to the prosthetics of the display apparatus and ideology of the artistic status produce an always already othered time-space continuum suitable for the alignment of the aesthetic means, political ethos and poetic intent of the dispossessed and diasporised.
As Look for Me All Around You refuses to refine the instruments of the chambers that form the exhibitionary complex and redefines the echo as the community of the voiceless, it proposes indeed to leave the chamber, but to stay with the echo.
Omar Kholeif, PhD, CF FRSA, is a writer, curator and cultural historian who has curated more than 100 exhibitions of visual art, architecture and digital culture.
Claire Tancons is a curator and scholar invested in the discourse and practice of the postcolonial politics of production and exhibition.