National Pavilion UAE - A Noble Pursuit: The Redemption of Video | Tala Worrell
  • A Noble Pursuit: The Redemption of Video | Tala Worrell


    Video art/installations always cause me a lot of anxiety. The work always seems like an idea that can’t decide on what it wants to be when it grows up. So naturally, when I first walked into the National Pavilion of the UAE, Walking on Water, at the Venice Biennial I felt my chest tighten in dread.  Before me was a white wall with luminescent lights and sounds peeking out from the blacked out abyss beyond the wall’s boundary. However, I could not have predicted what I experienced beyond the wall on that first day and what I continue to experience throughout my internship.

    Walking on Water presents a work that is part of Mohammed Kazem’s series Directions. It is a 360-degree projection of the ocean in a dome structure. The viewer stands on a platform in the center where GPS coordinates illuminate the ground he or she stands on. The front of the platform resembles the hull of a ship.

    When I walked in for the first time I had a “eureka” moment. It became clear to me what video, as art, is capable of. The marriage of idea and execution is seamless; the viewer is not left wondering why it wasn’t a full feature film or where it starts or ends. He or she isn’t racing to the wall text or racking his or her stacks of pavilion papers in search for the essays that act as driftwood in a sea of uncommitted work for a sense of security.

    What struck me the most about Kazem’s work, and it became more potent as I spent more time with it, is how it brings out the humanity in people. The ocean is inherently a universal language, however what is more striking is the consistency of the visitors’ reactions to the work. Everyone has a reaction as they emerge from the installation. Some are befuddled as they try to figure out if the ground was moving, others come up to our intern both and blow kisses in the air as they say “bellisimo”, one person felt compelled to share an anecdote of when he was lost at sea.

    The work is a breath of fresh air from the slightly oppressive nature of some of the other pavilions. However, the GPS coordinates evoke an undercurrent of existential anxiety. Through the GPS Kazem touches on or reveals how the digital has come to define a phenomenology of existence. The work questions the digital as an abstraction of experience or simply as contemporary experience.

    Walking on Water holds up to the nobility of artistic pursuit. Through its simplicity and confidence it defines a common ground through which to share a common experience. It stands out in the Biennale as a pavilion that creates an experience within the exhibition space rather than using the international reach of the Biennale to show an experience of an “other”.

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