On Saturday I road-tripped with Sharjah Art Foundation by bus to view the massive installation site that Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas has been working from in Kalba for the last two months. Two long hours later our bus pulled into a sandy lot bordering a strip of sea. The remote town lies on the Gulf of Oman on the UAE’s East Coast and is not (yet) a popular tourist enclave.
As if in a strange dream sequence, we walked towards the massive abandoned building, which previously served as an ice factory, then sat decomposing in the harsh desert elements until being recently acquired by Sharjah Art Foundation. The structure itself is striking—a combination of concrete, corrugated metal, and abrasive sharp angles—the kind of architecture that curators of conceptual art institutions drool over in their sleep.
We circled the building searching for an entrance and suddenly came upon shoulder high trenches of compost. The installations threw off heat, signifying the microbial breakdown of materials taking place inside. The hum of tiny insects working could be heard faintly, a sign of the tension between decomposition and rebirth that would continue inside.
The sculptures that Rojas and his team had created inside the factory were astonishing both in their appearance and scale. For a brief moment I felt as though I had returned to Ephasis in Turkey and had to remember that the series of pillars and oesophagus-shaped mounds were not ancient.
In fact, the works did symbolise a kind of archaeological dig; Rojas and his team had somehow (I still don’t know exactly how) compounded layers of Kalba earth and nature with found man-made litter. An obnoxiously plastic-y running shoe, bits of fisherman’s rope, a child’s pink sweatshirt sleeve each were part of a living tower. I was particularly struck by the coolness of the air inside and the sound of birds singing through the open roof juxtaposed with the decaying feathered bodies of two finches laid reverently on the steps of a rectangular sculpture. Ants crawled across the garishly yellow feathers like tiny performance artists.
There wasn’t a lot of information about the ice factory or the work and I was glad of that. Sharjah Art Foundation plans to run free buses to Kalba on Saturdays through Sharjah Biennial 12. I hope that families, students, and particularly the residents of Kalba themselves will make the trip.
Good Ideas: Sharjah Biennial 12 runs through 5 June, 2015 at Sharjah Art Foundation. Free weekly bus trips are provided to Kalba and depart from Sharjah Art Museum at 11am, with stops at The Flying Saucer, Kalba Ice Factory, and a restaurant for lunch.
Image Credits: All images in this post are courtesy of Danna Lorch