Leaving a Message: A Review of “After The Beep” at Satellite
By Farah Fawzi Ali
Published on August 9th, 2021
“After The Beep”, launched by Dubai-based emerging curators Anna Bernice and Sarah Daher, is an exhibition culminating a two-month long creative exercise. Rooted in the childhood game of ‘Broken Telephone’ the exhibition gathered 38 UAE-based participating artists, all diverse artistically, stylistically, and culturally. The exhibit opened at Satellite in Alserkal Avenue running from July 25th to July 31st, 2021. “After the Beep” has been supported by Emirati artist and producer Rami Farook, who also participated in the showcase.
Scrolling through my Instagram feed in my Dubai hotel room, I encountered a vibrant poster with flashing colors and a swinging telephone. The list of participants was filled with very familiar and not so familiar names. The excitement I felt within me! I had never been to an art exhibit in Dubai filled with UAE-based creatives. I accessed the city’s art scene a few months ago, and remain unsure of where I stand or what the ecospace is like. For me, this was an event not worth missing.
“After The Beep” is the result of a reactive exercise which, placing artists in a sequence, required each creative to respond to the work of the artists before them within 48 hours of receiving it. Promoted initially as ‘Telephone’, an open call was released in May 2021 inviting UAE artists of all backgrounds to participate. These pieces could be created in any artform or medium the participant chose. Resembling a cadavre exquis exercise, it encouraged collective creation with a connected but restrained character, allowing contributors to bring in new conversations, styles, and angles with each submission.
“After The Beep” is the result of a reactive exercise which, placing artists in a sequence, required each creative to respond to the work of the artists before them within 48 hours of receiving it.
Curators Anna Bernice and Sarah Daher opted to create two reactionary chains that both stemmed from Rami Farook's piece, A Party in the Age of Loneliness. The curators’ structure for the exhibition prompted an overwhelming degree of interest from artists which resulted in “doubling the exercise so that it wouldn't continue for 6 months,” the curators highlight. About their arrangement of works they note it was “an attempt to juxtapose mediums … We tried to avoid having three photographers in a row and instead invite people to engage with mediums very different from their own.”
A Party in the Age of Loneliness by Rami Farook. Photograph by Maria Daher. Courtesy of the curators.
Photograph by Maria Daher. Courtesy of the curators.
To effectively close the lines of limited communication, they joined together the two chains at the end with a piece by Sree to create a cohesive loop. This was “...in the spirit of the game Telephone which ends in someone repeating the phrase that has been changed along the chain. Having a single final piece to juxtapose to the initial piece was an interesting ending to the narrative for us,” Daher and Bernice highlight.
“Having a single final piece to juxtapose to the initial piece was an interesting ending to the narrative for us.”
Walking through the exhibit on its opening night, I journeyed through my personal memory of the game as well as the artists’ reaction chains. I contemplated how fun this must have been to do and wondered how time pressure must have created a momentary freak-out for artists when their turn came. I was intrigued by the interactions between ‘received art’ and ‘reactionary art’, to offer a categorization. This raised in me the question of how pieces created in 'spur of the moment' can manifest coherent conversations and nuanced explorations across the reaction chain.
For starters, the exhibition took over many of the pre-existing objects and surfaces at Satellite. On one end of the warehouse, wired cages filled with cardboard-wrapped paintings and art tucked away silhouetted a substantial part of the exhibition, juxtaposing the vibrant blues and reds of the actively present pieces against the muted browns and silvers of the art stockpile behind it. “After The Beep” flooded every aspect of the warehouse, from empty walls and corners to ceiling and floors, utilizing the space to its maximum capacity. The floor, clad with blue tape shaped like arrows, illustrated the direction and sequence of the reaction chains.
“After The Beep” flooded every aspect of the warehouse, from empty walls and corners to ceiling and floors, utilizing the space to its maximum capacity.
Photographs by Maria Daher. Courtesy of the curators.
Most of the art pieces were not hung on a solid-coloured wall, but rather placed against an array of different ‘negative spaces’, ultimately unlocking a more nuanced set of conversations and aesthetically novel presentations to the works and the exhibition. Dania Al Tamimi’s on the state of being was crumpled on the floor in the middle of the warehouse, forcing visitors to stop in their tracks, mindfully walking around it while simultaneously reflecting on the ‘not expired’ text stamped in Arabic.
