For the last seven years, Art Dubai has developed a series of non-profit, commissioned works to exhibit alongside the fair. They present an opportunity for visitors to engage with artists often informed by or from the region, who create new works and performances intended to question the fabric of an art fair. In the next three pieces, FNND asks three of the project artists some questions: Doa Aly, Sreshta Rit Premnath and art collective Nile Sunset Annex.
For 2016, independent curator and writer Yasmina Reggad, who was tapped to lead the projects and commissions, invited Doa Aly, Sreshta Rit Premnath, Massinissa Selmani, Lydia Ourahmane and Areej Kaoud, Moza Almatrooshi, and Jumairy, as well as the art collective Nile Sunset Annex. Reggad, whose research area is currently focused on the politics of futurity, has aptly titled the series of commissions Into the Unknown, meant as a catalyst to bring forth questions underlying the “mechanism[s] of the production of our fantasies, expectations and projections triggered by this young, 44-year-old federal state [of the United Arab Emirates]”.
Commenting on the Art Dubai Project for 2016, Reggad notes that the “commissioned artists have developed or made use of speculative approaches engaging with conjectures and hypothetical narratives anchored in the present, to research and discuss topics such as architecture, cartography, safety, sleep, constructed speech and labor.”
Artist Doa Aly started her career with an interest in the body, anatomy and movement, which evolved over the years into a focus on psychology, ideas of power, sexuality and language. Her art practice spans drawings, painting, performance-based videos and text-collages that are inspired by classical fiction, medical literature, mythology, philosophy and, most recently, current news articles.
FNND: Your work spans a number of mediums, but this is the first time you will be engaging in live performance at Art Dubai as part of the Projects section. Can you tell us a bit about why you chose this context for the live performance and, also, what led to this progression in your practice?
DOA ALY: It was actually Yasmina Reggad’s idea. Normally, I would steer clear of live performances, [even though] I’ve had people ask me for live performances since I started exhibiting. My videos are mostly performed by amateurs, and the nature of the choreographies and characters of the actors are meant for video [and relies] on editing and cutting between various takes. When Yasmina invited me to do an Art Dubai Project, she wanted me to choreograph a live performance—she said she trusted me completely, and I thought maybe it was time to face the challenge. However, it called for an immediate change of strategy. I hired a professional dancer, and already some of the vulnerability and awkwardness present in the video work was gone. I have had to find another way of communicating affect, and I still don’t know if what we’re planning to do will work. The context of Art Dubai could actually work in my favor, providing novelty to the experiment. If it’s an amazing performance, it will surely be noticed, but if it’s not ripe, then it’s better for it to drown in the background noise. Either way, we will have been through the experience, and the dancer and I are hopefully learning something. I still can’t speak of whether this will be a progression in my practice or a one-off experience. There’s always something magical about odd projects; they can make me change course or just remain as a one-time experiment. They at least teach me something about my tolerance levels and physical limits, which is always welcome.
FNND: Could you talk us through the texts you have selected as a basis for the performances?
DA: The text, which is only used in the soundtrack, is from a passage in Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreber, written between 1900 to 1903. The chapter is about compulsive thinking, in which Schreber talks in detail about his auditory hallucinations—the words he hears and how often he hears them. The choreographies are taken from a psychiatric documentary film that I found on Archive.org, called Symptoms of Schizophrenia, and dates back to the 1940s. The video shows various patients wearing masks, probably to protect their identities, performing symptoms of various catatonic diseases. With the two references merged into a “dance,” I’m linking schizophrenia, the mental ailment that was much documented and written about in pejorative terms during the first half of the 20th century, to a normalized state of “schizophrenic” speech and thought, which characterizes our contemporary existence. [It is a] hypothesis that has generated minimal and fragmented movement meant to embody the feelings of anxiety and alienation rather than produce meaning, much like the writings of Schreber.
FNND: You work with pencil drawings, particularly those that reference figures from dance history books, along with the illustrations of catatonic patients and studies of 20th-century human anatomy. Do these studies instruct the process within the performative streams of your practice?
DA: I use a 1949 edition of Gray’s Anatomy, because its illustrations of human anatomy were produced using etchings and drawings. When I make tracings of these illustrations, or the photographic documentation of schizophrenic patients, I am essentially replicating drawings and representations for the purpose of creating a self-contained, basic experience. When these ideas are transferred to a time-based medium, they are best suggested through performance. Repetition, immanence and displacement are main themes there as well.
FNND: What projects and/or exhibitions do you have coming up this year?
I just finished a multi-channel video project entitledHouse of Rumor, which will be premiering on March 31 in Cairo, as part of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival. After that I am taking a long break until July.