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United Arab Emirates Opens Pavilion, First to Be Created at Venice by an Arabian Gulf Country
Through visual arts, performance, video, and its own architectural design, the Pavilion offers a unique view into the creative ferment taking place in the UAE today.

VENICE.- The United Arab Emirates Pavilion opened in the Arsenale at the 53rd International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, making history as the first national pavilion ever to be created at the Biennale by an Arabian Gulf country. Through visual arts, performance, video, and its own architectural design, the Pavilion offers a unique view into the creative ferment taking place in the UAE today. The UAE Pavilion will welcome visitors through November 22, 2009.

“It’s Not You, It’s Me”
The UAE Pavilion is titled “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” an unconventional name for the country’s first pavilion at the world’s most prestigious contemporary art event. “By and large, art professionals around the world dismiss the notion that a pavilion can truly represent a nation,” Zolghadr explains. “There still remains much to consider— your citizenship can still largely determine your career, and the way your art is produced, circulated and received.”

“Coming from a new arrival at the Venice Biennale,” Zolghadr continues, “the title ‘It’s Not You, It’s Me’ might therefore be interpreted to mean, it’s not the art that’s the problem, it’s the audience, or vice versa, or ‘look, it’s the UAE’s turn now’. The UAE Pavilion as a whole can be seen as an exhibition about exhibition-making, reflecting on the very act of national showcasing at the Venice Biennale.”

Built in a large and prominent location in the Arsenale—one of the two main areas of the Venice Biennale—the Pavilion draws attention to its nature and function as a showcase through a combination of scenographic elements and architectural design by the partnership of Rami Farook (founder of the UAE’s Traffic design gallery) and the Belgian architectural collective D’haeseleer & Kimpe & Poelaert, known for its collaborations with visual artists. Physically, the entire Pavilion highlights a “World Fair” theme that incorporates various components:

• work by the featured artist, Lamya Gargash
• a showroom of work by several UAE artists
• a Kiosk featuring conversations with key figures in the cultural panorama of the country
• a documentation of a Dubai performance by the Jackson Pollock Bar
• scenography reminiscent of the World Fair tradition, including text panels and architectural models of UAE arts infrastructure

As Zolghadr states, “The UAE Pavilion offers a set of parallel endeavors – artistic, performative, architectural, discursive – which enjoy a measure of independence and singularity within a larger whole.”

Architecture and the National Pavilion
The pavilion architecture is monumental enough to perfectly play up the World Fair theme of the pavilion, and yet, in its unapologetic eccentricity, it is at the same time an exercise in abstraction. The imposing, stark walls open up many different possibilities of interpretation. From the pavilion’s perspective, the uncompromising walls are a deadpan response to the challenges of Venice. With respect to the art in the pavilion, the architecture offers a form of metaphorical shelter from the 900,000 visitors and the pressure to spectacularise. With respect to the pavilion visitors, it offers a rare moment of quiet repose.

The Art and the Artist
For the exhibition in the UAE Pavilion, Lamya Gargash has created a series of 31 photographs titled "Familial”, which document one-star hotels in the UAE. A number of the anonymous rooms photographed have been altered by the artist, who has added framed pictures of her own family to the décor. Through this intervention, Gargash both confronts and undermines the semi-mythical, raffish reputation of places that are always nearby and yet can seem alien. The work also reflects on the Pavilion’s concept by playing on representations of national infrastructure, not only questioning what representation can mean in such a context, but what national infrastructure really is to begin with.

“The series plays on the aesthetics of hospitality, the politics of interior design and the disingenuous lure of documentation,” Zolghadr comments. “Although the work successfully stands on its own and for itself, the connections to the Pavilion as a whole are perceptible, and even tangible.”

Born in Dubai in 1982, Lamya Gargash frequently dwells on themes of identity, culture and the passage of time, as evoked in modes of dress and the design of architectural spaces. Her work has been shown in exhibitions including the 2009 Sharjah Biennial, Dubai Next (organised at the Vitra Museum by Rem Koolhaas and Jack Persekian in conjunction with Art Basel 2008), Abu Dhabi Art, Talk & Sensations (organised by Fabrice Bousteau in conjunction with artparis Abu Dhabi 2008) and the Locarno Film Festival (where she presented her animation, Untitled, in 2006).

Art and the National Pavilion
The UAE Pavilion includes a selective archive of UAE artists, with Ebtisam Abdul Aziz, Tarek Al-Ghoussein, Huda Saeed Saif, and Hassan Sharif. Artists from different cities, scenes and generations, they appear not as members of a group show, but as elements of a curatorial endeavour that is the “Showcase” section of the World Fair experiment.

Another important feature is a specially commissioned video installation, “Nation Builders”, by the Berlin-based artist, dramaturge and curator Hannah Hurtzig. Using a format based on her existing “Kiosk” series, Hurtzig arranged and documented a series of five conversations, held in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in March 2009. For each conversation, a key figure in the development of the cultural scene in the UAE was carefully paired with a partner from either inside or outside the country. Visitors to the UAE Pavilion are able to listen to the conversations on wireless headsets, selecting from the choices on the Kiosk display.

A further element of the space is a video documentation of a performance by the theatre troupe Jackson Pollock Bar, which specialises in reconstructing conferences and lectures. Their method is to transcribe and edit a record of an event and then re-create it onstage, lipsynching to a soundtrack. For its performance for the UAE Pavilion, titled “Opening”, Jackson Pollock Bar worked with actors to re-create the official press conference announcing the UAE Pavilion in December 2008 at Art Basel Miami Beach. The video of the performance is on display within the UAE Pavilion throughout the Biennale.

Finally, the UAE Pavilion includes a scenographic display of elements that are typical of world expositions. It features architectural models of UAE museum infrastructure: both the existing facilities (such as the Sharjah Art Museum and Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization) and those that are being planned (such as the Saadiyat Island Cultural District in Abu Dhabi, which includes the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum, and the Museum of Middle Eastern Modern Art - MOMEMA). Text panels amplify the effect of the display.

Venice Biennale | United Arab Emirates | Lamya Gargash | Dubai | Abdul Aziz | Tarek Al-Ghoussein | Huda Saeed Saif | Hassan Sharif |

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