Monday, 24 September 2007

The trees stop at the border..

Went to Abu Dhabi looking for the elusive visa again but this time we stayed overnight at a friend's house. It was great to compare notes about Dubai and Abu Dhabi and talk about the inter-emirate competitiveness which is essentially what passes for politics here! It was also interesting to get a grasp of the extent to which Abu Dhabi really is another country.

This is immediately obvious at that point on the Sheikh Zayed Road when you cross the 'border' and suddenly there are trees and a green belt. Lots of delicately drooping branches separating the lanes of traffic, and what look like orchards stretching out beyond each side of the road. It's a startling abundance of green which is mesmerising after the sandy, silver-grey, high rise tunnel out of Dubai and then the barren road which follows.

When you drive back the other way it's an abrupt change to the barren and then you are mesmerised again, but this time by the sheer spectacle of the towering concrete and steel, tree-less reality of this stage and definition of progress.

I know that there will be trees, greenery and lakes to humanise the environment around these construction projects when they are complete but the environmental border shock seems quite appropriate. It's like an early warning system as you enter Dubai of what is going to greet you further down the road.

The billboards erected down each side add to the impression that anything natural has been removed. Occasionally there will be an uncovered board and the patchwork of different shades of plywood looks like a huge canvas study of the colour brown and is quite a relief for the eye while stuck in the traffic. You also rest your eyes on the advertising of course and I don't know what or who Emirates Neon is but if you buy it.. or him.. or her, it will change your life!

Decided a suitable pic to illustrate this entry is the Ghaf tree....

Ramadan Kareem II

Just found two perfect frames in the trash... no broken glass, no split wood, no damp or stains...... have already framed the Dubai skyline pic and will now work on recycling something else for the other frame.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Ramadan Kareem

As well as being a time of spiritual and physical renewal, Ramadan also seems to be a time of domestic renewal! I have noticed a lot more furniture and other household items appearing in the trash over the past couple of days. This has already worked to my benefit and I am now the proud owner of a TV / DVD stand which looks as good as new after a serious wash and a bit of paint. Also found a large polystyrene container which is now washed and covered with a piece of fabric to make a rather funky looking table/bench. Given the financial constraints of still being a visa-less and unemployed trailing spouse on a charity budget, our apartment remains pretty empty. However, it may be possible to seriously remedy this for free by the end of the month! Kareem indeed.

I lived in Japan at the height of the boom period in the late 80s and many people really did throw out stuff that was still perfectly usable just because they could afford to. As a consequence, the only things in my Tokyo apartment that were not from the trash were bedding and utensils, so keeping an eye on the trash doesn't seem like an odd thing to do. The quality of the trash in Bur Dubai obviously cannot match the absurd standards of Tokyo in the 80s but that's OK. I have the electronic basics and am not too fussy about the furniture as long as it does the job.

Interestingly, there seem to be lots of those thin foam mattresses in the trash of the poorer apartment blocks around here which makes me wonder if employers become more beneficent about the comfort of their employees during Ramadan too.

Last week, at the XVA Gallery, someone told me the Creek Art Fair this year will have an environmental theme so getting down and dirty with the trash has given me a few ideas for Dubai specific artworks. Given that I started off as an artist by painting on trash, I suppose this is all just part of a cheapskate continuum really...

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Design Meets Art at the XVA

Went to opening of Art Meets Design at the XVA Gallery in Bastakia last night.

I like the XVA. There’s something about the ambience as you walk into that courtyard, and seeing some large Sabhan Adam pics that I didn’t see on my first visit was like bumping into some old friends. I had just come from a gym session at the Arabian Courtyard hotel so being offered ice cold mint and lemon to drink on arrival was a great start. Also met some architects here too but this time they were cool and edgy...

Fantastically diverse range of work on display including mixed 2D work (photography, portraiture, painting/print), household artefacts, furniture and masterpieces of personal bling by UAE based Layal (couldn’t find a website unfortunately).

I enjoyed some of the household and furniture especially the silver and black ‘blocks’ of drawers by Tavola Rasa. The more shapely items made me think of the French revolution rather than sexy underwear but this reinvention or ability to teach (very) old design new tricks is fascinating in itself. Also impressed by the lacquer cabinet from Nada Debs.

Some interesting vases by Gaia and Gino, one with a calligraphic design which reminded me of things I saw in the Word into Art exhibition in London shortly before I came to Dubai and also liked the sleek tessellated vases by Design Jordan. UAE based Seven Minutes featured bags using classical Arab textile design.

Given my own pre-occupations, however, I was mostly interested in the 2D work and Brown Monkeys also based in the UAE, made me think of manga, Mucha, sci fi, sumie and several other things all at once, which was a real treat. It was also good to see some of the greats of Arabic music and cinema getting the Warhol treatment from Laudi Abilama while the photographic images from the American University of Sharjah provided a subtle contrast to all the other work in the show.

Couldn’t access the website of Manola Moretti, which is a shame because her image of a faceless Eminem against a city skyline made a big impression. I love the mechanics of this kind of composition - mixing print, paint and other materials to reflect aspects of contemporary culture within a dark urban industrial realism!

However the winners for me were the three pieces by Abol Atighetchi. The colours and style of the larger piece put me in mind of Boetti's world maps and the smaller pieces on black painted wood were really quite sublimely beautiful.

