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Curated by Faysal Tabbarah, Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Architecture at the College of Architecture, Art and Design at American University of Sharjah, Aridly Abundant investigates what architectural possibilities can become possible when we reimagine arid landscapes as spaces of abundance. This is explored through the integration of land-based knowledge and contemporary technology within the arid landscapes of the UAE, with a specific focus on the desert plateau, wadis, and coastal plains in and around Al Hajar Mountains.
Faysal Tabbarah said: "Through Aridly Abundant, our aim is to change perspectives of arid landscapes as devoid of value, and reimagine them as an abundant source of knowledge and resources, by investigating an alternative and contemporary building system rooted in the UAE’s cultural and material environment. Our research integrates land-based practices with contemporary technology such as 3D scanning and 3D printing to present the potential of stone construction as an adaptable and sustainable form of architecture for countries affected by climate change to explore and adapt to their own environments.”
For the 2023 exhibition, the National Pavilion UAE addresses the misconception that arid spaces are spaces of scarcity to highlight the thriving ecosystems that have always been present in the UAE and its surrounding areas, supported by land-based practices developed by inhabitants who understood and cherished the particularities of the land. The exhibition aims to bring back these practices to the forefront as climatic conditions exacerbate the challenges associated with aridity around the globe. These practices have successfully supported life in water-scarce environments and can be adapted to other contexts, relieving the strain on natural resources and slowing the degradation of land.
Aridly Abundant focuses on these land-based practices to highlight these techniques respond to the environmental conditions of aridity, proving to be a sustainable architectural condition. By examining the materials inherent to the region and the tactics (architectural methods inspired by land-based practices), Tabbarah provokes a discussion on a future built in (uncovering arid lands- based practices), with (rethinking extractive material practices), and for (recognizing aridity as a future global condition) aridity by maximizing the potential of natural resources.
Aridly Abundant transforms the pavilion into an environment that exhibits the ongoing spatial, material, and tactile qualities of aridly abundant landscapes. A series of stone assemblies are inserted into the space, acting as devices that exhibit the multitude of tactics of assembly that have been identified in Al Hajar such as dry-stacking, tethering, and blurring. Audio/visual vignettes by commissioned artist Reem Falaknaz allow one to experience the environment of Al Hajar. For this particular project, she traveled through the mountains sometimes with editors or other contributors to the publication and at other times on her own. Her photographs narrate her own experiences of her exploration. The exhibition includes a large-scale drawing of the landscape and material culture of Al Hajar, telling eight stories about the tactics observed in our fieldwork to ground the exhibition in the context of the UAE. The drawing acts as the device that highlights the relationship between the stone assemblies in the exhibition space with Falaknaz's audio/visual vignettes. In order to demonstrate that the tactics found in the UAE can be translated and employed in other contexts, the assembly methods have been applied to discarded stone fragments from quarries within the Veneto region. Infused with technologies such as 3D scanning and 3D printing that facilitate design and assembly, the stone devices suggest contemporary and alternative building systems that are rooted in their cultural and material environments.
Misfit assembly incorporating stone, fallen wooden elements, and 3D printed connections. Within the curatorial framework, misfit assemblies allude to arranging materials in tactical ways that challenge precision in their visual expression but deliver on the functional needs they were conceived for.
Angela Migally, Executive Director, Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, said; “We are pleased to see the National Pavilion UAE sharing local knowledge and research to collectively co-create sustainable solutions for the future. The National Pavilion UAE has been a longstanding platform for the UAE to effectively showcase our knowledge and creativity to the world for the past 12 years, allowing us to impactfully participate in ongoing global discourse.”
Laila Binbrek, Director of the National Pavilion UAE, said: “This year marks our twelfth exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia as we continue to explore and highlight the cultural evolution of the UAE. Adapting to climate change has been a growing source of concern around the world and Faysal’s research not only allows us to provide a locally-informed perspective but also possible provocations to this problem as aridity becomes a new reality for many.”
© Photo: Reem Falaknaz, 2022
© Photo: Faysal Tabbarah, 2022
The 2023 exhibition’s accompanying publication "In Plain Sight: Scenes from Aridly Abundant Landscapes”, co-edited by Faysal Tabbarah and Meitha Almazrooei, advocates for arid practices that propose a new vantage point of looking at aridity as a dynamic condition which can be a state of mind, a practice, or a shared identity. Conceived as a travelogue, the publication is a reference to travel and expedition literature which has historically portrayed arid environments in a homogenous manner as spaces devoid of life. The contributors challenge this narrative by introducing nuance and concepts of abundance to construct multiple lenses to view, sense, and capture the multitudes contained within aridity. In addition to research by the curatorial team, the publication also includes photographs taken by Reem Falaknaz during her exploration as well as scientific essays, travel stories, fiction, and poetry contributed by academics, architects, artists, geographers and researchers based in the region. Published by Kaph Books, the book will be available for purchase at a later date to be announced.
