x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Superstar DJs: here we go

A new Dubai exhibition by Algerian artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah is expected to stand out, even in a week that is full of intriguing new shows.

Zoulikha Bouabdellah's Set Me Free From My Chains.
Zoulikha Bouabdellah's Set Me Free From My Chains.

The last time Dubai saw the Algerian artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah, she was exhibiting among the winners of the first Abraaj Capital Art Prize. Her mirrored pagoda, Walk on the Sky, Pisces, was easily the most arresting of the three commissioned pieces, so there is good reason to believe that her solo show at the Isabelle van den Eynde Gallery will stand out, even in a week that is full of intriguing new shows.

Set Me Free From My Chains takes its name from an Umm Kulthum lyric. The show also includes subversive treatments of an Orientalist painting by Ingres and scenes from the 1949 Egyptian film Genie Lady, suggesting a richness of reference that I hadn't previously noticed in her work. What specimens I had seen before dealt in startling physical realisations of poetic commonplaces - the stars in neon and perspex of her Abraaj piece, for instance. If her new show employs a more targeted sort of detournement, undermining specific conceptions rather than general notions (in this case, connected with femininity), that seems a better line of attack for an artist whose work falls somewhere on the spectrum between quizzical and satirical commentary. It's analogous to arguing with a real opponent instead of a straw man: the points you score count for more. In theory, anyway. The proof is in the experience, and Bouabdellah seems to know how to make that work.

A couple of photographic shows look worth visiting this week. The reliably diverting Empty Quarter gallery has a show titled That Shimmering Beast, in which a trio of photographers - Virgilio Ferreira, Mehrdad Naraghi and Miyuki Okuyama - attempt to capture the essence of the city by indirect means; no jagged skylines here. Instead we get a collection of distressed textures, oblique angles and faintly melancholy spaces, which at least makes for an attractive set of images. Whether any deep truth about urban life is pinned down remains to be seen, but this seems as good an approach as any.

Meanwhile, Carbon 12's Blue Skie'd and Clear, to judge from the promotional shots on its website, also seems to do a creditable job at capturing the urban spirit. Birgit Graschopf, Yuko Ichikawa, Maria Maeser, Jamie Baldridge, Maximillian Pramatarov and Hazem Mahdy are the cosmopolitan crew of photographers whose work is on display. Graschopf has a bird's-eye shot of pairs of figures along a deserted street. The image packs a Last Year at Marienbad charge of metaphysical uncanniness, which is surely a major feature of any trip into town, says the chap from West Sussex. And Pramatarov has a shot of vast Soviet-style mansion blocks seen through the rain on a high window. Even just looking at it on my scuzzy monitor, it's producing a sense of inexpressible, though oddly pleasant, desolation. One can only imagine what the full effect is like.

True art-world celebrity comes to 1x1 Gallery this week, if that's the word for an artist who has succeeded in preserving his anonymity in the face of fervent media interest. Banksy, the pseudonymous British graffiti artist whose canvases sell for hundreds of thousands of dirhams, forms the centrepiece of a show of urban art. Other big names include Goldie, the drum and bass producer, D'Face, a UK street artist, and Andy Warhol, who probably doesn't belong in this show.

The idea of the electronic music producer as boffin goes back at least as far as the music itself - think of Joe Meek's mad scientist schtick. Ewan Pearson's cerebral approach to dance music is part of a long tradition, then, though there aren't many knob-twiddlers who have had the opportunity to muse on their night jobs on the dime of the academic publisher Routledge. Pearson records as Maas, Sulky Pup and several other identities, and has a longstanding relationship with the peerless German techno label Kompakt, which gives him about three times as much chin-stroking cred as the average superstar DJ to pass through the Emirates. Oh, and he has produced Tracey Thorn, M83, The Rapture and several other acts whose photo appears in the dictionary next to the word "cool". His latest record, a mix CD for Kompact, is titled We Are Proud of Our Choices, which isn't a sentiment given to all to share. Still, you probably won't regret catching his set at Madinat Jumeirah on Thursday.

Set Me Free From My Chains Wednesday until July 23, Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Al Quoz, Dubai. That Shimmering Beast Tuesday until July 4, Empty Quarter DIFC, Dubai. Blue Skie'd and Clear Thursday until September 25, Carbon 12, Al Quoz, Dubai. Urban Contemporary Art June 7 - 12, 1x1 Gallery, Al Wasl Road, Dubai, Dubai.

Ewan Pearson Thursday, Madinat Jumeirah Dubai.