On screen (front) and speakers: this is how the world move 2 by Sree. On screen (back): Eye Stills by Hassana Arif. On canvas (back): Garden of Senses by Sofia Basto. On the floor (front): on the state of being by Dania Al Tamimi. Photograph by Maria Daher. Courtesy of the curators.
Another fascinating use of space is Shebi Niazi’s video piece Catch Me Crashing projected on a repurposed entryway. In it the performers theatrically use their bodies to mimic a car crash scene. The curators' ability to place the works on various negative spaces and utilize the room experimentally is also very telling of Satellite as a space, hinting at how encouraging and flexible the warehouse is in realizing the visions of those who find themselves hosting their exhibitions or events there.
Screengrab from Catch Me Crashing by Shebi Niazi. Courtesy of the artist and curators.
It is evident how well ‘broken telephone’ can work in a creative context.
Besides the preconfigured setting, it is evident how well ‘broken telephone’ can work in a creative context. Themes, emotions, and stylistic features can carry over through artists despite their diverse backgrounds, mediums of choice, and constraints. With regard to thematic and emotional consistency, it is worth highlighting Rami Farook’s starting piece and the subsequent responses by Shanzeh Hameed, Rabab Tantawy and Maryam AlHuraiz. Divergence, contradiction, and disparity in the human experience were initially explored in Farook, Hameed and Tantawy’s works.
Come AlHuraiz’s turn, her piece attempted to “decompose Tantawy’s piece into one word”, she notes, which concluded to be Void. Alluding to childhood amnesia, AlHuraiz stitched distorted childhood images of herself with blank pieces of plastic serving as memory gaps. She decided “to go back to [her] older pieces and thought [she] could do an iteration” of those pieces. Despite only seeing the work of Rabab Tantawy, Call Me Grey, AlHuraiz’s piece brought back themes stemming from Farook’s starter piece, normatively cheerful periods explored in a contradictive light.
Another noteworthy sequence was the exploration of the female experience against pressures of local society via Reem Al Ani, Anita Shishani, and Sarah Afaneh. The former two’s works, Friday Night and @sweetprincessgirllove respectively, illustrated the double lifestyle many women lead. This is, to conform and perform a fantastically one-dimensional mode of life for the public eye, carefully curating their lives through fashion and social media accordingly. Afaneh’s poem barbie&ken brought a broader examination of the colonial bases of this phenomenon with a similarly fantastical fashion doll-esque backdrop. Touching on her poem’s thought process, Afaneh explains that “without a doubt, a lot of the female experience in the Middle East is informed, unfortunately by the colonial, and especially in this digital age, which Anita’s piece very successfully evokes.” Incorporating elements from her own background she adds “I honed in on that feeling of childhood, expectation, and what being in the female body has meant to me.” The work alludes to how young girls subconsciously take in the lasting impact of colonial-backed materialism from their immediate surroundings, like the dolls they play with.
In other regards, the reactions sometimes took radical leaps to align with the artists’ own personal creative practice. An instance to note was withered by Arthur De Oliveira and the subsequent reactionary piece Garden of Senses by Sofia Basto. Their pieces are starkly different, enough to take me aback, questioning if there is a missing link we are between or if the order was mistaken. De Oliveira's work treats restructured wood and textile materials deteriorated and crumpled under the Abu Dhabi weather as a medium to explore themes of fragility. This moment in the exhibit made me stop as it was an unexpected leap from the improvisation performance video preceding it, Catch Me Crashing. The flow and fluidity of the chain so far comes to a hiatus, further enhanced by the leap witnessed in Basto’s response, which presents a flower surrounded by hands, blooming from blue-stemmed plants. Upon further observation, it became apparent that both pieces actually have commonalities, consistently using hard and soft mix-media materials. Basto, presumably inspired by the modestly placed blue cloths and pink threads in De Oliveira's work, foregrounded those colors in her piece, turning them into a visual dichotomy of warmth and coldness.
The telephone exercise successfully triggered conversations and productively challenged the artists involved.
The telephone exercise successfully triggered conversations and productively challenged the artists involved. Thus, an area to improve on would be organizing the exhibition in a way that ensures that visitors not familiar with the sequence or concept can understand how to effectively navigate the exhibit and process each artist’s vision. By this I point to perhaps a physically available guide that provides insight into the exhibit's structure as well as elaborate captions about each piece, as seen in the online exhibition booklet. Within the physical exhibit, there were certainly moments of confusion that could have been easily alleviated with extended labels, further strengthening the cohesiveness of the physical exhibit as a whole.
