Magazine article Art Monthly

Sharjah Biennial 10: Plot for A Biennial

Magazine article Art Monthly

Sharjah Biennial 10: Plot for A Biennial

Article excerpt

Sharjah Biennial 10: Plot for A Biennial

various venues 16 March to 16 May

'Plot for A Biennial' is the title given to the tenth iteration of this international exhibition in Sharjah. The curators--Suzanne Cotter, Rasha Salti and Haig Aivazian--formulated the exhibition in the guise of a film plot. In a post 9/11 world, 'plot' also conjures notions of a nefarious plan. Set in the context of a region that has a strict policy on public behaviour and decorum, the Biennial presents challenging works that at times seem to contradict the charming setting of this Gulf town.

Sharjah, a UNESCO heritage city once colonised by the British, is more conservative than its neighbours in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, yet it sets the context for the most provocative art in the region. ArtDubai, with its commercial emphasis on more polite work, pales in comparison. And while a retrospective of Emirati artist Hassan Sharif curated by Catherine David opened in Abu Dhabi, the only longstanding exhibition in that city is a promotional affair about the development of the new Saadiyat Island at the Emirates Palace Hotel. The Biennial in Sharjah confronts more topical issues, with politically engaged artists that are often seen in such exhibitions, including Walid Raad, Emily Jacir, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Alfredo Jaar, Harun Farocki, Artur Zmijewski and Hans Haacke. These established artists are presented alongside a wider range of practitioners (over 80 in total), including some less familiar to a western audience.

The Biennial is spread throughout the heart of Sharjah, near its functioning harbour and historic buildings. A large portion of the exhibition is presented in the Sharjah Art Museum (dubbed Scene 1 by the curators), which is located prominently on a main public square. Adorning the facade of the museum is the text piece Supply and Demandfor Immortality, 2011, by Richard Ibghy & Marilou Lemmens. Based in Quebec, the artists' collaborative practice explores both a pared down formal approach and a play with language. This piece, a flow chart that documents a range of human personality quirks such as 'involved in grand deception' and 'is known as A's husband', could be describing well-known figures in the art world.

In the main square, a large white rocket (a sculpture by Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, whose work is also found in ArtDubai) stands in front of the museum. The rocket, while most recently evoking notions of military might and satellite warfare, was also a symbol of hope and progress in the 1960s. Hadjithomas & Joreige recreated a Lebanese rocket, the Cedar IV, that had been a cause for national celebration upon its launching. The story, in large part omitted from Lebanese history because of the strife that followed, is made evident here--a reminder of the former great accomplishments of Lebanon.

Inside the museum, the ground floor and much of the higher levels are given over to the Biennial. While at times it was confusing to determine which pieces were actually part of the Biennial (a slight yellow frame around the information placards indicated Biennial works), the presentation overall was quite strong. The standout works were too numerous to mention, although Hala Al-Ani's photographs of recent Emirati domestic architecture were particularly redolent. A Typology of Houses, 2010, presents colour photographs, each shot in exactly the same format, of mansion houses that are grouped by style, for example mock Neoclassical, Tudor and Italianate. …

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