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Abdelmonem Alserkal on the Alserkal Avenue / Dubai

Mr. Abdelmonem bin Eisa Alserkal gets edgy when he’s called a patron of the arts. Unassuming by nature, discreet by upbringing, he has nonetheless masterminded one of Dubai’s most dynamic cultural assets — the eponymous gallery “neighborhood” set in the grimy underbelly of the city’s industrial zone like some cool art oasis.

From a cluster of galleries in 2007 dotted between garages and tire shops, Alserkal Avenue is now poised to double in size. As of Autumn 2015, some 76,000 m2 of new, Hollywood-back-lot-style spaces will welcome international heavyweights like Leila Heller Gallery, as well as some local luminaries, such as decade-old The Third Line. This ambitious construction has been mirrored by an equally exuberant programming activity, the most visible of which was the Safina Radio Project — a boat-cum-recording studio navigating Venice waterways during this year’s Biennale.

Mr. Alserkal’s snug, understated office, enlivened by Tintin paraphernalia and Paul Smith doodads, belies his position in one of the United Arab Emirates’ most enterprising families, instrumental in establishing the country’s utilities and infrastructure. Yet for all its industriousness, the Alserkal family is decidedly low-key. True to his pedigree, Mr. Alserkal does not trumpet his achievements, but rather embraces the challenges ahead.

What does an arts “neighborhood” mean today? If we look at Paris’s 13th arrondissement, the East End in London or Milan’s Lambrate, they are dwindling landscapes compared to what was planned. What sustains your belief in this format in Dubai?

The neighborhoods you mention are scattered. Here, we are all under one family, one management. The first part of Alserkal Avenue, which started in 2007, grew organically, alongside the development of Dubai’s art scene. As this scene evolved, we were approached by a lot of new talent who saw Alserkal Avenue as a place where they wanted to present their ideas. They understood the value of community support, and they wanted to be part of it. The members of the initial community wanted more space, so the new expansion stemmed from this demand. It is a curated expansion, so it provides continuity to the community that has existed since 2007. It will be more sustainable than the neighborhoods you mention.

Why are you investing so heavily in international visibility with projects like the Safina Radio Project?

I believe we are providing a platform for regional and local initiatives — artists, art galleries, creative — to be visible internationally. We have always housed homegrown talent. Now we are extending the platform for them to participate more deeply in the international art world. In this respect, we are acting more like an arts organization. We have done well in supporting the commercial side; now we want to contribute to supporting actual arts creation through our commissions, and to supporting artists internationally through our galleries. [At Art Basel Miami Beach in 2014, Alserkal Avenue supported Jacob’s Ladder — a performance work, referencing helicopter evacuation in conflict zones, by artist Shahpour Pouyan, represented by Alserkal-based gallery Lawrie Shabibi — Ed.]

Is this a new positioning? Has Alserkal Avenue outgrown its role as “neighborhood” to become a privately endowed institution?

We want to pursue a new role as an arts organization. There are still many gaps in the Dubai art scene. We want to create opportunities for the talent base here, and the possibilities are endless. We achieve this through our homegrown programs like the Safina Radio Project, our joint commissions with Art Dubai and our own commissions, our partnerships with foundations abroad, our educational projects, the upcoming artists’ residencies… It is no longer about the physical space, but about this content we are building, the substance we didn’t have before. We are no longer a neighborhood. We are becoming an arts organization. That is where we want to be.

Do you feel there is an overlap between what you intend to do and initiatives by other local players like Art Dubai, with its own agenda of residencies and commissions?

Everyone is doing their own part — Art Dubai, Dubai Culture — and there is an opportunity for us as an arts organization. In terms of commissions, for example, our mission is very clear: to support experimental media that is not at all commercially supported — experimental work, sound installations, public art, performance. But we are also building a cultural destination. Among the new initiatives will be a theater, art cinema and educational spaces. So it expands the arts.

