At the Abu Dhabi International Sculpture Symposium this month, 17 international artists will convene with a view to creating an infusion of public art for the city.
Sculpting a scene
You do not need to look far to see that the city of Abu Dhabi is in the grip of dramatic change. Buildings are flying up. Greenery is being planted. Infrastructure is being fine-tuned to cope with the growing population. These are heady times as the Urban Planning Council works through the Abu Dhabi 2030 Urban Structure Framework Plan, one that will see the city evolve into a dynamic, sustainable and socially cohesive metropolis. The nuts and bolts of it, it seems, are covered. And now the authorities have turned their attention to bridging the gap between this gleaming new schematic and the emirate's cultural aspirations. The Abu Dhabi International Sculpture Symposium (ADISS), an art forum in which 17 international contemporary artists will convene in the city for a six-week period from February 25, will generate a wave of public sculptures to be permanently displayed in locations around the city. The sites for the sculptures will be decided by Abu Dhabi Municipality.
At the Armed Forces Officers Club, where much of the action will be based, the public will be able to witness some of the artists at work; a series of interactive workshops will allow them to experience the artistic process first-hand; and a programme of related lectures is being planned, to take place on the Zayed University campus. "Abu Dhabi deserves the best to make it the capital of art in the region," says Salwa Zeidan, the owner of the Salwa Zeidan Gallery in Abu Dhabi, and the symposium's director. "Every time people interact with artists and artwork, they become aware of something new. Public art is part of this awareness. Whether you are walking or driving, when you see a piece of art, particularly contemporary art, it talks to you."
With time, Zeidan hopes, events such as ADISS will help to nurture a grassroots scene. "We can't do everything at one symposium," she says. "Now that the logistics are there, next time we can focus more on the diversity of the team." One way of doing that is to ensure that the line-up always includes one emerging artist from the region. This year, it is the turn of Husam Chaya from Lebanon. We talked to some of the artists who are particpating about their work, their thoughts on public art and its impact on the city.
My sculpture for Abu Dhabi will be a six-metre-high painted steel project. It will be an elliptically shaped sphere but as much about the interior space as the material form itself. It references the Sufi concept of the hidden and the manifest. Public art both humanises and beautifies our environments. It embodies ideas and our cultural identity to share with people, both today and tomorrow. It is a way of energising public or other environments, encouraging one to think and question. Symposia are to me wonderful because the situation allows the public to observe in person how large-scale sculptures are created.
For my composition, I took the lines from the dunes in the desert and I started to combine them so that they accumulate on top of one another to form a rhythm. This rhythm is like a symphony, as if the wind is playing music through this sculpture. ADISS chose me for this year to be the emerging artist. For me, it's very important for artists and public institutions such as governments or galleries to contribute to their city by creating a cultural face. Having these sculptures will give people the chance to start asking questions about art.
Sculpture for me is communication at a high level; it has its own language. My sculptures suggest parts of the human body, contracted forms where there is an implosive energy. Sculptures in the permanent sense, ie those that are made from stone, granite, marble and bronze, act as an eternal human sign to last through time.
I do environmental sculptures which have a kinetic element. They're made from rods that go into the ground, either vertically or horizontally and they're wind-driven, which I find quite lovely because I just put it together and then I sit back and let nature take over. I believe that public art is less about understanding the individual work than about the face of a community or society that is certain about itself and is wiling to embrace diversity. Art encourages development in other fields. Public art should not just be seen as sculptures being put up, but how it brings in other people, like the doctors and engineers who will change the world in other ways.
The symposium gives me a chance to meet other artists; some I know very well and are my friends. The sculpture I have designed for Abu Dhabi depicts a white sail, pierced by the wind, which travels silently and is a messenger of peace and beauty. Events like these are valid and important as long as real value is given to the artists and their work.
The concept I try to capture in my work is the way light moves through an object. I participate in many international sculpture symposia all over the world. These cultural events give us opportunities to share art with our international colleagues and also to get to know the culture of the hosting country. Public art is important because it always stays in public view and will remain there as long as there is an interest from people.
I mainly use metal to make sculptures that depict living things. I am interested in how the Japanese sensibility will be accepted in a different culture like Abu Dhabi's. Artworks should not just be seen at museums or galleries. When you walk around a city, works of art make the place shine. Gradually, they will become a symbol or a landmark of the city and change with the landscape.
