x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

In Dubai, architecture does not reflect what's inside

While undertaking a residency at thejamjar, the artist Farah Nasri will combine her architectural training with scultupre and photography to document Dubai and its inhabitants, commenting on the notion of facades.

The old architectural adage says that form follows function. But, in the case of Dubai, could function perhaps follow form?

That's what we put to the Lebanese artist and architect Farah Nasri when asking whether the architecture of this city might have some effect on the mindset of its denizens.

"I think they're very related," she says, in the midst of preparing for her month-long residency at the Al Quoz space thejamjar, at the end of which she will show off a body of new work created during that time.

"Does the social affect the architecture or the architecture affect the social?" she ponders, and explains the work she anticipates during September - a meeting of sculpture and photography that attempts to show how empty social projections of fashion and artifice can be stripped away to reveal a "concrete root beauty".

"I'll start by carving into and hollowing out a series of mannequins and then using them to cast concrete from the inside," she explains. "After that, I'll take these mannequins to construction sites and photograph them in front of buildings that are yet to have the façade installed."

Nasri is the second artist in thejamjar's year-long residency programme, which launched in March with a month-long stay by the Ras Al Khaimah-based artist Rebecca Rendell. The programme is particularly focused on recent graduates who find themselves suddenly thrust out of the daily regimen of discussing and developing their work. With a large studio space and the passing traffic of the general public to provide stimuli and ideas, the residency is designed to recreate the studio environment and give some momentum to a fresh body of work.

Nasri has mostly shown photographs in her previous exhibitions in the UAE (at the Sikka Art Fair 2012, for instance). These are examinations of the spatial experience of a building: she unfolds the three-dimensional space like a paper cube, laying out photographs of its walls, floors and crannies as a flat assemblage of images.

"I'm usually documenting spaces and buildings that are neglected or due to be knocked down," she says. "The images look flat but you're actually seeing the whole space."

For her residency, she's pushing her work in a significantly different direction by engaging with mediums such as sculpture and employing a more didactic slant.

"I want people to look at things from the inside," she says. "Everyone is so obsessed with appearance and having plastic surgery to shape all these extreme physical transformations. I want to move away from that culture."

At the heart of her vision for this new body of work is the idea of façade. She tells us that this architectural feature is pertinent to life in Dubai. "In Dubai, you see, for example, French-style villas in the middle of the desert and it looks so wrong. But on the inside, the buildings somehow work."

The shell-like construction sites around town will find their own projected likeness in these hollowed-out mannequins, she suggests.

Earlier this year, Nasri had a large-scale outdoor piece unveiled in Business Bay Avenue. The work was mounted on a billboard and entirely white, with spikes and jagged forms that protruded from this blank mass. These little constructions operated like a hundred tiny sun dials; the shadows created by the sun stretch across the surface of the billboard. "I always think of this city as a map of random projections, it's a very unique urban planning. In 30 years that flat desert canvas became three-dimensional."

Whether trying to excavate through the superficial façade of ourselves or deconstructing forgotten interiors into a panorama of abstract images, Nasri's work is clearly coloured by her training as an architect but it's still hammering at more human ideas.

She's now got a month to see where this bold line of inquiry takes her. Drop in and see how she's getting on.

Farah Nasri is at thejamjar from Sunday until September 29, with her solo show of works to be shown from September 24 to 29. For information on applying to thejamjar's residency programme, visit www.thejamjardubai.com. thejamjar is located at St 17a, Al Quoz 3, Dubai. Open Monday to Thursday and Saturday, 10am-8pm; Friday, 2-8pm. Call 04 341 7303