Analysis of Hassan Sharif’s exhibition organised by ADACH
ABU DHABI - Emirati artist Mohammed Kazem, curator of “Hassan Sharif, Experiments and Objects 1979 – 2011” the first major monographic exhibition of Sharif in the UAE, conceded the pioneer artist Hassan Sharif that he triggers a wide range of questions whenever he submits a new piece of artwork.
Sharif has a great deal of artistic experience and he blends his work with a complex and overlapping range of technical and philosophical elements. He always presents a fresh vision, which sees art as a life experience and a gateway. Preconceptions can be dismantled and a new life can be created that carries a glittering spirit in its dealings with the world around it.
The exhibition, held in the Qasr Al Hosn Cultural Quarter Hall from March 17 to June 17 is part of ADACH work in research, conservation, interpretation and promotion of the arts, culture and heritage of Abu Dhabi and the UAE including modern culture and heritage. It is ADACH’s mandate to engage with, investigate and present the work of the UAE’s arts and culture pioneers. The exhibition was curated by French critic Catherine David and Mohammed Kazem.
Hassan Sharif was one of the artists shown at the ADACH Visual Arts Platform in the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009 and which was designed as a meeting point for discourse and artistic production.
Hassan Sharif is a seminal artist who is deeply associated with the modern history and culture of Dubai and of the United Arab Emirates. He is a major figure in the artistic community of the UAE and has developed a strong body of work.
In an analyzed reading for the exhibition, Mohammed Kazem said “Sharif continues to attract our attention in his current exhibition, where he questions us and points us towards a new understanding of this ever-changing world.”
The exhibition includes works that have been carefully selected to represent variations in the subject under experimentation.
Sharif has produced a set of ideas and theses based on the concept of 'time', including works and experiences relating to performance art. These were documented photographically between 1982 and 1984 in the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom (alongside a collection of various pieces of work which were all produced on the same period).
His works include paintings photos, drawings and various drafts and sketches that he has produced since 1983. He has also produced a large collection of drawings, which represent the formal or semi-formal art, alongside various other works. All these collections of work are linked by one philosophical thread, but they are diverse in their forms, materials and their methods of dealing with the concept of time.
Sharif creates a different system for each drawing. Every drawing represents a certain system, or creates its own individual system, prompting visitors to visually engage with the work as production partners rather than just mere viewers.
This understanding is necessary for the assimilation of Sharif’s presentation. They demonstrate that he does not always comply with this system. After observing the artist’s work, viewers can take in this visual scene, nullifying the idea of spontaneity. His work makes viewers aware of the conditions of the time, and that he revolted against the accepted norms. In the end, the viewer gets to know the temporal rhythm of these drawings.
Coincidence plays an integral part for some of these drawings. It can either become a part of an accepted system or develop into a system of its own; it may be a self-conscious coincidence or it may be a part of the artist himself. The artist’s moment
In his exhibition, Sharif presents a collection of works that he created with a variety of different materials. These materials are mostly available and accessible to us and have a relationship with our daily needs in the home, the office and other places that people normally frequent. The artist confirms that the artistic production process is both important and necessary. But we also realize that the stages which make up the production process may be more important. At any moment of the artistic production, the artist can break the monotony. Thus, we see him make decisions that are contradictory to what he should be doing. However, there is nothing obligatory and necessary about art. 'The artist moment' or 'the creativity moment' controls the creation of beauty. Experimental Works
He produced a piece of art entitled “Portraits of Royal Leamington Spa” in 1979. Leamington Spa is a British city. The artwork consists of photographs in the study of light, pencil sketches and paintings in acrylic. The idea behind the work stems from a story spanning three generations: a study of young children in a vehicle, then teenagers and finally elderly people. The viewer is required to create a fictional narrative account about the life of each of these people. These stories are improvised and instantaneous - there is no sense of permanence. They document the life of a person, and then contradict that documentation. If given the opportunity to re-examine the work, viewers find themselves transported from one period of time to another as they look at each picture.The vacuum that exists between one person and another also exists between one picture and another. In his work, this vacuum is hidden, effectively cutting off the time sequence of life. Thus, we read this work, and find it raises many possibilities. It silently documents and lists the ages of the three generations. The Table
It is one of the most stunning works of art in this exhibition. The objective of the artwork, entitled “Table”, is to make the viewer interact with it both physically and visually. This is achieved via a photograph which represents the lower part of the table being placed underneath the glass top of the table. The photo entices viewers to bend down, driven by the desire to find out how the lined-up pieces of cotton, which are meticulously glued under the wall at the bottom of the table, are distributed. The deep meaning behind this artwork is that the photo displayed on the table resembles a man lying on his back, his hands and legs raised in a brazen sensual state. Despite its nature, it is an artistic depiction of a human act. Objects
These are works of art called “Objects”. These works combine heterogeneous materials, such as mixing metal wire with cotton, plastic, cardboard, burlap, glue and other items. The objective of this operation is to glorify the confrontational integration of these elements made up of different materials in their raw nature. Some of these elements are industrial by-products and others are derived from nature. They are then united in one work to emphasize a philosophical idea: that “things” are identifiable by its opposite.
