Sunday, December 31, 2023

Final quacks of 2023

I pushed hard the last few days at home before I left to see family in NY. This duck I started in Feb of this year. I can't believe it took this long to finish.
After a few false starts, I immediately then got to this one (once I'm warmed up and remember everything I'm capable of doing, it goes faster).
One friend said, interesting to see a newborn and a 10-month old! Both are uploaded on the duck page.
Earlier in another push in Nov, I hand delivered this new big book (intentionally not bound) to my photographer in the empty parking lot of a furniture store off of I-90, after I had gotten up early to buy fresh bread for him and his wife for their road trip, because that is the polite thing to do—share excellent bread. These are the things I do as a working artist when most of the world thinks that I am painting at an easel in a studio or something.
Being back with family comes with its own stressors, which almost overwhelmed my entire nervous system. I have a lot of work to do to reconfigure my response to...everything! But was glad to see this installation on my last day (again, a great tip from Stefan, from where all good things flow).

Mud from upstate going up 4 feet, the high line of where the Hudson River had flooded the gallery during Sandy's visit years ago. I returned home yesterday, relieved to be back even though I leave soon to teach at Oberlin. Don't forget to apply to do a desert residency for two weeks this year if you like. I might try but not for another year or so—so much is in flux right now.

If you can read Arabic, this is about me. And if you want to look around my website, I finally redid it with Insiya. The biggest new section is research, though I guess also teaching? The publications page is my favorite. Regardless, sorry to embed links in-line after attempting to add links at bottom so you aren't distracted constantly. But why pretend we aren't? See you in the new year.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Abu Dhabi second half

While I could have run around earlier in my five-night trip to Abu Dhabi, I wanted to give my body a bit more time to rest between show install and opening before poking around. The day after the show opened, aside from early morning work that a journalist usually does, I was free until 5:15pm. So I went to the grand mosque.
I was told to visit the war memorial across the street (not a kind of street that you can cross safely but it is close enough to see from afar, which for me in this heat was enough).
You can only visit if you are appropriately covered. Fortunately I was prepared but it was a pashmina so a bit hot. It was doubling as my airplane warmth + once I arrive back home it will be very cold and I won't have a winter coat. But of course when I arrived back home it was in the 50s.
I was pretty underwhelmed here because it felt just.....big. I didn't feel any deep sense of spiritual center. If anything, it felt like everything was intentionally made so big to win things like the Guinness world record for the largest rug. All I could think of seeing so much white was: how many people does it take to CLEAN this place? And how little do they get paid?
After leaving the main complex, I felt like this was the more appropriate signaling of what this place is: another center of global capitalism. I've never seen more Tim Hortons than in this emirate.
My next visit was to Qasr Al Watan, the presidential palace where state dinners and meetings happen (not where people live).
Again, the scale was extremely grandiose. But a bit more craftsmanship and also (though fairly hidden from the main exhibits and public areas, in a weird black geometric enclosure) a bit more info about the making of it, elements that include mosaic, stained glass, marble, etc.
There is a photo op where you can stand in line to go into the gold structure.
The library, which you can't really access, another photo op.
If I hadn't wandered into the area where they explained some of the architectural elements, I would not have noticed that the marble was all cut in a way so that the veins could mirror each other. So much work! I did take a break in the cafe for a lovely quinoa tabbouleh, when I could finally stomach a lunch. It went Day 1: arrive at noon, eat pizza. Day 2: bfast and nothing else all day. Day 3: bfast and a Korean lunch I couldn't finish. Day 4: late afternooon dish! Day 5: overeat massively but in style. Day 6: already on the plane home.
I got back to the hotel with enough time to lay down. After fighting the urge to sleep through it, I walked back to KCC to teach my joomchi workshop. I had been warned that we had so many registrations that we needed to move from a classroom to the library.
Everyone had a great time, and the show branded bags came in handy for people to take their hanji home.
What amazed me is that when I arrived on Monday, the hotel cafe did not look like this at all. Over a few days, they did speedy construction to create an entire gingerbread cafe!!! Also, xmas tress went up all over the place along with lights and decoration. So fast.
My last day, Friday, was the only free day I had and while I really wanted to see the nighttime light shows all over the city (but not the part I was staying in), I only had the energy for the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

This is an Egyptian mummy bandage with an extract from the Book of the Dead, c. 300 BCE. It looks like someone just drew it!
The museum is so poorly laid out that I missed the entire rest of the permanent exhibitions and wandered to the temporary ones. This was from the Cartier show, which was very dark so it was hard to see but this is a necklace from Egypt (20th century). The point of the show was to demonstrate how deeply Cartier was influenced by Islamic art.

