Wednesday, 29 April 2009


In relation to a post on April 9th about not being paid I am delighted to say that I checked my bank account today and one of the Italians has coughed up! It was not immediately apparent which one but a little research revealed it was Il Giornale Dell'Architettura. So thank you very much! Better late than never and I am sure it had nothing to do with the earlier blog post and associated comments ....

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

My four days of the Dubai dream...

This week I am house and cat sitting for a friend who lives in a Dubai dream villa! Each day starts with a majestic descent of the wide marble staircase then padding gently across the huge antique Persian rug in the hall I sweep into the light and spacious kitchen. While the coffee is brewing. I fix breakfast, collect the newspapers by the door and then head through the patio doors for the poolside. After a leisurely breakfast I take a light morning swim, a long and luxurious shower in my own bathroom and only then do I think about turning on the laptop.

The laptop even has its own room overlooking the front garden and in between emails, articles and updating proposals, I watch the birds delicately flitting from tree to tree. I then head out to all the meetings I've arranged over these four days to discuss my new project. The project gets an amazing response from everybody I pitch it to and I get lots of good advice and contacts as well as unconditional offers of support. I also get to see a lot of new exhibitions, every taxi I take has a lovely driver and I don't get stuck in any traffic!

I return to my fabulous villa, write up my notes and then spend an hour or so swimming in the cool, freshwater pool while the overhanging bougainvillea branches drop flowers gently into the water......

In the evenings I catch up with friends I've hardly seen since moving to Sharjah and go to a book launch where I see lots of other people I haven't seen since leaving Dubai. The four days really remind me of what is good about Dubai and what I miss about it but mostly they reveal just how much easier life is when lived from a spacious villa with a pool set in a beautiful secluded garden!

It really got me thinking that its time for a career change. Hmmm..... will start investigating how I can become a professional international house and cat sitter.....

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Fujairah Rocks... real rocks....

Went on mega hike in Fujairah mountains at the weekend. We had been talking about doing this for ages but the friend with the car had been too busy. He finally had a free weekend so we all got up ridiculously early for a Friday and headed out from Sharjah on an almost empty road. Somewhere between Masafi and Fujairah we pulled off the road, parked up, stuffed 4 litres of water in each of our backpacks and got walking.

We started on a dry river bed and then went up and up and up. All the potential paths up are essentially water runs and as you get higher you can see exactly where all the different streams come down. Easy to see how sudden heavy rainfall could cause flash floods and make it a very dangerous place to be. We were really lucky with the weather. It was perfect for hiking. Overcast enough to block out the worst of the sun but not dense enough to pose any serious risk of rain.

There was really nothing much up there except goats, a few birds, trees and cane reeds, a light scattering of wild lavender and some other mountains shrubs and flowers. We did also see a couple of tiny lizards, some cool psychedelic orange wasps and a lot more flies than expected when we got out the food! However, what was most amazing was all the water. We came across a lot of tiny springs that just appear out of nowhere and then disappear back into the ground after just a few metres. The biggest one had actually eroded three downward tiered pools and it was weird to see a toad living in the biggest one along with some toad spawn, other pond like creatures and a dead beetle. It is so barren up there otherwise this was really unexpected. I guess the springs all go down into an underground aquifer somewhere nearby. Maybe they end up in Masafi bottles. So next time you buy a bottle of Masafi just remember the toad got to it first!

There were a lot of holes in the sides of mountains, some were tiny but others looked like quite large caves. We couldn't work out if these were naturally occurring or had actually been gouged out at some point. When we got up to the highest point there were a lot of large rocks that were so deeply red they looked as if they had been painted but the rock types were pretty varied so there was a range of colours in general. I am not great at identifying rock but I found a small piece of something full of shiny gold bits which could have been Dubai bling rock. Otherwise it was granite and many softer shale-type rocks which created a lot of loose scree and gravel. This made coming down quite hard especially because we took a different route down which ended up being steeper than the one we took up. This got quite challenging at times and I have an impressively large bruise on my ass to prove it but I am really glad I got to do it especially knowing that I will outta here in a couple of months. So thank you to friends with cars! Getting a taxi driver to wait at the side of a road in the middle of nowhere for 6 hours just wouldn't have been the same!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

This ain't no way to make a living..

Since the coolest job in the universe could only ever be temporary it came to its sad but allotted end. Since then I have been scrabbling around for work again which is as much of a pain in the proverbial as ever. Life for a freelancer is not easy here. Especially in the arts field despite all the hype.... and as for just turning up and being an artist forget it! Without considerable independent means you are constantly looking for the next project that is going to provide an income and they are so few and far between you never actually get to that position where you have enough behind you to buy materials and rent a cheap studio space ... err... not that they exist ... yet!

It's harder when you know it's temporary as well. This means you don't actually have a long term vested interest in the location itself so motivation is difficult to sustain. This is compounded by the absence of the kind of wider (and personal) support system that takes time to build up.

