Mar 15 2013

Sharjah Biennial Report: After Dark

by Noelle Bodick

KAZUYO SEJIMA + RYUE NISHIZAWA / SANNA, Bubble, 2013, pavilion, acrylic, aluminum, steel. 

Day two at the Biennial . . . 

During the day, there is nothing very inviting about the sprawling playground on Sharjah’s Bank Street. It is for the most part abandoned, looking like the land of the misfit toys, dumped on the black dunes of the Middle East. A lonely orange dinosaur rises from a valley across from a teacup-shaped bench that remains intensely immobile. Even the low, sloping dunes can only provide the shortest of adrenaline rushes for those who windmill down them. The volleyball nets, mismatched seats and squat mushroom lights seem to exist here without relation or context.

SUPERFLEX, The Bank, 2013, public space, Bank Street, Sharjah.

But these structures do have context for many of the people who call this neighborhood home. The Copenhagen-based collective SUPERFLEX interviewed immigrant residents about objects that they remember from the public spaces of their childhoods and replicated these structures here for the Biennial. Though this playground of displaced memories is empty during the day, it is quick with life at night.

Ten drummers played a composition by the Lebanese sound artist TAREK ATOUI.

Indeed, after dark the Biennial feels less like the art world’s exclusive domain, where you continually bump into the hotel breakfast club, and becomes increasingly accessible, even attractive, to local residents. Two music performances lured crowds into the courtyards of the old historic district yesterday evening. Shahzia Sikander and Du Yun’s performance featured poets Abdullah al Hedeyeh, Shaikha al Mutairi and Hamsa Younis crooning verse from platforms with Mohamed Lashkuri Ibrahim playing on a shehnai. Later, ten drummers (Uriel Barthélémi, Susie Ibarra, Lukas Ligeti, Kevin Shea, Jim Black, Yoshimi, Yoshida Tatsuya, Morten Olsen, Brian Chippendale and Cevdet Erek) jammed to Metricize, part of the “WITHIN” program by Lebanese sound artist Tarek Atoui, which will last the duration of the Biennial.

Thai filmmaker APICHATPONG WEERASETHAKUL and German architect OLE SCHEEREN along with the panel of film programmers at Mirage City Cinema. 

Concluding the evening, visitors gathered at the open-air Mirage City Cinema for the Biennial’s first film screening. Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul and German architect Ole Scheeren spoke about reproducing the maze of the medina inside the new theater space, decentering the axis of watching. Unfortunately, Tilda Swinton, who programmed the evening, was not present, nor was David Bowie for that matter. Her selection, the Henry Hathaway feature Peter Ibbetson (1935), told the story of two lovers who unite in their dreams. Halfway through, in a suitably fantastical moment, four young local boys wandered into the theatre like an apparation and sprawled out on the oriental carpets, reclaiming the space from the circle of journalists and gallerists.

Noelle Bodick is assistant editor of ArtAsiaPacific and is based in Hong Kong.