Art through earphones at DUCTAC

You'll need headphones to enjoy this new Dubai exhibiting

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You’ll need your ears and headphones to appreciate the latest exhibition at DUCTAC.

Londoner Simon Coates, the manager of DUCTAC (Mall of the Emirates’ very own artistic, cultural and theatrical hub), wants to push the envelope when it comes to Dubai’s art scene.

His latest exhibition, called Peace in an Open Space, should do just that. It focuses not on paintings or sculptures, but on sound as art and involves wireless headphones, tablet computers such as iPads and an environment of German industrial furniture courtesy of the J+A Gallery in Al Quoz.

‘The best and simplest way I can think of to describe sound art is that it’s like music but without a verse and chorus or without rhythm,’ he says. ‘There’s a strong relationship between music and sound art. Sound art can be kinetic, so it can be a sculpture that moves in some way and somehow creates sound. It could be influenced by the wind or something else.’

Roughly a year ago, Coates wrote an article for a magazine about sound art, which turned out to be the catalyst for the exhibition he has now curated. A tricky subject matter, when compared to more conventional forms of art, such as sculpture or portraiture, Coates is sympathetic to the accessibility problems people could face with an art form that’s merely a sonic experience.

‘It’s demanding to get your head around – a bit like seeing an abstract painting for the first time, so what we’re doing is to make the gallery as comfortable as possible. Within the space we’re working with the J+A Gallery in Al Quoz – they’re going to lend us some of their pieces so that people can come in and sit on this amazing furniture.’

Taking US electronic ambient musician expert Marc Weidenbaum’s list of recommended sounds, Coates decided to turn it into a work of art. ‘I said rather than just making a list, if you could write it out by hand, scan it and send me the file, then I’ll do something with it.’

Before the exhibition, Coates had his own definition of sound art and believed that there was an absolute distinction between the genre and experimental music.

But as he developed his knowledge his own beliefs evolved. ‘I approached it in a very disruptive way – in my naivety. Most of the artists featured in the exhibition have some kind of musical approach as well. Marc [Weidenbaum] is a good example – he was a music journalist. There’s so much synergy between music and sound art.’

The idea of using modern tablet computers to convey each piece of sound art in the exhibition came from the owner of Dubai Audio, Amir. Coates describes Amir as having tendencies like Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back and an encyclopedic technical knowledge – a collaboration which clearly had a profound effect on the nature of the exhibition. The entire show, which includes works that date back to the 1920s, is a chronological introduction to the art form.

Clearly in awe of several of the contributors, Coates was surprised by the willingness of some of the titans in the sound art world to participate in the exhibition. ‘[American composer] Alvin Lucier’s I’m Sitting in a Room, which came out in 1969, was an astonishing piece of sound art – really ground breaking. He emailed the other day [to ask if he was still] in the piece – he was really humble.

I never thought I’d get Scanner [UK composer Robin Rimbaud] – these people are the Mark Rothko’s [the American painter] of the sound art world.’

Yet this exhibition is merely the start of Coates’ crusade to shake up the art scene in Dubai. In his own words, ‘My job as the new manager at DUCTAC is to burst a few preconceptions and we kind of started that with the recent commissions [by Dubai-based artist Vikram Divecha and German Carla Mercedes]. For me going forward, I’ve been in Dubai long enough to know that the art landscape works in a certain way and that the commercial orientation is very self sufficient but I come from London, where art is not just about that. So what I’m trying to do through these exhibitions and through these initiatives is to show people that art doesn’t have to have a value and that it doesn’t have to be hung on a wall.’

The Lowdown

Exhibition: ‘Peace In An Open Space’ is on at DUCTAC, Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha (04 431 4777).
Runs: January 13-26
Artists: Scanner, Dr Halim El-Dabh, Christina Kubrich, Leopoldo Amigo Pérez, Alvin Lucier, Porya Hatami, Soosan Lolavar, Disquiet.

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