The other temporary exhibit was about the texts behind the three Abrahamic religions. I worried I would be bored but there was a TON to see. Including Dead Sea scroll bits!
And Book of the Dead on papyrus (Egypt, 1096–545 BCE).
At the end of the show was a contemporary commission called The Unseen, by Muhannad Shono. It's thread, light, video, and sound in a dark room.
Parts of the book show were a bit over the top, where they installed mirrors to make it seem like endless books. Well before this gallery, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of books.
I loved the ways that the text becomes the image.
This print was mind-boggling, where Yakov ben Abraham Zaddik, a Portuguese Jew, depicted all of the events of the Bible. What??? It's four sheets, printed intaglio in the Netherlands in 1621.
Here is one detail of so so so many more.
A dyed Quran
and another dyed one, this time with indigo.
An Ottoman Empire (1744) collection of prayers in both Arabic and Turkish.
It was remarkable how the dome creates adequate shade so that you are not hot outside.
By this point, I really needed to sit and eat. I decided that for my final day I would splurge.
Dim sum (including duck gyoza! I had just been complaining over turkey day that I'd prefer duck).
A lovely pho. Soup and noodles are always comfort food for me.
I even had tea afterwards, and then got up to wander a bit more. There was some contemporary art in the outdoor areas, but after seeing people leave a certain gallery that looked like I had missed, a guard finally confirmed that I had indeed missed almost 10 galleries. So I started all over in the permanent collection (which seems mostly stuff from the actual Louvre and other major French collections).
I was so happy to meet this Korean guy (1400–1500, gilded wood), a reliquary that holds prayers and objects.
Was not expecting this photo from Japan, colored very weirdly, of women boarding handmade paper!
And truly, this was the LAST guy I thought I'd meet here.
This was in the cartography gallery, a stick map from the Marshall Islands (c. 1900). "Rods represent the navigation routes, while the shells attached to the ends of the rods indicate the positions of the islands. These maps were never carried on board but read on land by navigators before the voyage at sea."
The coral bits! After my initial disappointment the previous day about not being able to see any "old stuff," I got my fill here (because the French were such ardent imperialists). I am back home now, recovering, and glad to be on this side of the show!

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Qasr Al Watan

Louvre Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi exhibit and first half

I landed in Abu Dhabi a week and a day ago after a not very fun long-haul flight because of a rude middle-seat neighbor (he was exhibiting a lot of "all the land is my land" hipster behavior, ugh). So I was very happy to get off the plane and use my legs.
The driver for the Korean Cultural Center in Abu Dhabi picked me up right outside the airport and took me straight to Yas Island, driving past all kinds of weird places like a giant golf course, Ferrari World, an F1 racetrack, probably Sea World and Warner Brothers but I never noticed, and so on. I somehow got 37 pieces of art into a medium-sized checked bag and very small carry-on; I was not allowed to have anything more than those two pieces (very underwhelmed by Etihad, what a terrible airline). I unpacked everything as soon as I got inside and we got to work.
Soo-yeon was very prepared and within four hours, everything was pretty much placed. We did a little bit of lighting and then made notes on what tags needed to be fixed or re-printed. These metal mesh walls are all on wheels, very easy to move around, and extremely easy to hang onto. SO EASY. I also love the chance for people to see the backside of many of these pieces.
In the middle, Zaheer went to get some pizza. Not what I would ever choose as a first meal upon landing but after 30 hours of not sleeping (I think I slept maybe 10-15 min on the long flight incoming—each direction, even though one left Chicago and one arrived in NYC, was 13 hours) you just have to be polite and eat what is in front of you.

