National Pavilion UAE - A Personal Review: Walking on Water | by Sara Al Haddad
  • A Personal Review: Walking on Water | by Sara Al Haddad


    Observing as people walk towards the installation, sitting at the Pavilion’s booth suited right across from the title, people exclaim with a tone of enthusiasm, “Walking on Water!” The reoccurrence of this scene readjusted my perception of the works’ target audience; the mere title creates a connection with the viewer before seeing and interacting with the work.

    Walking on Water is a 2mins long (on loop) video installation, exhibited in The International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia in its 55th edition. Using 15 different projectors, the video is projected onto a dome-like architecture designed specifically for the installation. The projections arrangement allow for 360 degrees coverage of the work. Using a slanted elevation towards a fixed platform, one finds themselves facing what could easily be their own view from the middle of the ocean. A screen placed right in the middle of the ground indicates the global positioning system (GPS) of where the video was filmed. The sensation of being lost, the lack of ability to pin point one’s location is no longer a predominant thought. The viewer is able to delve into the endless destinations they could possibly reach to.

    Mohammed Kazem’s video installation, “Walking on Water,” from his ongoing series “Directions” 2005/2013, was a result of his own personal venture in the ocean where he fell off a boat on a fishing trip and was forgotten for thirty minutes until his friends located him. Inspired by this incident, the use of GPS has become a predominant medium used in this series. The work, as Kazem describes, raises both political and social issues; allows to break communication barriers and for the viewer to think freely and on a broader aspect.

    The on-going fisherman lifestyle in the United Arab Emirates, allowed to create a distinctive connection with the water and the work as an Emirati. The connection is very strong it limits, if not act as an indirect restriction, of what the work could possibly indicate otherwise. The relevance of the context is what plays a huge role in the understanding, relating and interacting with the work. The placement of the work in a city that is surrounded by water instinctively creates a connection between Venetians, its regular visitors and the work. Their form of transportation relies heavily on the use of vaporetto’s (water buses) and water taxi’s. Standing on the platform facing the projection of the sea, many people questioned the stability of the platform.

    What I find most interesting is not the social or political aspects of the work, but rather its unspoken of religious attribute. The ability to walk on water is physically impossible. Viewing the work, one finds themselves floating on the water, the array of waves causing mobility within the horizon line between the sky and the water. The sound of the waves is a big part of the installation, as it emphasizes on the viewer’s mental location. Hearing the pavilion visitors exclaim “Walking on Water,” I couldn’t help but recall the prophet Moses’ story, wherein the sea split into two for him and his people to cross, as acknowledged by all three Abrahamic religions.

    Would I have made this correlation if I were to experience this installation back in the UAE; how much does the location of the exhibited work has an effect on its meaning or what it can possibly mean? If the work was to be exhibited in the UAE, would the very same visitors experience the same sensation or would a country with a fisherman occupation reflect on how they perceive the work?  Whether it would or wouldn’t, a series of other bundled questions arise. Regardless of the course of thoughts, this testifies and reinforces the importance of the context in which the content is presented, which in this case has been the use of water.

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