United Arab Emirates at 2009 Venice Biennial


I entered the UAE pavilion pushed by a big curiosity. "It’s not you it’s me" seemed to be very promising. I was expecting to see the Arabic cultural resistance to western corporatist imperialism, the courage of some people that have the nerve to show to the whole world their cultural autonomy in front of consumerism ultimate expansion. "It s not you it’s me" seemed to be a fair defense to this neocolonialism. To express the refusal the technology and civilization with their language as the Biennial itself sounded very interesting thing.

But it was not meant to be. The UAE, as a country, is a very strange combination between capitalism and traditionalism that were perfectly shown in their exhibition space. After several steps inside the pavilion I was surprised to see a mock-up representing some building that are going to be build up and become the base of UAE future cultural institutions. The buildings seemed as fancy as the ones that were raised up before in this country, as everybody knows. But the biggest disappointment was a kind of directed press conference, made by so-called local artists, maybe some local celebrities, man and woman, who actually looked like Hollywood stars with Arabic specific. They were really beautiful individuals. I could admire the Arabic shape of Angelina Jolie , beautiful. So far so good. There was only a problem; this press conference was pretending to be performance art.

So, after the Performance Art/Happening was, and still is questioned today, by birocratoid mentalities, as being actually art, now they are in the situation of being corrupted into the opposite pole. Perhaps such a radical change of attitude has its sense when it comes to some money in the middle. So, lately, these mentalities are about to call art all the authorities’ actions, in the shape of some statements made by some consecrated artists, but mechanical understood and applied. Beuys might have been said that everybody is an artist (from here it can be said that everything is art), but if I see inside the gallery the same things from the news and commercials, then I feel like doing the same thing that I do with the TV. I turn it off. I am not saying that the political speech made by politicians or the commercials and Hollywood movies (which is basically the same thing) could not become art, in the frame of enlarging its limits in the last century. Let’s just say that it is just me that I am tired of such kind of art, as the impressionism had got tired of academism at the end of 19 century, ok?

On the other hand, such a new possible pushing further of limits of art, I really really doubt that could be done just by UAE, as long as not only the controversy of acceptance Performance Art as art is not favorable to the spirit of Biennial, but there are not even existing the specific cultural institution that make this controversy possible. And this kind of artists is almost non-existent out there. I know some guys that were very proud of themselves for stepping over capitalism from feudalism into socialism as Superman, but actually they were prisoners of medieval mentality.

I am not going to buy the story of such a subtle possible irony that audience (maybe also directed) did not observe. That press conference started to move on the serious reason path, dealing with the anthropologic and philosophic side of audience and forgetting the artistic one. Unfortunately, the reasons and the debate are only the clothes for contemporary spirit but not its content. I think that the farthermost point away from this state of mind was the expression “His Highness”, referring to their political leader. If someone uses the expression “His Highness”, referring to a politician, in a kind of contemporary spirit frame, then there should also a wind be released or something as an ironic homage. Otherwise there is no contemporary art but classical one. For this there is no Venice Biennial need, but maybe the pyramids, the palaces, the castles, the military parades etc. No matter how many galaxies have the UAE hotels, how many fancy cars would be bought or how large the capital they have, their mentality is not western yet.

I found really funny a kind of politician (liar) answer "we are concerning of improving…" . O really? I imagine some feminists dressed with Arabic veil… If I would participate in such "performance", then I would raise a question like „How stupid do you think we are?" or I would ostentatiously walked away raving in the audience to the next pavilion. Indeed, the contemporary art is facile. Playing is also facile for a child. But playing is very hard for somebody who if lost childhood.