I have also discovered that the life of a freelance writer completely sucks. I now understand friends in this field who said they spend most of the time chasing up invoices. I have actually given up on two lots of money I am owed for articles ... both organisations based in Italy as it happens. It may seem churlish to have a go at Italy given the earthquake and all ... but Flash Art International suck and don't ever mention Il Giornale dell’Architettura in my presence unless you want a black eye.

What makes me most angry is how they just go silent. No answers to emails, no apologies, no nuffin'! If they at least emailed to say a) your article was so crap we can't use it or b) they decided not to publish the 'special feature on the UAE' so we can't extract payment or just c) sorry we're charlatans and we're not going to pay you... I would feel soooo much better!

But never mind... the departure date is drawing ever nearer and so I guess it's quite appropriate that my next project is not based in the UAE at all. However, if this potential project is going to work I will definitely need some help from people I've met here ... and the usual inshallah's all round of course!!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The Fantabulous Sharjah Biennale


The advantage of the Sharjah Biennale is that it’s there for long enough to take a leisurely look at although I’m not sure how much human traffic it gets once the frenzy of the opening week is done. That said I was loitering suspiciously in Sharjah last Saturday and there were quite a lot of visitors going in and out of the Sharjah Art Museum.

This is just one of the Biennale venues but contains the most work in one place. It is also an amazing building. It has sloping floors which make walking around a slightly disconcerting experience a bit like being in one of those optical illusion prints by Escher of never-ending staircases. This architectural feature is actually used by two of the artists. Ayse Erkmen created a false room with the lights hanging at an angle. However, because you are viewing it from an angle it seems as if the false room is the one with the correct proportions. Karin Sander created a track around two corridors along which a chrome ball can run simply because of the downward slope of the floor. The only problem with this is that someone needs to switch the ball onto the other side of the circuit when it reaches the bottom so that it is in constant motion. I have been there several times now and not once have I seen this happen. I guess not all the security guys were told that this was part of the job!

There is a lot of stuff to see and you really do need time especially to check out all the video work. Liu Wei’s Hopeless Lands is a short and disturbing video about Chinese farmers who now eke out a living from urban trash. Seeing hundreds of people swarming around the back of a lorry as it spills its contents onto a massive dump site is an image that will stay with me for some time. By contrast Liliana Porter’s Fox in the Mirror, in which music is played by an orchestra of ceramic, plastic and wax figures, was a lot of fun. Definitely a dark edge to it but overall highly entertaining. Not sure what Zebra by Haris Epaminonda was about other than spectrum but enjoyed the constant drifting refrain of Bach’s Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1 in G Minor. Actually the only thing the visual aspect of this work brought to my mind was an ink jet printer commercial but I guess I missed something.

Fernando Jose Pereira’s, Remote Control-Remove Control in its own reconstructed Icelandic hut ended up being less interesting than it sounded. That was actually the case with several other works. The concepts and ideas underpinning them ended up seeming more impressive than the work itself. That said it was nice to briefly feel the icy chill of an Icelandic day in the middle of Sharjah!

Basma Al Sharif’s video We began by measuring distance received one of the Biennale artist prizes. Unfortunately, I haven’t actually seen it all the way through yet so can’t comment but it’s reserved for a complete and slow viewing next time I’m down there along with Primoz and Novak’s fictional documentary Going South and Ghani and Kelly’s, Smile you’re in Sharjah.
Over the road in the Serkal House are videos by Sharif Waked and Nikolaj Larsen. Waked uses the now familiar media image of a suicide bomber’s last broadcast but his protagonist reads excerpts from One Thousand and One Nights thus avoiding the usual horrific denouement. This mirrors the origin of the tales themselves in which Scheherazade narrates one tale after another to King Shahrayar in order to save herself and her tribe from execution. It is quite mesmerizing listening to the tales and very frustrating when suddenly the tale switches and you don’t get to hear the end.

Nikolaj Larsen’s work consists of two videos projected onto facing screens. On one screen Indian migrant workers based in Sharjah stand staring into the camera. On the opposite screen their families back in India do the same. Watching these simultaneous screenings in the space between, where the viewer can see both but they can’t see each other, was a very intimate and actually very moving experience. I cannot recall having been moved to tears by a video installation before! Maybe it was just one of those days.

I reviewed the biennial for a US arts website (here: Absolute Arts) but other things that stood out that I haven’t mentioned elsewhere were a room full of Robert Macpherson’s assorted work, Yonamine's sandbag installation and Hiroyuki Masuyama’s light boxes. Nadia Kaabi Linke’s hanging paint fragments making a map of the UAE cast beautiful shadows on the surrounding walls and Hayv Kahraman’s meticulously composed Domesticated Marionettes were also perfectly placed for maximum impact in their big space in the Serkal House.

The overall mix of mediums, styles, concepts, materials and spaces means that there is probably something for everyone here, even if you don't have much time, and the kids will love The Box!

One other observation though is maintenance. Admittedly keeping all this going for two months is difficult. It’s not just hanging pictures on a wall and leaving them there! So expect a few un-replaced light bulbs on certain installations, the odd lack of transmission on headphones and no doubt a few other mechanical and technical hitches to come before May 16th!

Whatever…. Just GO! You’ve got over a month ….