At a certain point, I finally said, I am so tired I need to leave. Zaheer took me to the hotel, where I learned upon check-in that I had spa access. For all the travel I have done, I am not wise enough to pack a swimsuit even if you don't know for sure that the hotel has a pool, because if you don't, then you end up like me. I knew immediately that I had to get into the hot tub, but had to figure out how to get to the giant mall from the hotel.
I shamelessly just rode a bus without paying and wandered around looking for a place that might have a swimsuit. It was pretty dire, and so much of what was on sale were puffer vests and sweaters. The weather was usually in the 80s each day so I don't know what that is all about. But in my wandering around Rolex, Mercedes, and a zillion chain stores, I happened upon Peter Gentenaar's paper sculptures! That was a fun find even though I was out of my mind by then.
Finally, I found a store that I thought HAD to have swimsuits because it had Waikiki in the name. I got one that was the least hideous and then again got onto a bus I was supposed to pay for without paying because that was all I could manage (also that's what happens when transit systems only accept fares on their own cards). There are free shuttles that loop around the island to all the attractions but I'm pretty sure if I had waited for that, I'd be passed out in the street. Then I got into the hot tub and sauna and finally got into bed. I knew that I should eat dinner but by 9am gave up and figured sleep was more important.
The breakfast buffet at this hotel was similar to the one in Sharjah last year, a mix of Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and continental. I was so happy to have big savory breakfasts again. This is only my first plate and I never had a morning without at least two.
I walked each day to KCC since it was in walking distance. They are located inside of a giant complex of buildings called the Yas Creative Hub and security is pretty intense. But there was a well-stocked market very close by, which was a good option even though I surprisingly only got snacks there once!
Along with final lighting and show prep, I needed to get ready for the workshop on the night after my show opening. I was truly amazed by the resources at KCC, the Korean government is spending a LOT of money to be there and I am not quite sure why, given the size of their audience. But was glad to see a spare pile of Wonju Hanji, in probably every color that they make, as backup to the Andong Hanji we ordered for the class.
Oh, look, my pictures are out of order and I don't feel like fixing it. This stray cat I saw my first morning at breakfast outdoors where people ate poolside. You knew it wanted to get in, and it did on the second morning!
This is only one of MANY rooms that the KCC is renting. There's three kinds of tea, and of course everything in this place has been shipped from Korea. There are also classrooms, so many supplies, a prayer room, an entire library, offices, and a kitchen for when they want to run cooking classes.
This wall also has signed photos from peopel like BTS, along with Korean brand toys and products. They have three screens running my hanji videos for the show duration.
This is where things get tricky, since the whole gallery corner is windows. I had the shades drawn for installation so I could see what best goes where but the light is so strong that pieces that are black or grey turn white when blindingly backlit. It also messes with the indoor lighting (aka rendering it all useless).
My preference was to leave most of the shades closed but who knows what they will do now that I'm gone.
The day of the opening, I was treated to lunch with two staff plus the director, and we went to a very fancy new Korean restaurant at the Hilton complex across the street. While the banana makgeolli welcome drink was lovely, the main dish was underwhelming. I felt guilty not finishing it but was starting to understand that my body was still so jet lagged that it was resisting my forcing it to eat, since it wanted to be sleeping instead.
Then I had to kill time before the reception and opening/artist talk, so I found some cushions and closed some folding screens in the prayer room and laid down. No sleeping but a bit of rest.
I had to review all of my interview answers a day ahead of time, and then was told before my talk that I needed to also type up all of my responses, ASAP! I was horrified by this, because since when is any of this required? Right after the opening, I was on my computer typing. And I was so tired that after that, I went to bed at 8pm and then got up at 5am to type more in the hotel lobby. Because guess how press is done here? You have to answer interviews by email, and the venue has to take pictures, and the "journalists" don't have to go anywhere! I had been told to clear my schedule for interviews but I didn't realize it meant that I had to write all of my press immediately and that constituted the "interview."
The KCC also wanted to make souvenirs for attendees, so they ordered tote bags with my images ironed on. I would have preferred that money be given to me, but, oh well! I was relieved on the first day, though, to be informed that I didn't need to go to COP28 in Dubai to do more teaching/exhibiting (issues with the venue capacity). One last-minute gig was enough for me.

This was part of what was left from the reception. I didn't have time to eat or drink during the event and they cleaned up so quickly that I only got a few bites before running off to type up my interview, but it was a pretty spread. And for all my bag complaining, when I got back to the hotel, I recognized one of the audience members because he had a bag, too!

Korean Cultural Center Abu Dhabi

More pictures from my exhibit