x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Real art would make difference to JBR instead of plastic monstrosities

At JBR's beachfront there is fat-fried chicken as street furniture. Who's the 'curator' of this strange sculpture park?

A giant bucket of plastic fried chicken does not and will not whet my appetite. Ever. It's a sentiment that I hope is shared among most on The Walk, JBR's beachfront promenade in Dubai, as they regard the baffling new roundabout landmark on their morning stroll.

In the past six months, said roundabout has become the site for a series of brands to place absurdist-sized renditions of their flagship products. Looking like Alice in a new commercialised version of Wonderland, the public have previously had to reckon with a gargantuan faux-steaming coffee cup (powered by dry ice). Children have played a creepy game of hide-and-seek around a monolithic box of painkillers. And, today, a bucket of eerily illuminated meat dwarfs the merry-go-round of lime-green Lamborghinis and Hummers that clog up the road nightly.

It's bad enough that streets get decorated with massive images of glistening burgers and sad, soggy sandwiches. But to substitute half-decent public art, fountains, or even just a few trees, for an overwhelming roll of toilet paper (not yet, but I wouldn't be too surprised) seems a step too far.

The trouble is, where's the bar on quality control? Who's the "curator" of this strange sculpture park? If fat-fried chicken can become street furniture, then who's to say that there won't some day appear a big pot of ointment, a great sack of dog food, an oversized litre of car brake fluid, or, indeed, a Jacuzzi-sized ashtray with a cigarette faux-smouldering in it (again, via the aid of dry ice)?

The billboard seems, relatively speaking, harmless. They can even play a de facto social function by hiding away half-built concrete shells with scenes of gleaming lawns and fantastical visions of societal bliss. Likewise, a billboard showing a pretty person sticking their nose lovingly into an aromatic cup of morning coffee might be basic, but at least it's easy on the eye. A big plastic version of a jar of coffee shoved in the middle of the street is just plain old reality made bigger.

But my concern isn't for the thinking behind advertisers. Streets are sacred, particularly in a city where opportunities for outdoor, public strolling are fairly restricted and minimal. We live in a world that's been commercialised enough already, and it's near impossible to escape from someone trying to sell you something. There are enough talented artists out here keen to put something back into the city that they call home. This otherwise barren roundabout could even become Dubai's own fourth plinth.

But either way, brands really shouldn't be running wild on these already congested cobbles. Not on my walk.



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