Under Construction—the words denote flux and renewal, and carry with them so many associations, be it the physical acts of creating buildings and roadworks, or indeed any other project that is unfinished but actively being worked on. For the second part of this exhibition, we expand on the notion of the uncompleted project, the work in progress—often a reworking of earlier strategies, or indeed a complete break with them.
The sense of the phrase under construction is itself endlessly mutable, appearing first in the 1800s and drawing upon the specialised use of construction to mean interpretation, through its more obvious description of the acts of building or making, to its more recent usage by web developers labelling their sites under construction while websites were being created or redone. Often accompanied by images of hardhats, hand tools, or black and yellow hazard designs, this practice, once ubiquitous, was discontinued when found to be off-putting. Language, physical projects, norms—nothing seems permanent.
Mirroring these unstable urges and fluid histories, the second iteration of Under Construction presents a series of incomplete, evolving, paradoxical, overlapping paradigms where histories are re-evaluated, cultural artefacts re-examined, and multiple futures are explored.
Farhad Ahrarnia's images On the Road, the Silk Road (2010–2011), where pen and paint are replaced with threaded embroidery, refer to Central Asia, an area historically once part of Greater Persia, and always physically a crossroad between empires. Its cultural and geopolitical ties were severed during Soviet times, and currently new links being created both to its east and its west: Ahrania's threading over the images of transporter trucks suggests a multiplicity of possible routes and outcomes.
Manger Square (2012) from the Larissa Sansour's photographic series 'Nation Estate', accompany a film of the same title wherein Sansour proposes a much-reduced Palestinian state in the form of a skyscraper, with each floor accommodating a Palestinian city or landscape. The female lead, played by Sansour, travels upwards in an elevator from one city to the other passing by iconic symbols and landmarks that recreate a sense both of history and of displacement.
Meanwhile, resembling a Fabergé egg, Sansour's Archaeology in Absentia (2016) is a bronze munition replica, opening to reveal a disc an engraved with the coordinates, longitude and latitude, to a deposit of hand-painted porcelain plates with folkloric patterns buried in Palestine. The artwork conveys a false sense of history, to be excavated by future generations. Farhad Ahrarnia's The Dig (2018), a silver-plated bronze shovel embossed with the Assyrian motif of an unmounted horseman, grapples with similar concerns. Treating this hand tool as a ritualistic object that embodies the ghost of the specific artefact formed on its surface, it carries the potential to be buried and itself rediscovered as an artefact in a future time.
Apartheid Monochromes (2017) by Yazan Khalili is a set of painted canvases that highlight the perversion of mandatory state-issued ID cards and their bearing on the everyday lives of Palestinians. Introduced by Israel in 1949 the ID cards are classified into different colours that depend on the identity of their holder—itself based on a complex set of rules around birthplace and/or residence. Hence the colour of an ID card very much determines the political, economic and social life of its holder; a low-tech means of dividing and monitoring, enforced by the Israeli regime. The canvases reference Yves Klein's monochromes and come in the various exact colours of the ID cards, bringing into focus divisions of identity, race, borders and citizenship. Khalili's Cracks Remind me of Roadkills (2014) is a set of photographs showing random cracks that resemble the triangular map of Palestine, juxtaposed with details of short stories, bringing the cracks as a break of the flow of time, as a minor history breaking the mainstream narratives.
Mounir Fatmi's Calligraphies of the Unknown (2019–2020) combine calligraphic shapes with other geometric figures inspired by the graphics that represent the fluctuations of the stock market. The colour palette of these paintings is often limited to the primary colours, which evoke of computer monitors, such as the ones showing stock exchange prices, relating their fluctuations since the advent of information technology in the 1970s. Fatmi deconstructs the abstract and complex alphabet of the financial language, reflecting his belief that in order to understand the world, one must measure the pulse of both the financial markets and the flea markets.
Scorched Earth (2018) by Nadia Kaabi-Linke, a floor sculpture made of stoneware slabs water cut using a computer-controlled procedure, traces the course of the soil and weed-filled cracks between cobblestones on the Neumarkt in Dresden. On this site corpses were gathered the day after the firestorms caused by two nights of raids by British and American bombers devastated the city in February 1945, killing twenty thousand. The cracks in the ground were the result of the intense heat. The firebombing of Dresden, late in the war, was one of the most controversial attacks by Allied forces in World War II. Today, far-right groups congregate weekly at this place in what could be seen as a symptom of an unprocessed past that still haunts modern Germany.
Finally, several works reference the landscapes and cityscapes of the UAE. Driss Ouadahi's Inside Zenith (2014) was inspired following a visit to Dubai in the midst of the construction boom of the last decade. Certain structures from around the city are embedded within a fantasy landscape of super dense skyscrapers. Meanwhile, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim's Towers (2017), though industrial in outline, are made of delicate, recycled materials—papier maché, cardboard and dried leaves.
Press release courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.