Remote-controlled cars as art?

Dubai artist Ubik explores the concept of friendship - with toys

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Local Indian artist Ubik’s work is consistently current, edgy and, above all, cool. The 27-year-old may not quite be Dubai’s answer to Banksy, but his one-name, four-letter pseudonym is very well known in the city’s art circles.

His latest artistic offering, running at The Pavilion until Thursday November 15, is a mega-interactive installation piece entitled ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’, which consists of more than nine tonnes of sand and 40 remote-control cars. Ubik describes it as ‘a conceptual piece that explores friendship in Dubai’.

‘I really wanted a piece that would only work if my friends were involved,’ he explains. ‘The whole thing was inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation and how in Dubai, it’s quite small. I wanted to get people into one space to interact with each other, to get strangers to talk.’

But the conversation that arises within the 22m x 14m space is not necessarily naturally born. With the remote-control cars operating on two different frequencies, Ubik says audience members are forced to engage with each other if they want to take the wheel. ‘The installation is set up in such as way that the cars work on two different frequencies, but the audience isn’t aware of that,’ he says. ‘You can actually control ten cars in the same space, but you also have to negotiate to let the other person play with theirs. It’s kind of a glitch that really worked in my favour. The give-and-take aspect was something I wanted to explore.’

While most of the sand is the same as the stuff we see plenty of in Dubai, Ubik says he also used 20kg of coloured sand to give more layers and depth to the installation. ‘I was inspired by a heat map. I wanted
the installation to be pretty in a lot of ways, and I thought it would be more interesting to see colour in the sand and see how it would blend. It also comes from the whole idea of leaving behind an impression.
I wanted to take that quite literally and transform it in a way.’

The freelance graphic designer, who quit his day job a year ago, says this project has been a labour of love, and he was conscious about delving into something a little more lighthearted this time. ‘A lot of my work is super-heavy and super-political,’ he explains. ‘When I first started out, I was doing a lot of Arab and Middle Eastern-inspired politics, but now I’m focused on toning it down. In a sense, I don’t want to be typecast as one of those artists. So I’ve been branching out: most of my work this year has been political, but it’s also been stuff that’s close to my heart. I personally like working with mediums that I’m really not comfortable with to break myself away from the pattern.’

One pattern he can’t seem to shake is the ability to do the unexpected. ‘This installation goes back to the whole idea of childhood – in a lot of ways it resembles a sandbox. I really wanted to capture what a good time in Dubai is all about. A lot of people get frustrated with the installation because the frequencies clash. They can’t play and they’re too shy to talk to strangers to let them play, so I wanted to get that whole mess into it,’ he says.

Talking of mess, what does the artist plan to do with all that sand once the curtains close on his installation? ‘I try to make most of my site-specific works ephemeral – they either get destroyed or they don’t exist after the show, and I kind of like that,’ he says. ‘But we have no idea what to do with the sand when the show’s over. It’s a lot of sand.’ We’re sure Ubik’s active imagination will come up with a few ideas.

The Lowdown

Exhibition: ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ until November 15 at The Pavilion, Emaar Boulevard, Downtown Dubai (04 447 7025).
Artist: Ubik.
Price of work: Not for sale.

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