Sunday, 30 March 2008

Never again ...

Last month I was asked to write four articles about art in Dubai for the website of a London based organisation called Art Review. When the offer came I was delighted. Somebody was actually offering to pay me for writing this shit ?? Brilliant!

Of course it isn't that simple and the past month has put me off writing for money ever again. First this was a very casual arrangement. No contract. No clear brief and a suggested word count that was half the size of what was necessary.

Then there was the editorial problem. When the person who commissions the articles really wants to be doing it themselves, there is an inevitable editorial imposition of their view, which at times differed considerably from mine. This was particularly acute when changes made seemed to play to certain prejudices while I assumed the articles were there to inform these otherwise.

Another difficulty which was actually a shock to me was realising the extreme western-centric view of what is happening here in terms of art and culture. At one point this resulted in an editorial insertion about what constituted 'progress' which I had to ask to be removed.

To be fair the first two articles were not too bad but tensions crept in at number 3 and by number 4 I just wanted it to be over. Also number 4 was about Art Dubai which was the least interesting for me to write. A big contemporary art fair is a big contemporary art fair wherever it's held. Apart from the flamboyant, dubious, paranoid or just plain weird people that can turn up on preview nights, they are a bit like sales conferences. I wasn't crazy about them in London so the interest value here is only in terms of Art Dubai's relationship with what is happening on the ground and how it contributes to other non commercial development. Of course nobody here seems aware of the notion of non-commercial development but I realise this is my problem and that everybody except me actually embraces this reality! I am trying to change my attitude! I am also trying to accept that 'press release' and 'newspaper report' are synonymous... but that's a tough one too ...

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Art Dubai

Art Dubai held at Madinat Jumeirah is only in its second year but has almost doubled in size. How very Dubai of it! I think it should really be held at Trade Centre because it does have the feel of a trade conference but I guess they can’t force art dealers and collectors to chow down at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf minus al kahool!

There are around 70 galleries taking part from everywhere but the most memorable were the Korean Pyo gallery which had some wacky and surreal paintings of people in urban interiors that said a lot about the psychological effects of rapid change and the modern weirdnesses of interpersonal communication. I just wish I’d taken photos. Brazil’s Bolsa de Arte gallery had a strange collection of subverted Sotheby's magazine covers, carpet aeroplanes and an image that changed as you walked past it. On the art meets science front. the big photos of particle accelerators in the Swiss CERN laboratory by Simon Norfolk were pretty amazing.

Art Dubai has had a phenomenal impact. Last year spawned its fringe - the Creek Art Fair - arts education charity (START) and a UAE arts discussion forum (The Thinking Cloud). This year DIFC launched a whole new ‘Season of Arts’ to coincide with Art Dubai and has a packed schedule of stuff including an installation of giant ants by American Susan P. Cochran. This is a perfect fit for the Dubai vision thing. It’s about civic duty and the whole committed colony co-operating on a large-scale property development.
As we all know reference to any negatives in this happy PR model are rare so I was delighted to see Desperately Seeking Paradise, at the new Pakistan Pavilion at Art Dubai. Huma Mulji’s suitcase installation addresses the dreams of Dubai’s labourers. The suitcase of golden shoes and bread suggests the riches they seek but which they ultimately build for others while the suitcase of showers has a speaker in each shower head, one narrating dreams of employment in Dubai and the other narrating the drawbacks. Seeing this work here gave me hope that there is potential for at least some art to perform the other civic duty of exploring awkward questions.

The Global Art Forums are another element of Art Dubai and the first two days of these looked at Art Patronage in the Business Age. Topics included ‘Building a Corporate Collection’, ‘Working with Corporations’ and ‘Private Passion and Cultural Philanthropy’. The latter strikes me as a bit like carbon offsetting. Pay a little extra to save the planet and feel good about yourself or in this case make a tax free donation to ‘the arts’, feel good about yourself and get your name on the wall of a new institution.

Another project that received a lot of attention was the Credit Suisse ‘Art and Entrepreneurship’ exhibition. This was unveiled to great fanfare at Art Dubai and will go on tour to the ‘art capitals’ of the world shortly. This project involved 20 artists, one of whom wisely wishes to remain anonymous, who were asked to create work based on a Credit Suisse client survey. Sorry??

The focus was apparently the five core values of entrepreneurship. From the artists’ point of view, I assume the first of these was making friends with Credit Suisse and their work encapsulated the ultimate core value of money for old rope. Duvet on a stick anyone? I have problems with calling this art. Isn’t it just product commissioning for an innovative corporate PR campaign?

I did escape the commerce briefly and get some time in a quiet room with some video and hanging plastic people thanks to the Bidoun lounge. This was in the underground Art Park, (formally Car Park) which was a bit like an arcade only with lots of screens showing some excellent video shorts. No price tags or sales negotiation to be seen, only funky cardboard chairs designed by Traffic, free cola and your own personal headphones for you own personal screen. How civilised!

It was only on for a few days so blink and you'd have missed it. The Creek Art Fair is still on however and will be in Bastakia til March 31st. On that night there is a closing concert by Reza Derakshani. Unmissable I'd say!

Monday, 17 March 2008

Creek Art Fair

Ok.... Long time no blog. In a nutshell the panic about our visa is over and we are safe til 2009 .. inshallah. Spouse got some freelance and I am going full time on the arts job from June assuming nobody gets offended by my installation at the Creek Art Fair (above). These four new 'burj' required me saving my trash for months but they do look quite cool so I'm happy. It is also great to be part of the Creek Art fair which takes over the Bastakia from now until March 31st. There is LOADS of fantastic stuff and you get to see the inside of a lot of those old houses that Tatweer deems it unnecessary to open up at any other time of year!

The fair opened on Saturday 15th with traditional UAE dancers and there really was a buzzy festival atmosphere to the whole evening. The narrow streets of the Bastakia were packed and each different art space seemed to have its own little local entourage. The rather more modern tradition of a free bar and DJ on the roof also featured although this was not on the Art Fair map.

Even if U R not that interested in art it is worth going cos there really is something for everyone (except pornographers ... although a nude does appear in one of the video installations ... shhhhh!!!)