x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sharjah exhibition explores commercial art

Three installations in the heritage quarter question the very nature of art presentation.

Heman Chong's sci-fi bookstore at the Sharjah exhibit.
Heman Chong's sci-fi bookstore at the Sharjah exhibit.

Here's something that might unnerve those harbingers of heritage: take one of Sharjah's oldest and most beautiful courtyarded buildings and turn it into a mall. Scary stuff, right? But in keeping with the increasingly daring ideas running through the halls of Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) these days, the curators have assembled a group of artists who question the very nature of art presentation, the idea of promoting art and let the commercial lock horns with the cultural.

In the show titled Pilot Micro Multiplex Mall, Heman Chong, Dirk Fleischmann and Jun Yang have been handed Beit Al Shamsi in the Heart of Sharjah heritage quarter to transform the space into three commercial-looking installations.

Chong has come up with a bookshop, dedicated entirely to science fiction and fantasy paperbacks - the sort, we might imagine, festooned with Conan-esque, bare-chested juggernauts battling with dragons. The sheer volume of the collection in the fully functioning bookshop is designed to overwhelm. According to SAF, the works explore "the philosophies, motivations and methodologies that individuals and communities employ when imagining the future".

Then there's Fleischmann's myconceptstore, a "shop" dedicated to the vast number of products that the German artist has amassed over the past decade, such as a chandelier he made in South Korea in collaboration with artists there. All profits from the shop (everything is for sale, we must add) go back into Fleischmann's other projects, including something oddly described as myforestfarm.

Finally, Yang has developed a cinema space - sort of a manifesto of intervention into Beit Al Shamsi - examining how areas can be repurposed for public gatherings. "This releases the building from the abstract temporality imposed by its heritage status," according to SAF, "and reintegrates it into the 'lived present' of the area in which it is situated."

It's challenging work from a body that's made head-scratching but well-curated experimental shows its raison d'être. We're excited to see if this comes off right because there's no doubt that it's charting new ground in a very old bit of territory.

From October 3 to December 22 at Beit Al Shamsi, Heart of Sharjah