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Postponed from the original opening date of 21 March 2020 due to protective measures against the spread of COVID-19, Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) in Sharjah, UAE, opened the most ambitious exhibition in the Middle East to date exploring art in the age of the internet on 26 June 2020. Curated by SAF Director of Collections and Senior Curator Omar Kholeif, who also served as co-curator of Sharjah Biennial 14, Art in the Age of Anxiety brings together a diverse and global group of contemporary artists to explore the ways everyday devices, technologies and digital networks have altered our collective consciousness. The exhibition presents more than 60 artworks spanning sculpture, prints, video, virtual reality, robotics and algorithmic programs developed by more than 30 international artists and collectives (see the list of artists).
‘Art in the Age of Anxiety explores critical questions in contemporary art and society through the work of a diverse group of artists from around the world,’ said Hoor Al Qasimi, Director of Sharjah Art Foundation. ‘We are delighted to inaugurate Omar Kholeif’s tenure as Senior Curator and our first Director of Collections with this important exhibition.’
‘This is an exhibition that grew out of my own anxiety about the future. It completes over a decade’s worth of research exploring how artists explore, deconstruct and materialize the polemical issues raised by our accelerating society,’ said Omar Kholeif, Director of Collections and Senior Curator at Sharjah Art Foundation. ‘There are no easy answers here. Rather, this exhibition posits questions as experiences that physically and viscerally confront the viewer with their very own complicity in our everyday technological society. We look forward to seeing, hearing and feeling how our audiences will respond to the context that we have created with this special exhibition. This is ever more urgent in the wake of a new era that has brought forth new forms of social distancing, which has thickened the context of the digital sphere.’
Art in the Age of Anxiety conjures the bombardment of information, misinformation, emotion, deception and secrecy that invades online and offline life in the age of digital technology. It aims to illuminate the ‘post-digital’ condition—the manners and behaviours found in a world altered by the rise of digital technologies—and posits speculations for our future.
The exhibition features leading contemporary practitioners and works across a range of media, including Trevor Paglen’s Circles (2015), an epic single-channel video installation offering an atmospheric view into the surveillance state, presented alongside some of his most iconic photographs such as They Took the Faces from the Accused and the Dead… (2019), his infamous cloud photographs, as well as his portraits of historical figures whose faces have been run through Facebook’s facial recognition system; Jon Rafman’s Transdimensional Serpent (2016), a Virtual Reality commentary on the all-consuming nature of technology; and a selection of works realized from Cao Fei’s RMB City (2007-ongoing), a virtual city designed in the online world of Second Life that probes the boundary between real and virtual existence.
Other highlights include a new version of Siebren Versteeg’s iconic 2012 work Daily Times (Performer) , which is re-imagined for the exhibition. Here, a giant screen draws from headlines produced by the UAE-based English language newspaper The National and produces abstract paintings in response to its content. Also on view is Jenna Sutela’s musical film Nimiia Cétïï (2018) exploring consciousness, neural networks and a new Martian language. Following its recent presentation at The Shed in New York is the first premiere of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Shadow Stalker (2019) outside of the United States. This ambitious film explores Predictive Policing, Identity Theft and the dangers of Data mining, featuring renowned actress Tessa Thompson and ‘The Spirit of the Deep Web’ played by January Steward.
The exhibition design for Art in the Age of Anxiety is created by architect, writer and historian—as well as Sharjah Biennial 13 participant—Todd Reisz. Reisz’s work often focuses on cities of the Arabian Peninsula from both historical and contemporary perspectives. Here, he has worked with curator Kholeif to imagine a physical maze of corridors and experiences that will fully immerse the viewer in the imaginary world of the ‘the internet’.
Art in the Age of Anxiety is also accompanied by a major publication of the same name that contains more than 400 pages of originally commissioned essays, reflections and artistic interventions by some of the leading cultural figures of our time. The book is co-published by Sharjah Art Foundation and Mörel Books, and distributed by MIT Press. Edited by Omar Kholeif with a foreword by Hoor Al Qasimi, Art in the Age of Anxiety includes new critical writing by thought leaders in the field of image and internet culture who interrogate the digital realm from a variety of perspectives. Essays by artists and writers including Saira Ansari, Cory Arcangel, Douglas Coupland, Simon Denny, Aruba Khalid, Norman M Klein, Heather Dewey-Hagborg and WJT Mitchell are presented alongside beautifully produced artistic interventions, creating a book that operates as an exhibition in its own right.
From press information.
© Photos: Danko Stjepanovic. Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation.
Main institution for contemporary arts, organizer of the Biennial and other world class events.
Opening: February 2023. Curator: Hoor Al Qasimi, concept by Okwui Enwezor. Working group: Collaborators of Enwezor.