Culture
November 12, 2019

Is This Tomorrow? Art vs Architecture

Katrina Kufer and Aidan Imanova

Share

Aidan Imanova

Architecture

A New Way to be Human

Through Is This Tomorrow?, artists and architects blur disciplinary boundaries to propose a future that dares put humanity first

Concrete’s translucent polycarbonate façade and bare-faced interior sets the backdrop for the Dubai iteration of Is This Tomorrow?, an exhibition curated by London-based chief curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Lydia Yee.

Is This Tomorrow? At Concrete, 2019.

The exhibition – which questions what the inevitable future may hold – asks us to look beyond the bleak façade of our present reality where social, political, technological, and urban failures suggest a future not unlike the contents of the show itself — where architectural forms act as haunting metal animal management systems, construction sites are precarious spaces of concrete and steel, and monumental structures stand in isolation.

The large-scale forms and industrial materiality of all five works bathes architecture in a dystopian light, only brightened by the messages that surround its physical representation.

It is in the symbolic contents of the five works – created through collaborations between artists and architects – that the future presents itself as a place where possible solutions can be found, and where foundations are set upon human values and systems – be it social, political, or urban.

Is This Tomorrow? At Concrete, 2019.

Often, the Brutalist physicality of the exhibition seems to almost deliberately accuse the architectural discipline of being the cause of the majority of today’s environmental and urban issues. Characterised by rigid, monolithic structures, the Brutalist movement emerged in the 1950s – the time period in which the landmark exhibition This Is Tomorrow, on which this show is based on, first emerged, presenting a parallel between art and architecture in a manner that hadn’t been experienced before in post-war London.

“All the things that have gone wrong in the world can partly be blamed on the rapid growth of cities and the excessive amounts of buildings that we’ve built,” says Aga Khan Award for Architecture winner Marina Tabassum, whose work Phoenix Will Rise, in collaboration with London-based Bangladeshi artist Rana Begum, takes on a new life as part of this iteration of the exhibition.

“I think architects, urban planners, and everybody else need to take responsibility for the situation we are in right now,” she adds.

Phoenix Will Rise suggests just that, but still maintains the hope that humanity can save itself through reflection on past, present, and future actions. Set inside a somewhat uninviting monolithic box that is simultaneously probing, the monumental mass of its architecture draws you in to later discover a soft core: a space that lets light in through a brightly-outlined oculus that forces you to literally ‘look up’ to the sky — be it in hope, or in meditation.

Perhaps the most disconcerting work is by Argentinian artist Amalia Pica and London-based 6a architects, who present a maze-like metal sheep management system that encourages people to put themselves in the position of animals. The choice of metal in this installation reflects upon how physical systems created by people in spaces such as warehouses, airports, and metro systems have come to exert the same level of control over people as they have over animals. However, once again, a sense of temporary relief is presented through whimsical and playful objects such as buoys used to entertain captive seals, or star-shaped rubber chew toys for pigs that hint at our inherent humanity.

This theme runs through the rest of the works, especially Mind Garden, Heart Garden, created by Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao and artist Mariana Castello Deball, which looks at more human ways of thinking about scale and space. From examining modularity and the human scale in housing, to the Mesoamerican systems for measuring space and time that is related to the human body, the two narratives are interwoven through a cubic scaffolding system symbolic of low-income housing in Mexico City, and perforated metal beams intersecting the structure that represents the Aztec calendar.

Modularity is further explored in I Want to be the Future – this time through technology – by Beijing-based Cao Fei and mono office, which takes the form of an architectonic device that can extend to the far reaches of China, where citizens are able to escape state-controlled systems of the Internet and create a sense of autonomy for themselves. The somewhat idealistic ‘machine’ attempts to move away from the clichéd image of China as a massive technological giant, but is instead scaled down to the level of an average person or a small business.

The piece that holds this all together, all the while appearing to fall apart, is APPARATA and Hardeep Pandhal’s Thugz Mansion, an installation that falls “somewhere between a construction site and a ruin”. In this installation, architecture acts as a metaphor for our precarious present, where a large aluminum plane leans against a beam and is supported by a thin metal cable and a leaning prop. What alleviates this threatening environment is the idea of the Thugz Mansion itself: a spiritual and idealised world imagined by the late Tupac Shakur – an alternate heaven if you will – in which like-minded people can live together.

