‘EAST-EAST: 2020, Vol.3’ is the third edition of the EAST-EAST exhibition series aiming to bridge the UAE and Japan through the voices of emerging artists. Curated by Sophie Mayuko Arni, this edition’s theme is 2020, the coinciding year of Dubai Expo and Tokyo Olympics.
In a wave of ambitious projects for brighter and better futures, 2020 stands as a catalyst for megalithic urban development and social high tide for both Dubai and Tokyo. 2020 marks the celebration of a vision and master plan realized. 2020 also stands as a cultural model, it represents a race to a more efficient, sustainable, convenient, technologically advanced, happier future. For EAST-EAST: 2020, Vol.3, curator Arni places the two countries side by side. She raises the idea of ‘Gulf Futurism’, a term coined by Qatari- American artist Sophia Al Maria, which examines the state of permanently looking ahead prevalent in the Arabian Gulf. Essentially, Gulf Futurism warns us of a potentially displaced future overlooking the social and environmental costs of hyper-development. Arni is interested in comparing the theory of Gulf Futurism to Japanese futurism in the post 3/11 climate. Although Japan is often regarded as the land of the future, the Fukushima nuclear disaster shocked Japanese optimism and questioned the fast urban and technological development of the 1980s bubble era. 2020 is an opportunity to think of solutions for sustainable development. How can a country that suffered from not just one but three nuclear disasters keep rebuilding itself? With regard to the UAE, how does one ensure a holistic, sustainable, positive result for generations to come? The works in this exhibition depict a balance in futuristic ideals with ecological and social realities, providing a view of the future as cyclical rather than linear. Three large themes frame the exhibition: Construction, Consumption, and Reconstruction. Selected artists include Farah Al Qasimi, Alaa Edris, Ali Al Shehabi and BABU.
Introduction Recent developments of flying drone taxis, artificial land expansion, and robotics research have anchored the United Arab Emirates and Japan as leaders of key technological advancements of our time. Both countries are exemplary for their dedication to innovate for their future generations. In light of the upcoming 2020 Expo and Olympics, Dubai and Tokyo, respectively are on a straight path to showcase to a global audience how fully-integrated and interconnected their urban spaces have become. But this state of permanently looking ahead is sometimes challenged. The 2011 Fukushima disaster shocked Japan and the world. How to ensure a positive outlook on the future after such a traumatic event? Japanese futurism as such is interesting to study in comparison to Dubai's futurism. Ensuring growth and innovation raises questions about sustainability as well as environmental capacity.
This exhibition, the third in the ‘East-East: UAE meets Japan’ series, introduces a new wave of Gulf-Japanese futurism. UAE-based and Japanese artists revisit the idea of futurism as a linear, straight trajectory. Through the three themes of Construction, Consumption and Reconstruction, this exhibition generates a new model for a more self-reliant, circular view of the future. There is always hope for creation after destruction, using the future as debris for new artistic manipulations.
1. Construction All futurisms begin with the idea of construction. A futuristic state requires a belief and ambition to build new buildings, new cities, and new landscapes for happier future societies. The UAE is a prime example. Its leaders have followed an unparalleled vision to transform the country’s natural desert landscape into a hyper-modern country. Boasting the tallest tower in the world, one of the largest malls in the world, countless leisure and entertainment venues, and world-class education and research facilities, the UAE has achieved tremendous projects in half a century. This state-sponsored planning and successful execution have arguably led Dubai to host Expo 2020, a considerable achievement for the city’s humble beginnings. Farah Al Qasimi’s (b. 1991, Abu Dhabi) photographs and Alaa Edris’ (b. 1986, Sharjah) digital renderings explore the motivations behind the UAE’s construction plans. Al Qasimi’s candid photographs of its cityscapes focus on the subtle yet telling choices of urban planning. In Miracle Garden, decorative streetlights mimic the appearances of lilies, a flower not found in the UAE’s natural ecology. Sandcastles show how ephemeral sand constructions simulated the newly constructed Jumeirah Beach Residences in Dubai. What is real and what is simulated? Alaa Edris works counter-balances this question. For the Reem Dream series, Edris digitally modified landscapes of the newly-constructed Reem Island in Abu Dhabi. She departs from the real and offers landscapes hinting to science-fiction imagination, suggesting alternative ways to think about constructions’ impact and relationship to their surrounding natural landscape.
2. Consumption Urban planners often expect a rush of consumerism after the completion of their projects. Consumption is here understood as a driving force of energy. Consumption attracts crowds and eventually leads newly-constructed neighborhoods to become hubs, in which people can congregate and keep consuming. One example is Shinjuku, a major commercial and administrative center of Tokyo. Developed during the Edo period (1603-1868), Shinjuku derives its name from shin (new) and juku (lodgings) from its origins as a small station alongside the famous Kōshu Kaidō highway. It subsequently developed into one of Tokyo’s thriving entertainment and residential area housing the world’s busiest train station, with over three million people daily usage. The ‘Shinjuku rush’ is one unlike any other and represents a modern-day success story of effervescent urbanism. Ali Al Shehabi (b. 1994, Jidhafs) photographed the urban fabric of Shinjuku on his latest travels to Tokyo, Japan. His analog photographs show realities of this high density, high energy hub – attractive for its convenient train station as well as its karaoke parlors and older ramen establishments. In a grid mimicking social media’s constant feed of exciting and attractive images, Al Shehabi succeeds in capturing the constant, raw animation of Shinjuku’s vibrant streets. His photographs of Shinjuku’s neon street signs and crowded metro station ask to be ‘liked’. Evoking senses from vision to taste and touch, Al Shehabi might transport some viewers into a foreign yet familiar vision of the future: one based on utility and density.
3. Reconstruction Technologically advanced, with an incredibly productive workforce and a maximized utilization of space: Japan, often dubbed ‘the land of the future’, is arguably one of the most developed countries in the world in terms of current economic and human development indexes. Yet this country has endured many earthquakes and nuclear disasters. Notably, in 2011, Japan suffered from a tragic tsunami and earthquake which hit its north-eastern shore and subsequently destroyed the nuclear plants of Fukushima Daiichi. BABU (b. 1983, Kitakyushu) has been highly involved in exploring Japan’s reactions to natural disasters. For him, the Fukushima accident as well as the devastating Kumamoto earthquake, which took place near his home city of Kitakyushu in 2016, should not be incidents swept under a rug. As much as Japanese society wants to move on from such catastrophes, BABU finds it critical to explore the ruins left behind. In his seminal video Go High! (2016), BABU skateboarded through a radioactive zone of Fukushima wearing full-body protective gear. BABU proves a way out of post-scarcity by reclaiming a territory left empty and unwanted. Accompanying the video is a series of hand-made skateboards. Two of them were made with wood taken directly from Kumamoto’s earthquake debris. BABU’s skateboards bring back a sense of hope for the future. Creation can be born through and after destruction. This final section elaborates on the possibilities of a new type of futurism, in addition to consumer-driven hubs and urban planning master plans. Using the leftovers of an unwanted future, these skateboards show what reality is but also suggest what it could be. As such, BABU proposes a new vision of the future more grounded in reality’s downturns and unexpected accidents.
East-East: UAE meets Japan, Vol. 3
Curated by Sophie M. Arni
October 30 - November 11, 2017
CHI-KA Space, Dubai
Photography: Courtesy of CHI-KA Space.