The Artist UBIK Asks the Question for Our Era: What Exactly Is Art Anyway?

The Indian-born Dubai-based artist UBIK is interested in the organization of the human world, the interplay between cultural production and its commodification, and the viewer’s relation to art. He tends to draw attention to the dichotomies that often surface within those spheres, namely, absurdity and reason and chaos and order. His provocative 2011 installation Tahrir Square is a good example, providing a wry commentary on censorship in the United Arab Emirates following the Arab Spring. Now, in his second solo show at Sabrina Amrani Gallery in Madrid, the turns his attention to the commodification of art.

Installation view "Iterations" at Sabrina Amrani Gallery. Image courtesy of Sabrina Amrani Gallery. 

Installation view "Iterations" at Sabrina Amrani Gallery. Image courtesy of Sabrina Amrani Gallery. 

His new show, titled “Iterations,” is broadly based on the idea of repetition, or creating new versions in order to achieve a desired outcome. It’s a broad way to question the role of artmaking in the contemporary sphere. The works in “Iterations” are all meant to be read together, as an “installative environment”—and they are largely inspired by a text called  “Politics of Installation,” a manifesto written in 2009 by the art critic and philosopher Boris Groys. In the essay, Groys explores value and authority in the art world while considering the tensions between artist and curator.

The essay begins, “The field of art is today frequently equated with the art market, and the artwork is primarily identified as a commodity.” UBIK experiments with this idea, sometimes playfully. In  60gms (2015), brass letters spell out the word “object” without the “e,” as if the artist were in such a hurry to get the work to the gallery that he didn’t have time to spell out the whole word.  The Centre of the Universe (2015), meanwhile, has a lofty title that manifests as a brass pot that appears to have been run over by a steamroller. Study for a redaction (2015), features a found Lakshmi sculpture that as been crushed and five drippy aluminum casts (or iterations) of the intact original. We are lead to believe the original may have been sacrificed in the casting process for the sake of creating five copies.

In this show, surely one of many to come from the young artist, UBIK engages with Groys’ ideas and builds upon his own oeuvre. It’s a body of work marked by works and exhibitions that push the boundary and challenge the viewer to interact with art—and to question what exactly “art” is in the first place.



Bridget Gleeson


Iterations” is on view at Sabrina Amrani Gallery, Madrid, Sep. 10 – Oct. 31, 2015.


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