Which is more important for you: that people engage with the cultural content in Alserkal Avenue, or that it is seen as a desirable destination?

Content is extremely important for us, but the programming is new. In the first year it will be about forming our own voice. We want to be part of the art history in this part of the world. Ten years from today, we want people to refer back to commissions we did. We want to be part of that timeline. But we are just starting.

by Kevin Jones

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Review /

International Currency Lodos / Mexico City

Having grown up in a post 9/11 world, millennial artists like Noah Barker, the curator of the group show “International Currency,” don’t voice resistance (as rage has long been turned into another banal nutrient for the Matrix), but rather display traces of elegant self-respect as the world finally collapses into chaos.

Their art is made of modest, symbolic gestures that seek to establish a relationship with their opinionated predecessors, and they use opacity as a means of counteracting the network’s ubiquitous craving for transparency.

Liam Gillick’s video Heckle (2014) is a portrait of a decaying pier on a Greek island: turquoise sea and sky, white plastic chairs waiting for off-season tourists. Unrelated to the imagery, the soundtrack comprises various forms of “heckling” — the noise of waves washing ashore, an indistinct clamor of protest during Occupy Wall Street, a free-jazz concert. These sounds are superimposed over long, factual still shots like distant rumors, evoking the occasional collusion of emancipatory agendas that forms of spectacle and activism sometimes share. Cameron Rowland’s almost unnoticeable work, Constituent (2014), consists of the copper wire from a couple of electrical circuits in the gallery, which Rowland has had an electrician render visible. Copper smuggling is a recurrent subject in Rowland’s practice: what interests the artist is the potential currency that this material gains due to its increasing value as a raw material. The final work in the show, Detroit Rubble (2015), is a set of construction remnants that Detroit-born artist Scott Reeder asked the gallery to collect from around its neighborhood and to paint in bright complementary colors. As cited in the press release, they are intended to make visual and literal reference to the cobblestones of 1968 Paris.

The philosophical current of speculative realism is to propose an update of a millenary, ontologically oriented conception of the universe as a means of understanding the ways that technology has revolutionized our world over the past ten years, in the process granting objects and phenomena a dystopic subjectivity as collateral damage. How scary then to realize that the point of view in the press release is that of “capital,” not the “curator”: “Art doesn’t force my hand. Instead, I bring it together. My ideas fill its difference as we share our present and indeterminate future.”

by Dorothée Dupuis

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Review /

Nicolas Ceccaldi Project Native Informant / London

“Travelers return from the city of Zirma with distinct memories: a blind black man shouting in the crowd, a lunatic teetering of a skyscraper’s cornice, a girl walking with a puma on a leash.”

The imaginative city of Zirma is one of the many Invisible Cities described by Italo Calvino in the book from 1972. “The city is redundant,” he writes. “It repeats itself so that something will stick in the mind.” Can a city be experienced through its commodified images? “Permanently Tiedup Version of You,” Nicolas Ceccaldi’s first solo show at Project Native Informant in London, is an exercise in urban experience, image circulation and détournement.

The artist’s overture is firmly declared by the way the space is transformed through an in-situ intervention as a response to the black walls left by the gallery’s previous guest. Leaving much of the space in its previous state, Ceccaldi takes advantage of walls raw that convey an un-shimmering, degraded appearance reminiscent of city peripheries, while also adding a visual layer to the images presented. Borrowing from Liz Jameson, William Turner, Lorraine Christie and Scott Dunwoodie, the five prints, all acquired in a well-known London department store, present an evocative potential, while at the same time enhancing the artist’s seditious attitude. Placed in the gallery but consciously framed for domestic display in small and medium sizes, the renowned reproductions within the intimate perimeter of Project Native Informant evoke Romantic horizons and Futurist attitudes toward modernity.