Public art helps to develop identity; it helps to improve the comprehension of the observer and to move the focus on to arts in general. Sculpture symposia have succeeded in bringing art into the mind. In 1959, in St Margaret in Austria, the sculptor Karl Prantl wanted to break new ground in art. He invited colleagues he knew well to create sculptures, working for a certain period in the open air. His friends adopted this idea and in turn invited friends to their own countries. In this way numerous sculpture parks and paths, and open-air museums were created across the world.
Most of my practice involves reinterpreting everyday situations, materials or subject matter in order to address it and make it more visible. I'm doing a large construction which is made out of lots of modular laser-cut stainless steel pieces, which is polished so that it reflects the whole environment. Public art is something that I'm very interested in. It's tricky because as soon as you're dealing with a public space you're dealing with lots of officials and relations and it becomes a hugely controversial field. Quite -often I've found in my practice that a lot of things get toned down. Some ideas get compromised and that's why it can be difficult to work within these confines. But I think it's very interesting because it opens up the possibilities of people encountering interesting sculptures.
I always like to create a dialogue -between contemporary sculpture and the very old Egyptian sculptures. Public art is very important for Arab countries because there is a gap between the artists and the people. A lot of people care about traditional art but they don't care about or understand modern art. This is because we never put modern art on the streets. We always display traditional portraits or natural things, but we never try to put something very modern there because we are afraid that people won't like it. It's very good to put something very new everywhere in Arabic countries. This will make them aware of a new kind of art and sculpture.
I come from a postmodernist sculptural tradition, which has its roots in constructivism and minimalism with a contemporary take. I think of my work as quiet and contemplative, leaving the viewer to peel back the layers. I will be making a large, polished stainless-steel sculpture, which is going to be simple in structure but complex in concept and effect. Public sculpture has a history. Artists since the 1950s and obviously some before, have taken sculpture out of the galleries and museums and into the public arena. When sculpture goes into public spaces, it poses new questions not only for the artist, but the viewer as well.
I seek to create evocative art objects which can excite and sensitise a landscape. I am working on a transparent membrane that can be pierced by light. From the start, man used art in the community to raise awareness, to mark sacred spaces and to build the self-awareness. Art identifies a place as unique, which creates a sense of social belonging. Public art also creates easily distinguishable iconographic images that help to consolidate and establish popular feeling.
In Abu Dhabi I will make a work in the shape of a ripple of water. In big towns and particularly urban places where there are many tall buildings and a lot of construction, we need public art to give us a sense of harmony and joy. Events like these help people to approach what was previously considered difficult to understand. It is like an open laboratory, in which people can experience first-hand how art is made
I will be working on an abstract work inspired by a kernel, or seed. One of the important purposes of public art is to create a deeper interaction between the community and its environment, but it also allows the community to express its identity and values, and creates images that define the space. I hope that my artwork will help to do that.
I compose pieces to create an image that has open spaces so that the light can enter and create a kind of translucent architectural base. Public art plays an active role in the infrastructure of a city, especially a fast-growing one like Abu Dhabi. It's extremely exciting to have people interact. Sculpture plays a big part in evoking sensitivity and awareness in people, and the details in life that sometimes get flushed away because there are so many other problems. I'm sure the young scene in Abu Dhabi is very active and is urging people to express themselves. I hope we can be of help and inspiration to them.
In my work I explore carving techniques and semiological signs. Abu Dhabi is a city that is currently receiving a lot of attention. It's a sort of stage for new experiments; a turning point in modern times. I would like to take part in this change. The subject of public art is so complicated it needs a whole book to explain it. Some people have no chance to visit museums or galleries. For these people, public art gives them the opportunity.
Instead of art being for the elite or for a certain class of people, it will become for everyone; this is the important thing about this event. Works of art in this case penetrate society and people's experience, and give us a new perspective and dimension from which to look at art in general. I am going to be giving a lecture and slide show about experiments in public art in the UAE. There are artists in the UAE who have been doing in art in public places, like central market in Sharjah, since 1984. ? The Abu Dhabi Sculpture Symposium will take place from February 25 until April 7. For more information go to www.adiss-ae.com.