Dubai-based gallery puts on a show at Frieze Lon­don

Frieze Lon­don 2017 saw some 160 gal­leries from 31 coun­tries take part


DUBAI-BASED art gallery The Third Line put on an impressive show at Frieze Lon­don 2017, an in­ter­na­tional art fair that saw some 160 gal­leries from 31 coun­tries take part. Arab News vis­ited The Third Line booth, lo­cated in the main sec­tion of the fair that ran from Oct. 5-8, to meet up with the gallery team and ex­hibit­ing artists.

We spoke to Sara Naim, who was raised in Dubai and is now based in Paris, to learn more about her highly-dis­tinc­tive “Re­ac­tion” se­ries.

The se­ries fea­tures a col­lec­tion of sculp­tural pho­to­graphs that mag­nify a small area of ex­pired Po­laroid film, where the chem­istry of the film re­acted with the light to form mi­cro­cosms of chem­i­cal re­ac­tions. The skin of the Po­laroid and its ge­o­log­i­cal ter­rain be­come phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions of ab­stract re­ac­tions.

Naim de­scribed the in­tri­cate process be­hind her work.

“I or­dered the ex­pired Po­laroid films from eBay. I pho­tographed, dis­sected and then scanned them at a re­ally high res­o­lu­tion. What you are left with is a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion between the light and the chem­istry of the film,” she ex­plained.

The colors within the pieces — del­i­cate blues, pinks and soft browns — are truly beau­ti­ful and en­tirely a re­sult of the process.

“They come from the com­bi­na­tion of the film be­ing ex­pired, me dis­sect­ing it and break­ing it up so you can find the chem­istry of the Po­laroid.

“You can’t see this with the naked eye, but be­cause it has been scanned at high res­o­lu­tion and then blown up, it al­lows you to see the di­chotomy between this very in­stan­ta­neous way of im­age mak­ing that a Po­laroid presents and then slowed down and ex­am­ined — al­most hy­per-ex­am­ined,” she said.

Her work is a unique take on how pho­tog­ra­phy is usu­ally pre­sented.

“Th­ese pieces ful­fil my frus­tra­tion with the very rec­tan­gu­lar for­mat of pho­tog­ra­phy and rep­re­sent how I can break out of that and cre­ate some­thing more three-di­men­sional from some­thing two-di­men­sional,” she said.

The se­ries is the lat­est ex­pres­sion of her in­ter­est in mi­cro forms.

“I’ve al­ways in­vested my prac­tice into look­ing at the mi­cro. That’s not from a sci­en­tific stand­point, although I use sci­en­tific ap­pa­ra­tus to in­ves­ti­gate my con­cepts. It’s more the idea that on a cel­lu­lar scale, all space is merged — it’s just dif­fer­ent den­si­ties of mat­ter. On that level, lines, bound­aries and bor­ders don’t re­ally ex­ist. I’ve taken that fur­ther by hav­ing th­ese mi­cro states look like some­thing much larger and that is also part of the rea­son why I print (on a) large (scale). Also, with the shapes, I wanted there to be a lack of ten­sion between in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal by the con­tent re­sem­bling the sub­ject it­self. That’s why the shapes feed into the con­tent of what I am ac­tu­ally pre­sent­ing.

“I wanted the shapes of the pieces to feel as ar­bi­trary but in­ten­tional as a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion. A re­ac­tion has a math­e­mat­i­cal ba­sis to it yet it is also un­pre­dictable. I wanted the soft and sharp edges to re­sem­ble that pur­pose­ful but ar­bi­trary na­ture of the re­ac­tion,” she said.

She added: “You can go into a more ab­stract realm and say ‘it’s not real, it’s not fake, it’s not con­trived, but it’s not com­pletely nat­u­ral’ — it’s what hap­pens when the two worlds col­lide. I wanted to high­light the meet­ing of th­ese two worlds; the meet­ing of two po­lar op­po­site things com­ing to­gether and how it cre­ates a surge — al­most like a by-prod­uct.”

Two of her pieces were be­ing shown for the first time at the fair and they are also based on cel­lu­lar shapes.

She ex­plained: “I have archival im­ages from the past eight years over which I have been pho­tograph­ing cells — my cells, blood cells, dead skin cells, var­i­ous things. I wanted them to fit into each other and re­sem­ble one an­other — be­come self-ref­er­en­tial. Right now, I am look­ing at cre­at­ing my own re­ac­tions us­ing a trans­mis­sion elec­tron mi­cro­scope that has brought up a whole new host of dilem­mas and in­ter­est­ing find­ings. It’s still at the very early stages in the project.

“I am in­ter­ested in the emo­tional man­i­fes­ta­tions — a re­ac­tion can be between two peo­ple who fall in love or a re­ac­tion can be based on very strict sci­en­tific rea­son­ing and I think that’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing. When two peo­ple con­nect, there is a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion that oc­curs in the brain. Sci­ence can shift into some­thing more emo­tive and vice versa,” she ob­served.