So thanks again XVA!

Friday, 7 September 2007

Live Music Event

Out last night at The Loft for a Dubai Lime Live Music event. The first performer, Graeme Park, wasn't miked up too well which was a disaster because crowd volume in the background was already up quite high. Kind of folky and bluesy you got the impression that this was a tough gig and had it been in a more understated venue with a more reverent crowd I am sure his set would have been better.
Next up were Neil and Andy though I am not entirely sure who was who. Liked the secondary guitar style very much and the singer had a strong delivery but the songs did sound a bit samey after a while. They got much more audience support but there were still times when background noise threatened to drown them out too.

The last performer, Mike Ross, was a treat despite the fact that the intro to the two first songs really, really sounded like 'Dear Prudence'! Confident, great vocal delivery, interesting original material and an immersion in the performance and the situation which was captivating. So much that he almost succeeded in keeping audience attention throughout his set but even he couldn't compete with a few vociferous drinkers who were evidently unaware there was a gig in progress.
Talking of drink the ticket price included one free beverage... not quite true ... one free Bacardi Breezer was the real deal. Bit of a disappointment when you've been imagining that first cold beer sliding down your throat. Still I suppose there has to be a first (and last) time for alcopops!

Stuck to beer after that but was quite shocked at the price of a standard bottle. Leaving Bur Dubai is always a shock in that respect... the price of everything goes up the further West you go and having had no income for 5 months now I am getting increasingly concerned about money. This prompted a job search on several of the big Middle East jobs websites today. Typing in 'arts' drew a blank from as did 'arts administration' on the site. That at least had an arts and entertainment section although it mostly consisted of web and graphic designers.

Was encouraged by's creative and media section but you had to specify a job title from a list which included musician, writer, actor but no artist category! Eventually found an ad for English language editing/proofreading and suddenly remembered that I have in fact being doing a lot of that over the past few years so sent them an email telling them so.

For you animal lovers out there's an 'Experienced dog groomer required for Dubai' and 'Numerous aquarist positions for the world's largest walkthrough aquarium in The Dubai Mall'.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Art and Design everywhere.

What a great time to come back! Seem to be previews of the new season at all the galleries in Dubai. Went to the Thirdline last night for Rana Begum and got an invite to Ghass Rouzkhosh at B21 on Sunday. Just heard a programme on Dubai Eye radio which discussed all things art in Dubai on a lot of different levels, and heard someone from XVA which is opening on Saturday with an international Art and Design show. Unfortunately their website isn't updated so am not sure exactly what the details are. However it is only a five minute walk from my apartment so will wander over there anyway. Also heard last night that there is an arts forum called the Thinking Cloud about contemporary art in Dubai at the Jamjar on the 12th.

Last night was very interesting. It's the first preview event I've attended so it was great to check out the form and I met some very pleasant architects. The work itself uses layers of different tapes and vinyls under resin and initially appeared to me like large scale digitally enhanced photographic prints. On closer inspection the density of the pieces becomes apparent and the mechanics of composition can be seen in the tape ends and resin drips at the sides of each piece which I liked. The reds based triptych (No. 131 - 2007) was absolutely stunning and definitely my favourite piece. Being a bit of a texture junkie there were times I craved some diversion from the uniform smoothness of the resin but that's not the point!

Was a little confused by the reflection in most of the reproduced catalogue images. Wasn't sure if this was deliberate or just unavoidable but would have preferred it without. Also I think that the space may seem a little underpopulated without the crowd and a few more pieces could easily have been shown.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Hello Dubai .... again..

I am finally back in Dubai after two months of dealing with ten tons of crap in London.

When I left Bur Dubai at the beginning of July I was anticipating a nice little two week holiday going to a wedding and catching up with friends and family. It then extended into two funerals and an unexpected nightmare of plumbing, damp and decoration problems including a serious complaint against damp proofing company Kenwood Plc UK. However, if I took a plumbing course I think I could now start my own property re-furb business!

Just when I thought it was safe to relax on the day before I flew back to Dubai, I discovered that myself and my flight booking had disappeared from Expedia's system and therefore, I did not actually exist. After numerous calls to try and re-establish my existence I had to give up and get my husband to book me another flight on the following day because I was skint! Am now in the process of filing a second incompetence complaint, this time to Expedia, although given that I don't exist I am not optimistic about getting my money back!

On the plus side I had pics in two exhibitions. One surprise weekender for Friends of the Earth plus the Summer Show I organised from here. The picture in that show is posted above and I found that reactions to the word 'Dubai' in general, elicited one of two reactions: wide eyed wonderment and/or superlatives or a look of abject horror and two steps backwards!

Other highlights include seeing a demonstration and talk by British geometrist Zarah Hussain which was fascinating and raised several issues, one of which was that calligraphy seems to have become the preferred motif of contemporary Islamic art, while hand crafted geometry is very much in decline. Interestingly enough it was also noted that there is a bit of a brain drain of educated British Muslims to ... Dubai! Unfortunately none of them are geometrists!

I am now going to spend the next few days catching up with the news and seeing what I've been missing on the UAE Community blog. As for London, I will miss the rain and the clouds but most of all I'll miss the silent nights without the constant hum of the AC....... also I like a drink but I will not miss the Saturday night pools of vomit and the daytime drunks who ALWAYS sit next to me on the bus!