“There is no more beauty except in struggle. No masterpiece without an aggressive character.” Thus declared Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in the 1909 Futurist Manifesto. Ceccaldi’s combination of famous copies and site specificity convey subversive feelings and a déjà-vu state. Each artwork, titled as the original, states its author’s materials with an extra intervention by the artist, who has added to their surfaces drawings in paint marker. Recontextualization and deviation are present on various levels, investing the whole exhibition with a familiar urban sense of loss and encounter, transformation and contamination.

by Attilia Fattori Franchini

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Maria Lind on Future Light / Vienna Biennale 2015

The first edition of the Vienna Biennale, combining art, design, and architecture, opened June 11 and will continue through October 4, 2015. Flash Art talked with Maria Lind, curator of the group exhibition “Future Light: Escaping Transparency.”

Does your contribution succeed at delivering the promise of the Biennale’s subtitle: “Ideas for Change”?

The subtitle is a bit unfortunate, and I have since the beginning told Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, who initiated the Biennale, that I think it promises too much — in general, and for art in particular. The approach is on the verge of being instrumental. As one of the artists in the group exhibition “Future Light: Escaping Transparency” commented, the MAK seems to need additional advisors, who can bring in a slightly different way of thinking and a more sophisticated discourse, away from the current neo-liberal inclination.

You frame your concept of “Future Lights” in relation to “old enlightenment” — to reason and rationality, the individual subject and the public sphere. In a time of preemptive and algorithmic forecasting, do you see irrationality as a choice?

It depends on what you mean by “choice.” The irregular and idiosyncratic are taking on a new significance these days.

I was told Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz’s video installation Loving/Repeating was one of the showstoppers of the Biennale. What makes their filmic installation such an important piece in the show?

It is a great solo exhibition, if I may say so. The films themselves are strong, and together they form an intriguing narrative about non-normative subjectivities, which gives us a glimpse of the future. The sequencing of the films — you can only ever see one film at a time — enhances that.

Your notion of a blinking “relational trickster light” — is it a new approach to the relational in art?

I am referring to light that is not steady; it goes on and off and it relates to its surroundings.

What do you take home from this Vienna Biennale?

I am pleased to have been involved, and I am really happy with the three parts that make up “Future Light.” The MAK has been brave to initiate a new biennial. Like most biennials, the Vienna Biennale can function as an amplifier, and it is important to credit predecessors. For instance, if the argument is that it is relevant to work with art from Romania, then projects and people dealing with this in the past, especially locally, should be credited. Big players need to be careful to “pay back” the smaller players, who often take the risk of working with artists and methods long before they are established.

by Andreas Schlaegel

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Review /

Isobel Williams VI, VII / Oslo

Isobel Williams’s practice centers on observing and live-drawing at public gatherings, from the Notting Hill outdoor carnival to clubs where shibari (Japanese rope bondage) is performed.

Her solo exhibition at VI, VII presents drawings she made over the course of The Violet Crab at DRAF (2015), a “cabaret” exhibition in London orchestrated by artist Than Hussein Clark. As an observer to the setting up of the exhibition and performance events, Williams sketched what she experienced. The resulting suite of drawings bespeak her commitment to human interactions as they unfold in space and time. Rendered in ink, watercolor and conté stick, they depict various activities and moments in what amounts to an incohesive temporality more than a linear narrative. A few ink drawings of dancer Ayumi LaNoire — a recurring subject — are hung on the gallery walls, accentuating the synergy of the moving figure against the stiff verticality of the dancing pole. Williams’s admiration for calligraphy is apparent. LaNoire’s body is captured in a few swift strokes of black ink, in contrast to other more delicately detailed watercolors of people, tools and works of art in medias res.