In Is this Tomorrow?, the idea of humanity, and human needs in particular have taken on architectural forms. While it is made clear that urban and political frameworks may have failed society, rethinking these frameworks through teachings of the past and lessons of the present could result in a future where people come first.

Katrina Kufer

Art

Try A Little Tenderness

Is This Tomorrow? uses the intersections of art and architecture to tackle questions of what the future bears, but now, with unexpected softness

Is This Tomorrow? at first glance is a dystopian shell where industrial materiality—scaffolding, animal pens, concrete and neon—implies that the answer to the exhibition’s title is inevitably bleak. However, the five interdisciplinary collaborative works, brought together within a framework of how and to what end architecture and art can coexist, progressively reveal that the actual response to “what’s next?” doesn’t lie in disconnected, futuristic solutions. Rather, it’s rooted in the past, the present, and a little heart.

As a refreshed, condensed, and gender-equalised take on the seminal 1956 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition This is Tomorrow, which ran at the London gallery earlier this year, curator Lydia Yee explains that the interactive works consider a tomorrow where emotion, rather than Sci-Fi, could be the guiding light. Each installation approaches future uncertainty from different positions—political, social, infrastructural, metaphysical—but finds commonality through its foundation in and around the human condition, embodying the tension of struggling to work with and against existing modes of thought and process.

The issue of control resonates immediately, first visible through Argentinian Amalia Pica and UK-based 6a architects’ Enclosure, a scaled-down animal pen that blurs the boundary between who and what is caged or free. It outlines how humanity corals and constructs environments, imposing unnatural scenarios into natural hierarchies, not unlike UK’s Hardeep Pandhal and APPARATA’s Studies for Thugz Mansion, which manifests this interference through a Richard Serra-esque installation of metal sheets and concrete slabs. Buildings, as a symbol of control via encasement, separation and a form of ordering, are used a vehicle to comment on what would happen if the political systems which create and support these structures would collapse. The presumed outcome still easily veers towards pessimism given the perilous, physics-defying balance of the installation, but paired with Pandhal’s rap compositions, an inkling of something warmer emerges.

Though reinforcing ideas that control’s implosion will yield disastrous results, the musical accouterments are explained to indicate that beyond this reality—in an alternate time and space—is a nirvana, wherein “Thugz Mansion” is the entry into a reality of hope and opportunity, a place to reflect with likeminded figures. It alters the perception of the neighbouring animal pen, where now the dangling carrots, wooden poles, and rubber Jacks clarify roles as stress-relievers for animals, who chew on them to alleviate anxiety from being caged. Both works send the contradictory message that larger forces will try to control you, but they will also attempt to gently console you.

This paradox is explored by Mariana Castillo Deball and Tatiana Bilbao Estudio’s Tonalpohualli—a skeletal cube representing mass-produced housing in Mexico. Dangling, colourful, curved, and perforated metal strips connected by wooden plugs represent roofs and walls—a form of separation as much as comfort given ideas of “home” revolve around “a roof over your head”. It outlines the confusing zone between wanting privacy but needing community. The measuring system mirrors this confusion of boundaries—again distorting time as well as space, says Yee—by incorporating Mesoamerican methods that used the heart and other body parts as markers of measurement. Even the most industrial realms are still rooted in humanity, it seems.

A drive towards connectedness and away from seclusion appears in Chinese Cao Fei and mono office’s I want to be the future. A ramshackle machine prototype that promises basic services—emotional and practical—to the rapidly urbanised yet under-prepared cities of China, it highlights a willingness to collectively innovate and make do with what is available to support each other in a weariness-inducing contemporary society. The framed drawings on the wall imagine the circumstances in which it could be used, dispensing objects and satiating emotional and physical needs in efforts to advance and facilitate lives. It’s a naïve, well-intentioned glimmer of idealistic hope in an environment dominated by—literally and figuratively—hard edges.

But it is the first, and last, collaboration of the exhibition that visitors encounter that drives the increasing sensitivity of the works home. Bangladeshi Rana Begum and Marina Tabassum Architects’ freestanding building Phoenix Will Rise outside of Concrete is a James Turrell-like refuge of reflection and hope encased in a stoic architectural box with angled cut outs. The softness of refracted colour and light in the skyward-looking oculus proposes via its meditative ambiance—even maybe asserts—to visitors who stand within it pondering the answer to “Is this tomorrow?” that the outside is harsh but inside there’s room—and the necessity—to try just a little tenderness.