From a psychological point of view, “It’s not you it’s me” proved itself to be not a fair rejection of western culture, as I expected, but a strange and ambivalent way of apologizing for not enough aligning to it, for commercial reasons. “It’s not you it’s me” from the speech of the two, seemed to me to be a valet blank and impersonal bow towards the wealthy tourist in front of a fancy hotel. It is an unfair way to say: “we open a pavilion at Venice Biennial, we create local stars and behave trendy for you to become our tourists and get us richer. We have no big reputation, we came from periphery, but we are ready to catch up, look we have western beautiful suits and limousines, can we get in? Haven’t we learned so well to make business?”
“It’s not you it’s me” shows a kind of provincial hesitation inside the big city, a behavior that wants no trouble. This expression reveals an inferiority complex about the western media propaganda culture, concerning its own lack of specific contemporary social cultural frame. But, beyond this, there smoothly comes out a very strange, unexpected, rigid and paradoxical superiority complex. This expression is used by somebody that takes over oneself the fault of a failed relationship as does not want bad feelings from the other one. But it is usually used when the other one is angry, suffers and asks for explanations concerning this breaking apart. So, it is easy to see how the situation of the oedipal rejected third one is projected into western culture. The “It’s not you it’s me” seems to unconsciously become a sort of comfort for “letting down”, for “leaving” the western contemporary culture. This is a kind of ambivalent hand given by the one who has chosen a better opportunity. But just look how, on the other hand, there comes up some kind of provincial pride with a classic-colonialist shape that almost express its scorn for the western contemporary “degenerated art”.

The next reply changes look absolutely fabulous to me: the reporter: “So we agree to disagree”: the diva: “No, we agree to recommit in 2011”. Oh my god! Have you seen how she had to say the last word just like a goddess who has just given birth to some kind of new world? Have you seen how she saw the common points between the two cultures, and not only their differences, as the western pragmatic and warrior people see it? I almost forgot that this conference was imagined and directed by her and her team, from the first place. These replies look very much like this dialogue: 1. “Stop contradicting everything I say”; 2. “I don’t contradict what you say, at all”. Have you seen how the “press conference” ended with a revelation? How you seen how the inferiority complex turned up into superiority one? I already feel guilty not just for rejecting the UAE pavilion but for not worshiping such a metaphysical consolation.

The feeling that I had in UAE pavilion was that of lack of communication and, of course, of being deceived. I felt both soft soaped and treated with the arrogance of a traditional complex of superiority putted in the wrong place, as the Venice Biennial is an not traditional art space.

The UAE is probably the most western Arabic country. I don’t know if such a social experiment would lead to a happy end to something authentic. But, in this particular moment, the UAE find theirselves in a strange transition to contemporary civilization like Romania itself. Old behaviors are mixed with new western emancipate ones and the result is an authentic kitsch. Personages/situations like Borat, Gigi Becali who gets out of limo and milk the ships with his own hands or celebrating the wining of Bahrain Formula 1 big prize by drinking no alcohol champagne (the alcohol is forbidden in this country), are funny and, sometimes, terrible examples of such transition.

I am not sure if this is an appropriate space for giving advices but I feel like doing one right now: so, as a western guy, I don’t want you, the Arab people, to change. But, if you want me in your country, you have to accept also the fact that I might get drunk and sing on the streets on the middle of the night. You just can’t take my money only! Decide if you find yourself comfortable into my space! Coz if you are not comfortable, then nobody forces you to stay and get a pavilion at Venice. It is not a shame for you (or for anybody) not to have it. I really want you to stay in your culture and so that I admire you from the distance. If you have a problem with my life in my house, then why don’t you just leave? I don’t want you to stand up in front of me in the first place nor to keep proving your wisdom and your highness in philosophy, afterwards. I am already tired of my own philosophy. It is true that you on your own are vulnerable against corporatist propaganda. But you have to fight for yourself to keep your authenticity. Forget about me and be just you! Don’t try to be me if you feel like! Otherwise, sooner or later, you would become tired and sick of my lifestyle and you will wrongly revenge on me for being deceived with corporatist false ideals that you deceived yourself!

The UAE situation is not unique. All art refer itself to society in the way UAE pavilion refers to contemporary western culture. I will publish on the "Baldovin concept" an entry meant to analyze art in general view starting from this "accident" with UAE pavilion.

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