This being said, the two diverging reaction chains occurring in their own isolated respects, seemed to grapple with the same themes at one point or the other, particularly conversations of memory, time, and personal introspection. There is room to ponder if this has something to do with the fact they both started with the same piece or that there might be converging interests present in the UAE’s creative communities.
The exhibit overall presents itself as a microcosm of local UAE art communities...
The exhibit overall presents itself as a microcosm of local UAE art communities, featuring a clear glimpse of the type of salient players involved and the demographics that engage with art within the ecosystem. “After The Beep” reflected a diversity in art-making backgrounds and communities mirroring the UAE’s multifacetedness and multicultural nature. As someone who considers herself a 'new' player in the local art community, particularly one who is used to visiting quiet art spaces, the aura of the opening night brought out a community spirit and support I have not really seen before in the context of the art world.
Up until attending the exhibit’s opening night, I truly felt that I was not formally introduced to the local art community, nor did I have the opportunity to formally introduce myself to them. It was humbling to see Satellite as a space to walk through the exhibit and a booming social hub filled with creatives getting to know each other, catching up, and discussing the occasion. As the curators fittingly put it, “post-lockdown, the ice had yet to be broken in the creative community to really bring people together at this scale and in this form of interaction.”
“Post-lockdown, the ice had yet to be broken in the creative community to really bring people together at this scale and in this form of interaction.”
“After The Beep” has provided the community with a living example that relying on each other’s prior knowledge and experiences is a potentially vital source for creative inspiration. The artists had to utilize not only the received artwork, but also make use of their prior knowledge on the other artists, tap into their existing creative knowledge and strengths, and their readily accessible tools and resources, in order to create a substantial response. This also applies to, as the curators did, creating new artistically challenging exercises that can be productively fun for the community to engage with.
An exhibition like “After The Beep” brings in simply structured challenges, which encourage the production of ‘organic’ art, not constrained to create something with the public eye and institutional rigor in mind, nor where ‘perfection’ and ‘structure’ are sought after. Rather, this is a showcase inspired by impulsiveness, playfulness and experimentation.
This is a showcase inspired by impulsiveness, playfulness and experimentation.
The attention that “After The Beep” has received has “made it very clear that there is a gap that needs to be filled with playful, impulsive work shown in low-judgment spaces for non-commercial audiences,” the curators note. This message exemplifies that Anna Bernice and Sarah Daher are a dynamic duo, true forces to be reckoned with. On a hopeful note, they jointly reflect that “the work facilitated so many interesting conversations which we have learned so much from, formed new connections from different corners of the UAE art world that don't normally meet, and set an important precedent for experimental, youth-led initiatives that encourage the creative production of work. We optimistically look forward to what comes next now that something like this has been introduced as a methodology.”
“...there is a gap that needs to be filled with playful, impulsive work shown in low-judgment spaces for non-commercial audiences.”
“After The Beep” is an exhibition curated by emerging curators Anna Bernice and Sarah Daher. It is a result of a 2 month long creative exercise, inspired from the game ‘Broken telephone’, with 38 UAE-based artists. The exhibit was showcased from the 25th July to 31st July 2021 at Satellite, Alserkal Avenue in Dubai.
Read the exhibition catalogue here.
Anna Bernice is an independent arts and culture writer, culture researcher and curator based in Dubai, contributing to platforms such as Vice Arabia and Global Art Daily. She graduated with a BA in Sociology and Theater from New York University Abu Dhabi. She’s the co-founder of Sa Tahanan Collective, a UAE-based Filipino art collective dedicated to creating an inclusive artistic platform for Filipino artists in the Gulf.
Sarah Daher is a Lebanese curator, researcher, and writer who graduated with a BA in Theater and Economics from New York University Abu Dhabi and recently completed her Masters in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art in London. She is based between the UAE and London. She currently works as a researcher for Temporary Art Platform, a curatorial platform focused on the development of social practice in Lebanon, the region, and the Global South. She is a regular contributor to Global Art Daily magazine.
Farah Fawzi Ali is a Filipina-Egyptian researcher and writer based in the United Arab Emirates with a B.A. in Political Science from The American University in Cairo. Farah is mainly interested in cultural research, with focus on postcolonialism and history in the ASEAN and SWANA regions, the interplay of media and visual arts with sociocultural realities, and environmental sustainability. She is a member of the third iteration of The Assembly at Jameel Arts Centre.