Vacuum art in Dubai

Group exhibition at Grey Noise Gallery has desolate theme


Alserkal newcomer Grey Noise launched in April with a unique installation show that, for the first time, shone a spotlight on Pakistani artists in Dubai. The gallery, which represents both established and emerging artists from Pakistan and beyond, has now launched its second conceptual exhibition, entitled ‘’. The forward-thinking show focuses on themes of identity and the idea of a physical and conceptual void. ‘The exhibition explores the literal and metaphorical understanding of the word “vacuum”,’ explains gallery owner Umer Butt. Here, two artists share the meaning behind their pieces.

Basir Mahmood, 26, Pakistani

Title: ‘A Message to the Sea’, video installation
‘This piece was developed during my stay in the old fishermen’s area, in Bodrum, Turkey. Men on the land have always been dependent on the sea for fishing and trade. The intention behind the piece was to create a dialogue between men and the sea, by sending a message back to the sea. The ship in the work is not a subject – it’s an object that holds a message. I dropped my camera in the water that day, so the presence of the sea is still in it.’

How does this piece relate to themes of identity and vacuum?
‘The work was partially made out of a profession. The area where the piece was developed belonged to the fishermen, but now you don’t see them there any more. For me to develop a work from a profession became a matter of identity.’

Michael John Whelan, 34, Irish

Title: ‘I, Asimov’, Polaroid
‘This piece, shot in Warburg in Germany, represents our negotiation of popular culture, technology and the “real” world that surrounds us. I shot this early in the morning – I was completely alone in this beautiful German landscape, surrounded only by typical sounds of nature. I remember the strange feeling as the picture appeared on the Polaroid and I could see this presence in the image. It reminded me of some ghost story, where the ghost is only visible on screen or camera. I had captured something special – a “game of light”, created by pointing the camera towards a strong light source, in this case the bright sky and optics. When the title is considered, this image tells the story of a man’s relationship with the writers of his youth, his anger with their deaths and the futile inability to recreate them in his time.’

How does this image relate to themes of identity and vacuum?

‘For me, part of this image is about creating something out of nothing: lens flare exists, although it doesn’t exist in a physical way. Without the mechanics of the camera lens and chemistry of the Polaroid, there would be nothing. I wanted to use the camera as a medium to create an entity that I could name “Asimov”. US professor Isaac Asimov was one of the foremost science fiction writers and humanists of our time – I appreciate how he conceptualised and managed vast swathes of time in his “Foundation” series. My title specifically refers to me naming the form represented in the image and letting it “speak”. The title is a statement of sentiency. In a very personal way, the lens flare is symbolic of a dead writer who has become an immortal character in my mind.’

The Lowdown

Exhibitions: ‘’ until September 1 at Grey Noise, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz 1 (050 175 2080).
Artists: Michael John Whelan, Nadia Khawaja, Fahd Burki, Basir Mahmood, Saira Ansari, Mehreen Murtaza.
Price range of works: Dhs1,500 to Dhs60,000.

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