Another work, called “Plastic and Wire”, is made up of a pile of small differently coloured pieces which are over-garnished, like a woman's turban ornamented with fake jewels and adorned with artificial flowers. Light and bright colours are used. They are characterized by their ‘artificial’ appearance and are interposed on the idea of fake beauty and adornment.
In one of these works of art Sharif cuts a strip of the material he was working with and links it with an instant or disclosed decision made at the moment of production.
He renounces a condition that stipulates that he should test another one, where the goal was only to cut the material. So why did he tie it? What is the purpose of tying it up? We are now facing an internal artistic controversy that rages within the artist. In this very moment, the two contradictions might meet, but they are not opposites. They are part of the creature’s existence and the world in its pluralistic dimension.
At first glance one might think that these similar pieces were produced in the same way. But in reality they differ in terms of both the time of their production and the birth of the idea. It is noted that during the cutting and linkage process there are global changes which occur that can be neither identified nor estimated. Time is one of the essential concepts of this work. Only for the passing viewer does the time period appear short. However, Sharif is addressing the more in depth “reader viewer”, who looks past the general appearance of the work and dives into its details and time of production.
The materials used also harbor secrets. The general public has no need for these materials; to them they are simply useless and cannot be used to solve a problem. We need to be aware of the nature and features of the materials used. Initially they are often not well known materials, but during the process of production, which involves the cutting and linkage process, Sharif familiarizes us with the characteristics of this material. Every material has a secret that cannot be understood until one has dealt with it directly. Only in this way can a material’s strength and resilience be tested, and the effects of other materials and elements such as water, air or fire be measured. The Piano of Repetition
Hassan integrates these materials in an ad hoc way until he is convinced of the final form that these pieces will take. This situation is similar to playing one repetitive tone on the piano, but at the same time it is profoundly different as concepts of time differ from one tone to another.Sharif insists on controlling and dismantling the concept of "time". The implications of this aesthetical dimension diverge away from the original concept. These works can be displayed in a flexible manner, in any place and in a variety of different ways. They can be dismantled, merged together and redistributed for every reinvention. Hence, we are subjected to presenting the material in very different ways from day to day, often going off on a tangent from the original idea of the display. On one day the works could be displayed on a base or table, or even just on a flat surface; the next day the same works could be displayed on a ladder, hung on a wall or ceiling or even hung on a washing line.
At first glance, the nature of this exhibition can appear contradictory. But there is a method to Sharif’s thinking process, after all he is the one who has produced this collection, and he has done it over a short period of time; making multiple pieces on the same day. He writes, produces the drawing, devises a system and completes several tasks that are external to his system. The difference here is that he often makes errors whilst producing these drawings, which occur accidentally and unintentionally.
