Editor’s Letter: Getting Up Close
By HG Masters
Compiling this Almanac as the year draws to a close, I find myself struggling to describe all the moments that exist around the margins of our written chronicle of contemporary art. There are manifold joys in watching people realize their creative and intellectual productions and how they share them with us. Whether it is an artist introducing their work and asking them how and why they made certain decisions, joining a curator-led tour of an exhibition, or listening to a discussion filled with insight and passion, such forms of interpersonal engagement elevate the experience of art. Engage in these moments with people you cherish, and the amplified experience becomes a foundation for deeper connections.
One of the many unexpectedly poignant moments I had in 2023 came at the Sharjah Biennial 15 during a performance in an old cinema in Khorfakkan, a town on the east coast of the United Arab Emirates. With a frieze of local icons from ships to animals and tea pots, the modernist building was constructed in 1978, fell into disuse, and was later acquired by the Sharjah Art Foundation for preservation. Staged under the dilapidated ceiling, choreographers Selma and Sofiane Ouissi’s Bird (2023) was a captivating solo dance in which Sofiane performed on a low wooden stage with two pet doves and a garment adorned with shells and other natural objects harvested from the area as feral pigeons flapped and squawked overhead. Forbidden to record the performance, our group of several dozen sat on cushions around the stage in rapt attention at this dramatic collaboration between us and our surroundings. Untangling the threads of this unexpected performance consumed the long drive back across the mountains to downtown Sharjah.