Faysal Tabbarah, who was chosen as this year’s curator through an open call issued by the National Pavilion UAE, worked on this project with his curatorial research team consisting of American University of Sharjah (AUS) alumni. The curator’s team also includes three interns from National Pavilion UAE’s Venice Internship Program. The National Pavilion UAE continues to collaborate with local universities, such as AUS, in an ongoing commitment to support the next generation of cultural practitioners, curators and scholars, and sustain studies and research from the UAE.
The National Pavilion UAE is an award-winning pavilion that curates the untold stories about the UAE’s arts and architecture through its participation in the International Art and Architecture Exhibitions organized by La Biennale di Venezia and provides a high-profile platform for curatorial concepts that address critical international conversations from a distinctive local perspective.
For every participation in the International Art and Architecture Exhibitions of La Biennale di Venezia, one of the world’s most significant and rigorous cultural platforms, the National Pavilion UAE appoints and works with curators, artists, and contributors to conceive, research and develop an exhibition and accompanying publication that advance and preserve understanding of the UAE’s cultural landscape.
Since 2009, National Pavilion UAE’s exhibitions have explored the nation’s cultural evolution from 20th-century experimental artists to the diverse contemporary scene. In 2021, National Pavilion UAE’s exhibition titled Wetland curated by architects Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, was awarded the Golden Lion for best National Participation at La the Biennale Architettura 2021, coinciding with the National Pavilion’s 10th participation in the International Exhibitions of La Biennale di Venezia.
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In parallel with its exhibitions in Venice, the National Pavilion UAE engages with communities in the UAE to support the growth of the local cultural and creative industries, through public programming and professional opportunities. Alongside an extensive pool of artists, curators, researchers and partners who have contributed to its exhibitions over the years, the UAE’s Venice Internship program has provided training and hands-on experience to more than 200 interns, many of whom are now successfully working in cultural fields. The National Pavilion UAE is an independent non-profit organization, commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth.
The Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation (SHF) is a private not-for-profit foundation committed to the cultivation of a more creative, connected and thriving UAE community. Based in Abu Dhabi, SHF oversees a diverse portfolio of not-for-profit programs and initiatives spanning the arts, culture, heritage, human development and early childhood development in the UAE and internationally. Underpinning SHF's activities is a common ambition to invest in the knowledge and capabilities of the UAE people in order to support them to unlock their full potential.
The Ministry of Culture and Youth works to enrich the cultural ecosystem in the UAE through initiatives and policies that stimulate the development of the cultural and creative industries and its contribution to the country's GDP, developing new legislation and policies that promote integrated media growth in the country and creating avenues for the youth to invest their capabilities in the aforementioned fields.
The Ministry of Culture and Youth is responsible for empowering and engaging the youth in the UAE by enhancing their leadership skills, involving them in decision-making process and programs, and giving them opportunities to contribute to the creative development of the country.
American University of Sharjah (AUS) was founded in 1997 by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed AlQasimi, Member of the Supreme Council of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Sharjah. Sheikh Sultan articulated his vision of a distinctive institution against the backdrop of Islamic history and in the context of the aspirations and needs of contemporary society in the UAE and the Gulf region.
Firmly grounded in principles of meritocracy and with a strong reputation for academic excellence, AUS has come to represent the very best in teaching and research, accredited internationally and recognized by employers the world over for creating graduates equipped with the knowledge, skills and drive to lead in the 21st century.
AUS values learners not driven only by academic success, but by those that embrace our dynamic campus life and embody our ideals of openness, tolerance and respect. This combination of academic excellence and community spirit ensures AUS is filled with world-class faculty and students, poised to become the innovators, thinkers, contributors and leaders of tomorrow.
About American University of Sharjah’ Silver Jubilee
Celebrating 25 years of excellence, AUS is ranked among the top 10 universities in the Arab world, acclaimed for its academic excellence, multicultural environment and outstanding facilities. Since 1997, AUS has been nurturing and equipping students to become award-winning architects, designers, scientists, journalists, engineers, innovators, researchers, successful entrepreneurs– and even leaders of the UAE’s space program. AUS offers 28 undergraduate majors and 45 minors, 15 master’s degrees and four PhD programs in the areas of architecture, design, humanities, science, engineering and business. Formed on the American liberal arts model, all classes are conducted in English. Students apply their learning through internships, research, conferences, competitions and professional collaborations. AUS graduates consistently secure roles with leading regional and international employers, and many pursue graduate studies at the world’s top institutions.
From press information.
© Photo on top: Marco Zorzanello, Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
© Other photos: Courtesy of the National Pavilion UAE