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Resident visa
Muhammad Yusuf December 07, 2017
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As Art Dubai (forthcoming, Mar. 21 – 24, 2018), strides into its second decade, Pablo del Val, its Artistic Director, speaks on the Residents 2018 programme, its newly initiated programme. ‘Residents’, which will inject fresh talent into the fair, is dedicated to solo presentations from invited galleries, ten in number. The artists represented by them, some of whose works are shown here, will take part in a 4-8 week residency.

* What is the “pitch” you made for attracting artists for Residents?
We like to think of this as a two step curatorial statement rather than a pitch. The first one consisted in selecting the gallery, the second in working side-by-side with it in choosing the artist that is best suited for the residency.

Residencies aren’t suitable for every artist and the galleries tend to know better which of their artists is best suited for the opportunity to grow as an individual or because they are at the right point in their career to do this.

* What were the qualities you looked for in an artist to make the cut for Residents?
As the artists were selected in collaboration with the galleries, our initial quest was to find a wide-range of international galleries, all with a great roster of artists.

But to tell you more about the artists themselves – from the early stages of planning Residents, the goal was to offer the artists a unique experience. This is not limited to the physical space where the works will be produced, but about the artists’ personal experience. Residencies are think-tanks and abstract spaces to inspire artists. In Residents, I hope they will be able to immerse themselves in the local culture, metaphorically speaking ‘get lost in the desert’ and be inspired by what they see and learn.

Residencies are always a tour de force for artists, with some succeeding and some failing. If they succeed, great, and if they fail, well, we know that failure has often been the beginning of amazing projects…

* You have worked in various capacities, in various parts of the world, in the art field. How is the UAE art sector different from elsewhere?
A very exciting aspect of the UAE art scene is that it started the other way around from most other established art centres. At first, there was the Sharjah Biennale in 1993, followed by Art Dubai and the galleries. They have truly been pioneers in the UAE, the missionaries convincing the public biennale after biennale, fair after fair, exhibition after exhibition, educating and filling the gap stemming from a lack of museums and exhibition spaces.

Today, we have Louvre Abu Dhabi and Art Jameel, opening next year. I also think the UAE has created a very special type of art professional – tough, determined and committed.

* Is Art Dubai established, growing or still to mature? Do you find the situation here same as in Mexico, where you had to grow ZONA MACO from ground up?
I moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1995 as Director of Expoarte Guadalajara Art Fair. At the time, the local art scene had not made its jump to the international arena yet and it was the beginning of what defines the Mexican art scene now.

Francis Alÿs was selling his works at 1.000 pesos [Dhs190]! After that, I moved to Zona Maco and I find it quite rewarding to see where it is now. I joined at a second stage in its development, but as a best friend of the owner, I always was involved.

The situation is somewhat different with Art Dubai, which is established as the most global of art fairs, mirroring the fast pace of its hometown Dubai as well as its quest for growth and innovation.

With Residents, we are proactively redefining what a fair should be and the energies that should involve. The UAE is growing and becoming a cultural model to follow, and we are excited to be a part of that.

I think that Art Dubai’s greatest challenge, faced by other fairs or exhibition spaces, is how we reinvent ourselves in a time where technology changes so much of our personal lives. We are working on being a pioneer in this yet again.

* What is the brief you will give resident artists? Will you choose subjects for them?
A residency is not an academy. We asked the artists for a proposal in order to allocate the right kind of space for them. Apart from that, they are free to do whatever they want. They can go into mental creative paralysis and end with a blank page. They can get lost in the desert and tape the silence of the night. A real value in this will be what they can assimilate of this experience and how it will influence them in the future.

Production is another exciting part and we will give them guidance to scout the UAE in order to find what they are looking for. We already know that one of them will drive all the fabric shops in Sharjah crazy!

* What happens to the artwork after the artists complete their residencies?
During the residency, artists have to follow a few rules such as getting involved with the host of the residency (which we will announce later this year) or give a master class. We will also organise an open studio, so art lovers can be part of the process. The final work will be exhibited in the Residents section at Art Dubai, between gallery halls 1 and 2. Each gallery/artist will have 20m2 and the works will be exhibited there and will be for sale.

* How do you keep in touch with the art world? Reading newspapers, art magazines, blogs, personal communication with artists and professionals … I’m continuously travelling and try to see as much as I can. I have always been very keen in having what is called “an educated eye”, which I know sounds very bismarckian, but has been the base of my education.
My first art lesson was given to me by my grandmother with her Old Masters collection in the background. Artists and professionals are a must, and at the end they become a kind of second family.

* Can you tell us something about the residencies you have held before?
From 2009 to 2013, I was the Founding Director of La Conservera, an art centre in Murcia, Spain. The centre’s activities consisted of successive cycles of four exhibitions, shown simultaneously. These programmes of temporary exhibitions focused on artists from different generations, predominantly those born in the 1960s and 1970s.

All these exhibitions were produced by La Conservera itself. This distinguished it from other institutions, as it concentrated exclusively on producing specific projects for its own spaces.

Each series of parallel exhibitions comprised four artists who share common interests, to ensure a continuous, logical gallery tour. This made it possible to analyse the same concepts from different standpoints. Each group of artists came to Murcia to produce the works staying for long periods. It was a spontaneous residency and by the second cycle it started to work as such.

* Will you write a book on your life at Art Dubai? Nobody has, yet!
Lol, not for the moment! But I will, one day, write one about being a Bedouin by vocation.

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