Naim said the ex­pe­ri­ence of grow­ing up in Dubai, study­ing in Lon­don and now liv­ing as an artist in Paris has all in­formed her work.

“You feed off where you live. Each place has al­lowed me to con­tinue my prac­tice and I have to adapt to the re­sources that are avail­able. It can be down to a sim­ple thing like whether 120 film can be pro­cessed lo­cally.”

Art has been cen­tral to Naim’s life since child­hood.

“From a very young age, I knew I would be an artist. Grow­ing up in Dubai was great. I was al­ways in art classes — it was some­thing I could do well. Draw­ing and paint­ing were my first ac­cess points and then I started do­ing pho­tog­ra­phy at the age of 14 in a dark­room.”

She did her BA in Pho­tog­ra­phy at the Lon­don Col­lege of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, fol­lowed by an MFA at the Slade School of Fine Art.

Speak­ing of her decade-long as­so­ci­a­tion with The Third Line gallery, she said: “The Third Line are a team — like fam­ily — I re­ally trust. I’ve had a con­nec­tion with them since I was 19 and have been work­ing with them for three years. I’ve had a solo show in the Pavil­ion Down­town Dubai and two group shows at The Third Line.”

As for the ex­pe­ri­ence of par­tic­i­pat­ing in the fair, which brings to­gether the world’s lead­ing gal­leries and show­cases the work of to­day’s most sig­nif­i­cant con­tem­po­rary artists, Naim said: “It’s re­ally nice to be part of Frieze be­cause you get a lot of feed­back in a very short space of time. A lot of peo­ple see your work and it’s a good way to ex­pose what you have been up to — it’s very ex­cit­ing for me.”

Thibault Gef­frin, di­rec­tor of the gallery, said hav­ing a larger space at the heart of the ex­hi­bi­tion had been ben­e­fi­cial.

“This year, we have a much more cen­tral lo­ca­tion and a big­ger booth, which has al­lowed us to show more works,” he said.

The gallery’s show­case was com­prised of pa­per and sculp­ture pieces by Ab­bas Akha­van, works on pa­per by Laleh Khor­ramian, sculp­tural pho­to­graphs by Sara Naim, land­scape paint­ings by Amir H. Fal­lah and pieces by Hayv Kahra­man.

Akha­van had some dis­tinc­tive im­ages of leaves on show as well as a haunt­ing sculp­ture of a slaugh­tered rhino en­ti­tled “If the first metaphor was an­i­mal.”

“The sculp­ture, ‘If the first metaphor was an­i­mal,’ is a vari­a­tion of an ex­ist­ing piece shown for the first time at Akha­van’s first solo ex­hi­bi­tion in Mu­nich,” ex­plained Gef­frin.

“In Akha­van’s work, an­i­mals and plants are shown as re­jected by hu­man­ity. This rhino, with its horn sawn off, is a sym­bol of in­jury and vi­o­la­tion. The ban­dages on the rhino’s head sym­bol­ize both con­ser­va­tion ef­forts and man’s cru­elty. The im­age of the rhino looks al­most ghost-like. The artist is say­ing that in re­la­tion to ac­qui­es­cence in the de­struc­tion of an­i­mals, ev­ery­one is at fault,” he added.

“Most of Akha­van’s work is pro­duced in res­i­den­cies. They are site-spe­cific in­stal­la­tions. The ink draw­ings on pa­per of leaves were made in the south of France at the Ate­lier Calder,” he said.

Gef­frin moved to Dubai from Paris four years ago to join The Third Line gallery and said that he is see­ing a lot of pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment in the UAE’s art scene.

“Within Dubai, there are more and more gal­leries and foun­da­tions. No­tably, we have the Guggen­heim Abu Dhabi and the Lou­vre about to open,” he said.

Gef­frin stud­ied at the Ecole du Lou­vre and earned his bach­e­lor’s de­gree at the In­sti­tut d’Études Supérieures des Arts (IESA) in Paris be­fore even­tu­ally mov­ing to Dubai.

The Third Line rep­re­sents con­tem­po­rary Mid­dle East­ern artists lo­cally, re­gion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally and sees the Frieze fair as an ex­cel­lent plat­form.

“Frieze is one of the first fairs we par­tic­i­pated in. At Frieze in Lon­don or New York, we al­ways do well in terms of sales and have the op­por­tu­nity to meet many new peo­ple and other artists. Be­cause the mar­ket for art is very ex­ten­sive, col­lec­tors take their time. We have done well so far and we have more meet­ings lined up,” Gef­frin con­cluded.

Art en­thu­si­asts ad­mire the work on show.

Artist Sara Naim poses be­side her work.

Thibault Gef­frin was hope­ful about changes in the UAE’s art scene.

Sara Naim's 'Re­ac­tion' se­ries is fas­ci­nat­ing.

The gallery show­cased work by artist Ab­bas Akha­van.

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