The Dubai iteration of Is This Tomorrow? is a collaboration between Alserkal Arts Foundation and Whitechapel Gallery, London. The exhibition is co-commissioned by Whitechapel Gallery, London and MAAT, Lisbon. The exhibition ended 23 November 2019 in Concrete, Alserkal Avenue.
expression
Visual Hunger
Artist Sondos Azzam explores the underbelly of our gastronomic longings
culture
In Her Country
A series of portraits attempting to examine the relationship between a woman and her practice
culture
Spoons Out of Water
What is sacred to the dining table is reduced to its form and colour in this photo series by Sondos Azzam
culture
Fruit Scans
A photo series that challenges our perception of food by distorting the familiar
expression
Abandoned: When a Crisis Allows Nature Back In
Series of photographs documenting the impacts of continual human manipulation of the UAE's natural landscapes
culture
Roaming
How our urban environment shapes nature and our individual activities within these spaces
expression
Precarious Existence
The Magnum Foundation commissioned these images of Dubai residents hit hardest by the pandemic
expression
Concrete Closed Sessions: Danabelle Gutierrez and Charlie119
Filipino poet Danabelle Gutierrez collaborates with all-sibling band Charlie119 on an improvisational performance of poetry.
culture
A Force To Reckon With: Manal Aldowayan
A conversation with one of Saudi Arabia's most significant artists about her evolving methodologies, the shifting significance of her work, and the thought behind her practice
culture
Architecture Meets Nature: While We Wait
A conversation with award-winning designers Yousef and Elias Anastas about their latest installation piece, While We Wait.
culture
Alserkal Avenue | The First Decade (Part 2)
A conversation with the creative visionaries and cultural entrepreneurs who have partnered with Alserkal Avenue over the past decade.
culture
Alserkal Avenue | The First Decade (Part 1)
A conversation with the creative visionaries and cultural entrepreneurs who have partnered with Alserkal Avenue over the past decade.
culture
Turning The Spotlight On UAE-Based Emerging Artists
A conversation with UAE Unlimited Executive Director Shobha Shamdsani
culture
Humanity as Refuge II
A conversation with Fabric(ated) Fractures curator Diana Campbell Betancourt and participating artists
culture
Humanity as Refuge I
A conversation with Fabric(ated) Fractures curator Diana Campbell Betancourt and participating artists
culture
Hassan Hajjaj: Carte Blanche
Fari Bradley in conversation with Hassan Hajjaj prior to his show at Paris’s Maison Européenne de la Photographie
culture
Soothing the Soothsayers
A conversation with arts writer Kevin Jones, curator of the Foretold Now summer programme
opinion
What is the role of the artist in society?
In the context of shifting definitions surrounding the role that the artist plays in nation building and place-making, Stephen Hobbs (Director of Johannesburg’s The Trinity Session) and Laila Binbrek (Coordinating Director of the National Pavilion UAE la Biennale di Venezia) unpack insights that reflect on current trends and possible futures.
culture
Concrete Closed Sessions: Inam & Friends
A musical gathering around Qawwali music
culture
Safina Radio Project: Venice
From 6-8 May 2015, Alserkal created an itinerant space on the waterways of Venice
culture
"Under": A Video Documentation
Under is Hale Tenger’s first major public work in Dubai commissioned by Alserkal, guest curated by Mari Spirito of Protocinema
culture
While We Wait
An immersive installation by Bethlehem-based architects about the cultural claim over nature in Palestine
culture
Adapt to Survive: Notes from the Future
Curator Dr. Cliff Lauson and artist Youmna Chlala discuss the need of adaptation for survival
culture
Noria: Circulation Of People In Systems
Investigating how societies influence and mould us through systems of social politics, particularly in South Korea
culture
When the Band Comes Marching In
A work by Block Universe, supported by Alserkal, questions the power structures of the Venice Biennale
culture
Curriculum II
The follow-up to 2020's Introductory Curriculum for Reparations revealed
culture
Echo Holdings x Synthanatos
