For the past year, my artistic practice has centered on a fictional archive, titled A Minor Histories Archive, in which I was driven to challenge the objectivity of documents that present certain historical events. For this "never-ending" project, I was concerned with the material nature of cultural artifacts that covered the histories of particular comparative modernity projects, specifically those related to Iran, the Arabian Gulf and Pakistan.
Last year, after completing my MFA in Studio Practice at Cornell University, I returned to Dubai and thought about how to reconcile an archive-based artistic practice (that, although provoked by research, was largely driven by more aesthetic concerns) with a considered type of contemporaneity.
The Untitled Dubai Topos Project began as a log of architectural features that occur within our experiences of the everyday and ultimately shape them into something that is far more monumental. This initial record consisted primarily of documentation of architectural peculiarities within mundane public spaces such as supermarkets, shopping malls, and public parks etc., spaces that, in spite of all things considered, come to provide an uncanny sense of safety. By delivering an amalgam of lights, colors, smells, forms and sounds that appeal to our basic ideals of what modern life looks like; organized, pristine, managed, controlled etc., these sites provide a repeatable encounter with that which was once the dizzying Freudian unheimlich (or unhomeliness) but is now a wholly yet eerily welcome sense of comfort and security. So much in fact, that the safety of the public spatial experience (especially that which is as privatized as in Dubai) comes to eclipse the domestic space, which, becomes by comparison, too intimate and therefore too dark.
The Untitled Dubai Topos Project is centered on exploring and creating an architectural critique or rather a breakdown of what, apart from human beings, occupies these spaces. The question I would like to address here is what infrastructural features underlie our experiences of shopping malls, golf courses, public parks, supermarkets etc. to form the truly phantasmagoric nature of contemporary public space. With Dubai as a case study, I am specifically concerned with elements including temperature (artificial mist, humidity control, comfort air conditioning, air curtains), sound (ambient sounds, music, Muzak), plant life (public parks, gardens, potted palms, topiaries, real and artificial), color (ISO standards), light, and odors (scent, perfume, fresheners).
With each of these essentials, the artistic project is to produce a series of aesthetically motivated responses, i.e. architectural gestures, in the form of collages, assemblages and physical interventions with an emphasis on integrating a sense of play.
"Pieces" from the Untitled Dubai Topos Project may include absurdist architectural renderings, maquettes, sculptural assemblages including juxtapositions of plant life next to borrowed sound, plant and wood sculptures, readymades, mediations and interventions in public spaces, as well as contemplations on various industry standards for lighting, air and sound in public sites. Physical sites currently under research include the Dubai Municipal Nurseries, Desert Group Oasis, Dubai Miracle Garden, Dubai Creek and Golf Club, Deira City Centre, as well as other numerous public spaces.
Alongside this, I hope to investigate the history of comfort air conditioning, Muzak, as well as conceptually explore the effect of music on plants (Dorothy Retallack), thermal comfort and Standard 55 (ASHRAE), alliesthesia or thermal delights, Theophrastus’ various treatises on sweat, plants and odors as well as a host of other relevant concepts and histories. To this effect, I will be providing a running bibliography that encompasses the length and breadth of the discussion that informs the various assemblages and one which will hopefully become a work of sorts in its own right.
Essentially the Untitled Dubai Topos Project is a prolonged meditation on the aesthetic fabric of the city’s constructed environment, one that will hopefully inform a new direction in my artistic practice.