Maraya Art Centre will be hosting a newly-commissioned outdoor sculpture for Maraya Art Park from 11 November – 14 May, Curated by Dr. Alexandra MacGilp.
The seven invited artists (Fayçal Baghriche - Nick Ferguson - Tatiana Echeverri Fernandez - Sonja Gerdes - Ludovica Gioscia - Hans Rosenström - Kim Schoen) explore what makes us human in the digital age. Memory is one thing that machines are not able to imitate and this is addressed poetically. Our interaction with the chatbots who increasingly haunt the online world is examined. Exuberant sculptures and installations playfully examine the torrent of consumerism that engulfs our everyday existence and how it moulds our identity. The artists address the histories of the built environment, urban and rural, that surrounds and shapes us. They imagine alternative presents and futures as well as making us aware of our physical body and the space around it. They probe our uneasy relationship with the natural world, our desire for fantasy and escape, our yearning nostalgia for a lost Utopian future.
Sharjah has undergone rapid development over the last fifty years. Yet the arid landscape and intense summer heat have imposed multiple constraints on habitation, necessitating advancements in architecture and engineering which have rendered this desert city on the Arabian Gulf a test site for creative dwelling. If, increasingly, climate change and global population expansion are defining elements of our time, it is possible that Sharjah, at technological level at least, may be a precursor of the directions cities might evolve elsewhere. Nick Ferguson has designed a custom-made birdhouse called Futuro Estate out of fiberglass pods, inspired by futuristic architecture design from the 1960s. The project provides an opportunity to see what it looks like afresh and consider what could have happened for a long-abandoned architecture of the future to be scaled for use by the birds that share the city, and to be re-presented as art. Unlike the dovecotes that grace rural residencies elsewhere in the Middle East, and which provide a home for birds that serve as both companion and food, Futuro Estate is proposed as a resource for feral birds. We will discover which species, if any, will make use of it and whether it will serve simply as a platform on which to gather, see and be seen, or be colonised for nesting. On the 9th November, Dr. Nick Ferguson from Richmond, the American International University in London will discuss his new outdoor commission Futuro Estate in Imitation Game. The talk will take place at Maraya Art Centre at 6:30 p.m.
Faycal Baghriche is also interested in the conditions of urban dwelling in Sharjah, viewing the city as a surface transplanted over a desert environment. He will make an intervention into the watering system of the park, causing a partial interruption so the grass will dry through and become yellow and thin, revealing very quickly the true character of the land surface, which is sandy. Tatiana Echeverri Fernandez also plays with water in her sculpture Fräulein Alba, Fräulein Aisha and Fräulein Arij. These three towers are made out of pots sourced from a local pottery, Al Fakhr. The artist is interested in how these objects are formally unchanged since prehistoric times but can carry new metaphors in changing times and relate strongly to bodily forms. The towers will surprise visitors to the park with a hidden water feature.
Sonja Gerdes is fascinated with how we will live in the future and fantasy alternatives to our current reality. She will bring her Oxygenenergizer project to Sharjah in the form of an advertising campaign, ceramic and steel sculpture and performance in the park. With it, she challenges us to imagine that oxygen could fuel engines as it does humans. Close-by, Ludovica Gioscia invites us into the luminous interior of her container in the park. Inside it, her screen-printed wallpapers glow under UV lights. These hand-made sheets celebrate female characters that are part A.I. (artificial intelligence) or are born on virtual platforms. One is the Bionic Woman from the 1970s TV series the artist watched as a child. This was her first encounter with a cyborg, and shaped her consequent understanding of artificial intelligence as something that could exist within us. Other characters who appear in the installation are the contemporary chatbot Evie and Second Life avatar La Turbo Avedon. In fact, online conversations Evie helped the artist determine the direction of the project.
Ding Dong by Kim Schoen is an interactive sculpture that explores the tension between programmed and spontaneous speech, sense and nonsense, memory and forgetting. It is comprised of four short plays—conversations between ‘spoofed’ names from spam emails, and an artificial intelligence chatbot, one in Arabic. These conversations are theatrical and nonsensical in nature. They became arguments because the chatbot algorithm uses antagonism as a strategy to allow a conversation topic to switch abruptly, with no reference to what was said before. Meanwhile, Hans Rosenstrom has created a poetic sound sculpture for the park, recorded in English and Arabic by local performers. With it he explores what makes us human and how we relate to one another in ‘real life’. The power of the human voice is something personal and private that still has the power to transcend boundaries and bring us together.