Christopher Lord talks to Rami Farook about directing an artful reinvention as Traffic prepares to host The Market of Everything.
Traffic gallery throws Dubai-wide spring cleaning bazaar
In two years, Dubai's art scene has watched Traffic, under the directorship of Rami Farook, reinvent itself quite dramatically.
It has gone from a design gallery selling high-end furniture to a commercial outfit representing contemporary artists. Then it became a home for Farook's impressive art collection; after that, the site of increasingly caustic publishing and exhibition projects under the broad moniker of The State.
Farook refers to all iterations of Traffic less as a gallery; more somewhere to reflect on the now: a "socio-historical" space. Sound a bit opaque? Perhaps.
But as Traffic reinvents itself, David Bowie-style, once again, the conclusion of a driving philosophy like this becomes slightly clearer.
From today until January 21, the gallery will host The Market of Everything - a sort of spring clean of the design items that Traffic still has in its warehouse from its first iteration, as well as a meeting place for the city to bring, buy, sell and donate. Fashion designers, such as Tahir Sultan from Kuwait, are bringing clothes from their latest collections. Books are being hauled en masse from Dubai-ites' dusty libraries and into the gallery for sale. And there are even a few of the necessary bake-off cake stands that a fete like this warrants.
The Market of Everything is, according to Farook, the first step toward creating Traffic 3.0. "I started wondering where the gallery's strengths are. On the sales side we're doing well - the first time we took part in Art Dubai, we sold 50 works.
"But my approach was always on a more curatorial side, whereas the business aspect of representing artists was a distraction."
Indeed, with previous exhibitions in The State series, which saw Farook delve into his own collection and intersperse pieces by Damien Hirst, Banksy, Tracey Emin and Aman Mojadidi with artists that the gallery itself represents, it was often unclear just what was for sale.
"Then I thought, let's take a step back," says Farook. James Clar, an American artist based in Dubai for the past five years, has now moved to New York, maintaining representation in the UAE with Carbon 12, another Al Quoz gallery, but working with Blythe Projects in Los Angeles. Traffic's other artists have also found local representation.
Without a commercial agenda to consider, Traffic can now move into what its director calls a "purely public" space.
"If I could use a model, I like the Serpentine Gallery in London. It's a public space with a board of advisers and directors, and not owned by one person.
"So instead of the 100 per cent stake in terms of funding, responsibility and directing, I'll take just 10 per cent and offer a contribution scheme, which is anything from US$400 to $4,000 [Dh1,470-14,690] a month."
This "co-op" model, he says, will allow Traffic to become something akin to public arts centres found elsewhere.
"It will have a bookstore, a cafe - even a lending library where you can take books and DVDs away for free for a week. For the three gallery spaces inside the building, we'd invite international curators who would loan and commission works for shows. From these contributions, the city gets its kunsthalle."
The market continues until late January and is inaugurated, oddly, with a table tennis tournament this evening. But the highlight of the coming weeks is a night dedicated to the Future Shorts film festival. The event is focused solely on short film and separates the wheat from the chaff in this disparate medium. It has had a huge success in London over the past 10 years, and has previously included work by the likes of director Mike Leigh and British satirist Chris Morris. But since November, Future Short pop-up events have been taking place in 50 cities worldwide, and Traffic hosts such an event for one night only on January 18.
In this line-up of six films, Incident by a Bank, the work of Swedish director Ruben Ostlund is one of the strongest featured. Ostlund witnessed a bank robbery taking place in 2006, while on his way to the Swedish Film Institute. It was a complete bungle, apparently, and the rather humorous consequences of this badly planned heist are recreated by a cast of 100 actors.
Look out as well for Deeper Than Yesterday, Ariel Kleinman's grim short, shot entirely on 35mm cameras in a decommissioned Russian military submarine.
The film screenings, market, and general community-edge of the next couple of weeks are a taste of what Traffic might be like after the summer.
The last show drawn entirely from Farook's own collection opens on February 2, before a team of curators move in after the summer and enact the wider-lens vision of lending and commissioning that is the gallery's proposed future.
The State: Panopticon continues until the end of March and takes a 1975 essay by Michel Foucault, "Discipline and Punish", as its springboard. The French philosopher famously compared the architectural panopticon (a circular design for a prison in which all inmates can be seen at any one time by an obscured observer) with the structure of modern society.
"The show is about my relationship with power," says Farook. "It's touching on institutional critique. Having collected, curated, published and been a gallerist - I've realised that in the art world, the notion of power is what it's all about. Saatchi himself calls gallerists 'gate keepers'."
How Panopticon will turn out remains to be seen. But Traffic's director says he plans to go on sabbatical from midsummer, and will then concentrate on his own ambitions as an artist.
Taking a slight step back in terms of the running of the gallery, Farook is still energised by an abundance of forthcoming projects (a quarterly journal, the launch of an interactive website called state.ae). But for all of these plans, the crux of Traffic's next evolution is, at least, something more community-focused, as The Market of Everything demonstrates.
He's reliably assured about the next steps: "I'm not the type to go out and ask people to donate unless I've got something proper."
With a library collection to be amassed, a board of directors assembled and the securing of financial support of the community, Traffic certainly has a busy few months ahead.
The Market of Everything
The Market of Everything runs daily from January 12-21, 10am-10pm on Thursday the 12th and Monday the 16th; 10am-7pm on Fridays and Sunday, and 10am-9pm on all other days. Bring, sell, donate or buy from 25 different stalls.
Tonight’s table tennis tournament starts at 7pm, with drum-circle sessions at 7.30pm and 8.30pm.
On Saturday January 14, there’s a screening of Mahmoud Kaabour’s feature film, Teta, Alf Marra (Grandma, A Thousand Times), while on Monday 16 there’s a marathon screening of Adam Curtis’s three-part documentary series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. On Tuesday the 17th, films from Lux Collective are screened in the gallery (www.lux.org.uk), and Future Shorts starts on Wednesday the 18th. All screenings begin at 7pm and are free to attend. www.viatraffic.org