Bahrain-based art collective Temporary Artistic Zone put on an impressive third show titled “Don’t strew me with roses after I’m dead” at Al Dar islands this October. May Ashour spoke to members of the collective for a closer look at the work exhibited.
A group of young people sporting dreadlocks and swimwear lie sprawled across traditional red-and-black floor cushions on the sand, hiding from the sun in the shade of a palm frond wall with photographs mounted on it. A tall, disheveled and sun burnt man soon appears to shoo them away: they’re infringing on his art exhibit and some of the mounted pictures are beginning to fall. It’s perhaps one of the pitfalls of putting on a massive outdoor art show on a secluded beach hosting an all-night rave – the public isn’t always very mindful of the art. It’s the day after the Lunar Event party at Al Dar Islands, and it looks like many of the revelers haven’t yet made up their minds to leave. Members of Temporary Artistic Zone (TAZ), a Bahrain-based art collective with an eclectic and dynamic line up of mostly European artists, are also still around, looking after the show and making sure it doesn’t come to much harm. “I don’t think this will stay up till tomorrow,” confesses Alex Goubin, the driving force behind the collective, who at the moment looks a little bit worse for wear. “The photographs keep flying off with the wind.”
It’s by no means a declaration of surrender: TAZ is by definition committed to transient, ephemeral art, so for the exhibit to blow away in the wind is perhaps only fitting. The idea is to bring art to places and contexts where it usually isn’t found, but to which it certainly belongs. Most people don’t have a clue about contemporary art, argues the collective, because they imagine it in the context of a sanctified museum or sanitized gallery. TAZ’s mission is therefore to bring art closer to the general public, by putting it in places they frequent naturally. The shows’ themes are derived from the environment – this particular show is concerned with the very nature of the island and the question of its sustainability, from the rampant industrialization around it to the decadence of the yacht culture often surrounding it. The title, “Don’t Strew me with roses after I’m dead,” is inspired by a Thomas F. Healey quote: “When Death claims the light of my brow, / No flowers of life will cheer me: instead / You may give me my roses now!” Like Horace’s oft-misunderstood carpe diem, the verse is not so much an injunction to grab life by the horns as it is a nihilist reflection on the emptiness of death, and a questioning of what to do with a life headed for no certainty but oblivion.
The show, like the others before it, went up in a few days and came down practically overnight. Except this time the effort involved was colossal, even by the collective’s usual standards: the display involved several sculptures, a video installation, photo exhibits and an enormous installation made of stacked oil drums. One can only imagine how those oil drums made their way to the island . . .
By day, the exhibit is intriguing, and the stacked oil drums look like they could actually be part of the island’s natural landscape. (Al Dar is hardly picturesque, set amongst Sitra’s refineries and factories). Properly light by night, the exhibit takes on a completely different personality. The metal wire sculptures by Maxime Acker are the first to catch one’s eye: set against a white backdrop, an eight-foot man with a large potbelly and stubs for arms looks down at an empty nest. The shadows the sculptures cast against the wall are impressive and looming. It’s a statement about the decadence of our age, the nest representing humanity and the man standing for human decadence, fat, greedy and helpless without arms. A second sculpture of a man leaning forward is planted in the sand next to the nest, but it wasn’t meant to be placed there, says Maxime. He had meant for the structure to face the wall with its forehead heading leaning against it, its back turned to the nest. Foiled by the electrician who set up the lights too late, Maxime had to make do with setting the sculptures side by side in the light. Flexibility is in the nature of all TAZ’s endeavors, for very few things actually go according to plan.
The sculptures are housed between three walls of palm fronds dug into the sand. On the outside, they are lined with a series of photographs that appear to be taken in the side mirror of a car. They’re everyday scenes of people and city life, frozen glimpses of the past. They exude a strange sort of nostalgia, perhaps because inherent in the scenes is the knowledge that they take place behind the viewer, surreptitiously captured in hindsight. Another series of photographs by the same artist, Bulgarian Kremena Nikolova, features black and white superimposed images of a snail and close-ups of a female’s face, neck and shoulders. They too appear nostalgic, owing in large part to the crackled vintage look of the images.
The video installation ‘Individual Destinies, Collective Destination’ housed in a palm frond hut is perhaps the most technically impressive of the artwork: what seems like a high-speed video of scenes shot at famous Parisian landmarks is in fact a montage of thousands of still photographs. The mesmerizing work by Paris-based Bulgarian artists Nikola Mihov and Deyan Parouchev (look for them on Youtube) has already been exhibited in several countries around the world and has even won a handful of awards.
Surrounding all the exhibits are the towers of oil drums stacked three or four high, one on top of the other. They’re caked in sand and are welded together for stability. The “city” mimics its surroundings, a fitting commentary on the industrial culture of the area. Eight hollow drums with tops removed stand alone. Peering into them, one discovers photographs cradled in a metal mesh and lit from below, set on backgrounds of rippling water. The effect is almost one of peering through a mist to discern a face. It’s the fog of memory, says creator Alex, for memories are all that remain of decadence. The viewer is left to determine whether the photographs are of different people or of the same man and woman through different stages of their lives. The idea is to illustrate the passage of time and ask the reader to consider what heritage he or she leaves behind for his or her children.