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Dubai-based gallery puts on a show at Frieze London

Frieze London 2017 saw some 160 galleries from 31 countries take part.
LONDON: Dubai-based art gallery The Third Line put on an impressive show at Frieze London 2017, an international art fair that saw some 160 galleries from 31 countries take part. Arab News visited The Third Line booth, located in the main section of the fair that ran from Oct. 5-8, to meet up with the gallery team and exhibiting artists.
We spoke to Sara Naim, who was raised in Dubai and is now based in Paris, to learn more about her highly-distinctive “Reaction” series.
The series features a collection of sculptural photographs that magnify a small area of expired Polaroid film, where the chemistry of the film reacted with the light to form microcosms of chemical reactions. The skin of the Polaroid and its geological terrain become physical manifestations of abstract reactions.
Naim described the intricate process behind her work.
“I ordered the expired Polaroid films from eBay. I photographed, dissected and then scanned them at a really high resolution. What you are left with is a chemical reaction between the light and the chemistry of the film,” she explained.
The colors within the pieces — delicate blues, pinks and soft browns — are truly beautiful and entirely a result of the process.
“They come from the combination of the film being expired, me dissecting it and breaking it up so you can find the chemistry of the Polaroid.
“You can’t see this with the naked eye, but because it has been scanned at high resolution and then blown up, it allows you to see the dichotomy between this very instantaneous way of image making that a Polaroid presents and then slowed down and examined — almost hyper-examined,” she said.
Her work is a unique take on how photography is usually presented.
“These pieces fulfil my frustration with the very rectangular format of photography and represent how I can break out of that and create something more three-dimensional from something two-dimensional,” she said.
The series is the latest expression of her interest in micro forms.
“I’ve always invested my practice into looking at the micro. That’s not from a scientific standpoint, although I use scientific apparatus to investigate my concepts. It’s more the idea that on a cellular scale, all space is merged — it’s just different densities of matter. On that level, lines, boundaries and borders don’t really exist. I’ve taken that further by having these micro states look like something much larger and that is also part of the reason why I print (on a) large (scale). Also, with the shapes, I wanted there to be a lack of tension between internal and external by the content resembling the subject itself. That’s why the shapes feed into the content of what I am actually presenting.
“I wanted the shapes of the pieces to feel as arbitrary but intentional as a chemical reaction. A reaction has a mathematical basis to it yet it is also unpredictable. I wanted the soft and sharp edges to resemble that purposeful but arbitrary nature of the reaction,” she said.
She added: “You can go into a more abstract realm and say ‘it’s not real, it’s not fake, it’s not contrived, but it’s not completely natural’ — it’s what happens when the two worlds collide. I wanted to highlight the meeting of these two worlds; the meeting of two polar opposite things coming together and how it creates a surge — almost like a by-product.”
Two of her pieces were being shown for the first time at the fair and they are also based on cellular shapes.
She explained: “I have archival images from the past eight years over which I have been photographing cells — my cells, blood cells, dead skin cells, various things. I wanted them to fit into each other and resemble one another — become self-referential. Right now, I am looking at creating my own reactions using a transmission electron microscope that has brought up a whole new host of dilemmas and interesting findings. It’s still at the very early stages in the project.
“I am interested in the emotional manifestations — a reaction can be between two people who fall in love or a reaction can be based on very strict scientific reasoning and I think that’s really interesting. When two people connect, there is a chemical reaction that occurs in the brain. Science can shift into something more emotive and vice versa,” she observed.
Naim said the experience of growing up in Dubai, studying in London and now living as an artist in Paris has all informed her work.
“You feed off where you live. Each place has allowed me to continue my practice and I have to adapt to the resources that are available. It can be down to a simple thing like whether 120 film can be processed locally.”
Art has been central to Naim’s life since childhood.
“From a very young age, I knew I would be an artist. Growing up in Dubai was great. I was always in art classes — it was something I could do well. Drawing and painting were my first access points and then I started doing photography at the age of 14 in a darkroom.”
She did her BA in Photography at the London College of Communication, followed by an MFA at the Slade School of Fine Art.
Speaking of her decade-long association with The Third Line gallery, she said: “The Third Line are a team — like family — I really trust. I’ve had a connection with them since I was 19 and have been working with them for three years. I’ve had a solo show in the Pavilion Downtown Dubai and two group shows at The Third Line.”
As for the experience of participating in the fair, which brings together the world’s leading galleries and showcases the work of today’s most significant contemporary artists, Naim said: “It’s really nice to be part of Frieze because you get a lot of feedback in a very short space of time. A lot of people see your work and it’s a good way to expose what you have been up to — it’s very exciting for me.”
Thibault Geffrin, director of the gallery, said having a larger space at the heart of the exhibition had been beneficial.
“This year, we have a much more central location and a bigger booth, which has allowed us to show more works,” he said.
The gallery’s showcase was comprised of paper and sculpture pieces by Abbas Akhavan, works on paper by Laleh Khorramian, sculptural photographs by Sara Naim, landscape paintings by Amir H. Fallah and pieces by Hayv Kahraman.
Akhavan had some distinctive images of leaves on show as well as a haunting sculpture of a slaughtered rhino entitled “If the first metaphor was animal.”
“The sculpture, ‘If the first metaphor was animal,’ is a variation of an existing piece shown for the first time at Akhavan’s first solo exhibition in Munich,” explained Geffrin.
“In Akhavan’s work, animals and plants are shown as rejected by humanity. This rhino, with its horn sawn off, is a symbol of injury and violation. The bandages on the rhino’s head symbolize both conservation efforts and man’s cruelty. The image of the rhino looks almost ghost-like. The artist is saying that in relation to acquiescence in the destruction of animals, everyone is at fault,” he added.
“Most of Akhavan’s work is produced in residencies. They are site-specific installations. The ink drawings on paper of leaves were made in the south of France at the Atelier Calder,” he said.
Geffrin moved to Dubai from Paris four years ago to join The Third Line gallery and said that he is seeing a lot of positive development in the UAE’s art scene.
“Within Dubai, there are more and more galleries and foundations. Notably, we have the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and the Louvre about to open,” he said.
Geffrin studied at the Ecole du Louvre. He did his bachelor’s degree at the Institut d’Études Supérieures des Arts (IESA) in Paris before eventually moving to Dubai.
The Third Line represents contemporary Middle Eastern artists locally, regionally and internationally and sees the Frieze fair as an excellent platform.
“Frieze is one of the first fairs we participated in. At Frieze in London or New York, we always do well in terms of sales and have the opportunity to meet many new people and other artists. Because the market for art is very extensive, collectors take their time. We have done well so far and we have more meetings lined up,” Geffrin concluded.

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