As an authoritative record of Hussein Clark’s earlier exhibition, Williams’s drawings offer little. Instead, these impressions give vital agency to subjective experience. Williams observes and renders situations she enters on her own terms, as suggested by her long descriptive titles: “I have seen muscular men without Ayumi LaNoire’s core strength unable to support themselves on the pole,” for example. She writes with wit, asserting a place for all aspects of the process of organizing, presenting and experiencing art in the exhibition context, as well as her own subjectivity. Williams the artist emerges as her observations congeal into words and compositions. She is deliberately close to what she renders, committed to whichever isolated detail of a situation captures her imagination in the moment. Rather than the full picture, her drawings invite consideration of the condition of memory and the inevitable emotional distractions that impose themselves when you’re trying to focus intently on doing justice to your experiences as they unfold in a situation shared with others.

by Milena Hoegsberg

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The Sunday Painter / London

Harry Beer, Tom Cole and Will Jarvis talk about the past, present and future of The Sunday Painter, among London’s most lively emerging galleries.

Why did you open The Sunday Painter? Has the purpose changed over the years?

Initially it was conceived as an artists-run space whilst we were still studying fine art at the Chelsea College of Arts and the Camberwell College of Arts. We were located in a disused function room of a pub we converted. It started off with very little direction other than to try and put on good exhibitions with our peers and to allow a space for practical discourse and experimentation. I’d say this general ethos remains true; however there was a time when we realized the gallery could only continue in a meaningful way if we changed the model to a commercial one.

You named the gallery after a nickname that was given to you at school. Do you actually think you are better at finding artists than being artists?

Seeing as we are no longer practicing artists ourselves, I hope so! The transition from being an artist-run space to a gallery happened fairly naturally through being both a necessity and a conscious decision. We were also at art school with fellow students/friends who are now beginning to establish successful careers, so a lot of the relationships we have with artists are pre-existing. We’ve known them from the very beginnings of their careers, and this can be a valuable insight when it comes to finding and working with artists.

Does your background affect your program decisions?

I think having come from artistic backgrounds means we share some important sensibilities with the artists we work with, and the pace at which we do things and grow is in keeping with coming from this background. Beyond that, our own history does not influence the program too heavily — the desire to have a program that constantly challenges and questions is a stronger influence.

Can you describe the community around The Sunday Painter?

Our community is fairly broad. We’re lucky to have a good following and network of great people from our immediate community in Peckham. Because of our own beginnings, this is often in the form of artists we studied and grew up with, but the changing nature of the business, through our development to a commercial gallery, means that this now extends to collectors, patron groups, writers, curators, etc. Beyond our local community we are beginning to develop a more international outreach through participating in fairs, constantly developing relationships with fellow galleries, collectors and curators.

Who are your strongest supporters?

Artists, both those we have worked with from the early days and those who are relatively new to the gallery, have been and continue to be key supporters as the gallery constantly evolves. Their belief in us, and vice versa, is fundamental to what we are trying to achieve. We also have had great support from other more established galleries who have helped us over the years by giving us good advice on the strange business we work in. This has been invaluable I think. As well as this, we have a number of individuals who have been really key in our progression.

Are you very close to the artists you work with? Can that be a double-edged sword or does it usually work out well?

I think it is fair to say that there are some artists who we work with that we are very close to, and so far it seems to be working out well! The artist-gallery relationship requires openness, honesty and communication, so being close to the artists is important in this respect.

The gallery has been commercial for a couple of years. Are you already able to financially sustain your program?

Yes we are (just!).

Well Done! Did taking part in art fairs help finance the gallery?

Yes and no! Art fairs can be quite contradictory — they are a fundamental part of the art world and can be crucial in terms of sales, exposure and introducing artists to a new audience. They can often be the place at which a large portion of the year’s sales are made. At the same time, they come with very high overheads — the margins can be tight, particularly for a young gallery like ourselves.

Can you share a glimpse of your future program?

We have finished a major renovation of the gallery and are looking forward to working on some exciting shows in the new space, including solo shows with Hannah Lees and Neil Rumming, and a group show curated by Elinor Morgan, who is the new senior curator at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. We have also just been joined by Tom Cole, who has come on board as a new partner.

by Gea Politi

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