National Pavilion UAE - Walking on Water | Review by Munira Al Sayegh
  • Walking on Water | Review by Munira Al Sayegh

    In relationship to circumstance, water can be a source that allows for connection and separation alike. Broken down into five simple stages, one can describe and intertwine the being of Venice, alongside the experience of ‘Walking on Water’, relating it all back to the relativity of the sea in the context of our lives whilst in the UAE. Fresh or salty, water connects at one point, leaving the next point behind. While being very close to the water one can either understand it or get lost in it. My initial thought to both was; ‘it’s a maze,’ was my initial thought but by nightfall I realised that even if I tried, I could never get lost here.

    Step one; instant attraction. Arriving into Venice, bags in hand, you aren’t sure where the boats are or how long it will take to get to our new home. Uneasy, the scenery that is yet to come blows you away. Lines of laundry hung from window to window, loud conversations echo through the sound of the motorboat, and bridges barely rise over your head, forcing you to duck down as you weave in through the narrowing canals. Uncomfortable smells of the water linger a bit before disappearing to the smells coming from open kitchen doors, dancing in your mind and teasing your tastebuds. Shuffling colours surround the buildings that embrace the initial uneasiness turning the slight discomfort to wonder, attraction, and eagerness to continue that forth-propelling motion. With the first day at the biennial there you stand at the outer most edge of the installation. You are unleashed into the open water projected ahead within the dome, quickly you walk through to the middle to absorb the view. So expansive, and vast, foreign yet familiar, looking at the work, instantly you are pulled into the lights creating the ocean projected surrounding you. At that point you are held captive, watching the swish and swash of the surrounding ocean take control.

    The second step; loosing yourself to the dizzying quest. After being lured in, you take your first venturing steps, the night brings to you a new kind of Venice quiter than that of the day. The crowded Calle’s are now empty to roam in, religious iconography brighten up the dim enclaves they are painted in, adorned with roses as you look up at them. So many bridges, so many pathways the silence is daunting and disorienting as the water beneath your feet continues to flow forward, you attempt to move with it. Walking in spirals, your phone is dead and with an overwhelming effort your sense of direction is defeated by a gust of dizziness. The water is pushing you out and away from all that you know. In the installation, suddenly  you grab onto the rails infront of you, beginning to wonder if the ‘bridge’ below your feet is rocking from side to side. The dizziness is encompassing of your every being, and with that you are transported. Lost at sea? Indeed you are.

    Probably the shortest stage is the third stage which consists of situating yourself. As you let go of the rails, you instantly look away from the piece, diverting your attention to your cramped hands only to look past them finding the coordinates of your exact location illuminating on the ground. Solid, and undisturbed it sits, reflective of the sea in colour, it allows for your dizziness to settle to the sounds of the piece, as you sit and stare. Understanding that the artists very existence was no longer defined as being lost at sea, gives that feeling of loss definition, and with definition you get clarity, which generally can take you anywhere. Its that ‘aha!’ moment when you realise no matter how lost you get in Venice, the water will lead you back. Regardless of feeling, you are always in a defined, and specific location.

    With that sense of comfort, one reaches the fourth stage, which revolves around understanding how it works. Now that you are no longer stuck, nor scared you are able to take a step back and admire what you are looking at. You now understand that the piece is a two minute loop, you are comfortable knowing the ground beneath you is not moving, and you begin to notice the lights above you. The world finds itself to you in a much more complete form. You then learn to understand Venice in the same way, understanding the main passage ways to the dead-ends and the short cuts. You begin to see that like in Kazems work, a serenity is found in the multi shades of blue, while reds overtake, and paint the buildings of Venice. This is when you begin to hear the live bands of San Marco begin to play in the distance.

    The final stage brings to you every strum and hum of San Marco’s bands passing music on from one to the other, the dancing couples lace each beat with movement and governance. A flow begins to unravel, a certain rhythm rushes and relaxes with your every step. You now know where the stone beneath you is uneven, and to rush your dangling feet out of the canal way as a boat approaches. You now have the confidence to walk into the installation without having to hang onto the railing ways, or feel any kind of dizziness even after watching it on loop for a good three times in a row. You now know the exact coordinates of where Mr. Kazem was lost. You now notice every detail of every aspect of both Venice, and Walking on Water, so you are able to handle it in a macroscopic lense without being overwhelmed.

    To conclude looking at the three main bodies which we have discussed, one can notice a continuum of forward flowing movement which carries forth the spirit of water. Wether it’s the shores of the UAE, the Canals of Venice, or the magic of Kazems piece, connectivity resides there. Water is inviting, yet protective, it is expansive yet comforting and gives you a form of meditation. Patience is taught, as land surrounded by bodies of water always call for visitors of different ethnicities and backgrounds to find your shores. Through Kazems work we learned that even in the surrender of the ocean one cant really be lost. Through his piece he focuses on location and not identity as the water engulfs his mind for the next 30 minutes before being found once again, and through his piece, and the perfect sways of the water in relation to the sound one is transported almost tasting the salt in the air blowing on their faces.

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