Sunday, 24 May 2009

Scraps at Total Arts gallery

As we all know one of the most sublimely beautiful areas in Dubai is Al Quoz - grimy, dusty, mechanical and packed with warehouses, factories, storage depots, wholesale outlets and galleries!

As we all also know there are risks to living in an industrial zone and reports of warehouse fires are frequent. The most damaging one in March last year caused a massive explosion and fire resulting in several casualties, 3 destroyed warehouses and a thick cloud of toxic looking smoke. Luckily none of the galleries were close enough to the site of the fire to be seriously affected and since then it seems that fire safety precautions have been dramatically improved ...... or there's been a blanket ban on reporting fires in Al Quoz :).

This tragedy is the background and inspiration for the current exhibition at Total Arts gallery that has to rate among the most memorable I have seen in my two years here. Total Arts was founded by architect Darius Zandi and artist Shaqayeq Arabi and was the first gallery to set up in Al Quoz way back in 1996. After the fire Zandi and Arabi visited the burnt out warehouse and were so affected by what they saw they began a long process of transporting things from the site back to the gallery.

The result is Scraps, an installation composed entirely of materials, artefacts and incidental objects found at the site with site photos projected against two of the gallery walls. The scale of the installed pieces varies from huge warped sheets of corrugated metal suspended from ceilings and used to create artificial walls, to small and fragile fragments of paper or cloth.

Some pieces stand on plinths like highly original sculptures, most amazingly a collection of hundreds of pairs of metal scissors all melded together by the heat of the fire. A partially collapsed bicycle stands precariously upright surrounded by different piles of objects fused in plastic, metal and wood. There are melted tins, jars, knives, safety pins, toothbrushes, bicycle pumps, a cash register, a sewing machine and many other everyday objects rendered almost unrecognisable by the furnace they emerged from.

Many of the smaller finds have been transformed into installations in their own right. One wall is covered with blackened food trays set with piles of melted forks and spoons and a metal sheet is covered with knife blades. A series of boxes contain a curious mix of objects, scraps of documents, textiles and electrical wires.

The whole thing is a sensory experience crystallised by a soundtrack of muffled explosions and the all pervading odour of burnt metal, wood and plastic. It manages to address several different levels and aspects of its own particular local context as well as referencing wider points of aesthetics and art history - a dual achievement still very rare in exhibitions here.

It is also a unique and moving memorial to those who died.

Scraps runs until end August at Total Arts Gallery, Al Quoz