If this is the case, and Sharif identifies the errors during his observation of the work, he is able to integrate signs or signals into the original system which identify these imperfections and subsequently create a second, unintentional, system. These signs form an important part of the recipient’s visual system, which leads to the integration of both perceived and expected elements. These errors are not canceled out, but in fact are visually clarified. The artist sometimes does not even notice the error. These errors are predominant as all stages of this process must then disclose the error and emphasize on it. The Correct Error
Throughout his work, which is based on a system, Sharif deliberately resorts to shattering the thought process of the viewer. He deliberately sabotages the system in way that causes the stunned viewer to understand that there is an error in the work, and try to comprehend the underlying process behind the work system in place. These errors are deliberate; the artist is well aware of them and has arranged them in a deliberate, self-made system. What is remarkable about this is that, after using this process for a period of time, Sharif has produced other works from this collection which have diverged away from these mistakes even though they were created in the same, or very similar, timeframe. He moves from the production of systematic and semi-systematic works to the creation of other things, using different materials. He begins some projects, and leaves others in that same period. Hence, he forgets, overcomes and exploits the deliberate error made during the original production.
Viewers sometimes spot this error in Sharif’s work and ask themselves whether this error is a deliberate part of the system. They think they understand his work, and tell others what they have discovered. They are led to believe that they are the only ones who can identify and correct these errors. Viewers look at this kind of artwork on the basis of a strict systematic vision, such as arithmetic (addition and subtraction). The artist has often met people who think in this way. The process of dismantling the system continues and viewers then become aware that the error is ‘correct’, in that it is deliberate. They understand that the error may then form the essence of the production process later on.
All these exchanges, influences and contradictions are an integral part of the work’s complementary elements. They are linked together in a circle, where the beginning meets the end. Attention must be paid to the artist’s state of mind, even if is contradictory, as it integrates the work’s final dimension. Simplicity to the Degree of Complexity
During the creation of a system, mental arithmetic - for example (1 2 3) – stipulates that that the system continues in an orderly, numerical fashion. But with this type of artwork, we find that the systematic idea evolves and expands until the operation becomes complicated. This can sometimes prompt the artist to give up on the project. Complexity may lead him to make deliberate mistakes in order to bring the job to a close. In this way he can stop thinking about it in terms of its continuity and instead create another system and begin another drawing.
Here we read about two parallel issues in the concept of error. On the one hand, factories work to produce their commercial items in a utilitarian way. If the owners of these factories saw their materials used in these works, they might accuse Sharif of wrongdoing, assuming that he does not know how to use them correctly.
However, this accusation is two-fold. Materials from both the factory and the artist can be seen erroneously through the other’s eyes. The accusation can be looked at either from the perspective of the artist or the factory, and comparisons can then be drawn between the materials.
A set of experimental works, produced with watercolors are displayed in this exhibition. There are traces of brush-strokes of thin juxtaposed layers of colour, interacting together. This results in saturated and colourful musical that is dazzling and eye-catching.
This suggests the presence of different degrees of transparent colour, such as purple mixed with black. Another experiment uses cyan mixed with black. There is a consistent closeness between the degrees of each section, which creates a dynamic and proportionate impact. The use of colour is primarily leaning on the sensual and emotional excitement present in the work. It stresses that our acceptance or rejection of colours has a significant impact on the emotional gravity of the piece. With Cristiana
"Embodying" is the title of a joint work between Hassan Sharif and Cristiana De Marchi, who is an Italian poet and artist. She wrote a collection of poems inspired by some of Sharif’s experimental work, which date back to the early eighties. The work consists of boxes, books and objects made from three-dimensional mixed materials. Viewers cannot read the poems because the intention of this work is to make the viewer look and deal with the poem in an unusual way. This work is exhibited in an ad hoc way according to the nature of the different places in which it is displayed. Suspended Objects
Sharif ended this exhibition with a new work called “Suspended Objects”. In modern times, we live in cities whose skylines are dominated by cranes to build towers and skyscrapers. We see different materials such as cement, glass, iron, wood and others rising and falling as they are replaced by other materials. This work has a visual resemblance to some of the daily scenes of life that we experience. We walk in crowded streets, looking at multiple mobile and attractively coloured advertising billboards. One billboard dictates orders "Our Vision is Your Future" while the other says "Achieve Your Dreams".
Then, a disaster suddenly occurs. All these promises, dreams and wishes are halted and turn into hanging things, which do not belong to this time or place. They hang in this way, and will remain suspended, because it is their nature now. In turn, human beings, who chase illusions, hang on to these "promises" that can never be achieved.