This edition of Echo Holdings, artist Isaac Sullivan’s context-shifting series of hybrid live sets and collaborative lecture performances, features vocals by independent researcher Dana Dawud and takes up a machinic sense of the psychoanalytic death drive. Here, an uncanny ambiguity between recorded and live speech, and a seemingly infinite field of images within images, produces an ecstatic blurring of presence and asynchrony as we negotiate a sonic palette alternately sparkling and ragged.
culture
Dayanita Singh in Conversation
Dayanita Singh discusses her body of work with curator Nada Raza
culture
The Absent Body
Mapping disembodiment and performativity among GCC artists
expression
Three Conversation Pieces III
As India continues to find its bearings amidst COVID tumult, Aveek Sen explores how his own conversations have become at once more vital, yet oddly unfamiliar
culture
An Incomplete History of UAE Cinemas, Part 2
In Part 2 of her Incomplete History, Mezaina explores the rise of the multiplex model, film festivals, and the creation of alternative viewing spaces in the 2000s.
opinion
Design as a Wrapper
Designer and educator Zena Adhami explores the dangers of assumptions when designing for communities
expression
Three Conversation Pieces II
As India continues to find its bearings amidst COVID tumult, Aveek Sen explores how his own conversations have become at once more vital, yet oddly unfamiliar
opinion
Engaging Audiences
Muscat-based artist Majeda Alhinai considers how viewers become part of artworks
expression
Three Conversation Pieces I
As India continues to find its bearings amidst COVID tumult, Aveek Sen explores how his own conversations have become at once more vital, yet oddly unfamiliar
expression
Every day I wake up and...
A chronicle of daily conversations with artists Sandi Hilal
culture
Ways of Seeing
Palestinian artist Samia Halaby's approach to painting reveals her precise complex process, astute peripheral sensibilities, and why abstraction is the only movement left unexploited.
expression
An Introductory Curriculum for Reparations
An informational response by our community on the Black Lives Matter Movement
culture
The Africa Connection
As the global art world shines a light on Africa, Rebecca Anne Proctor writes on the growing dialogue between the Middle East and Africa
culture
Chaos, Love, and Enigmas
Malaysian artist Hasanul Isyraf Idris tackles his homeland’s multiculturalism through densely populated compositions that engage episodic memory, manifested by mythological through to Sci-Fi imagery
culture
The First Collectors
The role of the artist in relation to collecting is reconsidered
culture
Q&A: Hale Tenger And Mari Spirito
'Under' is Hale Tenger's first major commission in almost a decade, on view at The Yard in 2018
culture
Re-Examining The Role Of The Museum In Society
The 2017 CiMAM Annual Conference brought together museum professionals from around the world to re-evaluate the public functions of museums.
culture
Living Under The Net
Hale Tenger's 'Under' asks us what beliefs we accept without question and what our potential could be without such self-imposed restrictions.
culture
Slippery Modernism
A review of Building Bauhaus, Jean-Paul Najar Foundation’s tribute to the German art school’s centenary – with a regional twist.
culture
A Modern History
Nancy Lorenz’s exhibition 'Silver Moon' at Leila Heller Gallery presents a complex craft-meets-contemporary body of work that references Japanese tradition and Abstract Expressionism
culture
Is This Tomorrow?
Whitechapel Gallery curator Lydia Yee explores the works of five pairings of artists and architects
culture
The Making of a Ruin
A public art commission by the artist collective METASITU welcomed visitors to a post-apocalyptic ruin
culture
Hydrogen Helium
A sound installation first realised in a residency at Alserkal Arts Foundation
culture
The Fabric of Fractures
Exploring ‘sensitive spaces' that challenge ideas of nation, state, and territory
culture
Fabric(ated) Fractures
A collaboration with Samdani Art Foundation, challenging ideas of nation, state, and territory
culture
How Will We Return?
Dialogues between cultural practitioners & scholars from the Alserkal Arts Foundation network
culture
Collaborative Co-existence
A six-week series screenings, workshops, performances, and exhibitions around the theme of maintenance
culture
Connecting Syria to the World
Director Shireen Atassi expands on Atassi Foundation efforts
culture
Mohamed Melehi And The Casablanca Art School Archives
Works by major figure in postcolonial Moroccan art showcased at Concrete
opinion
Will the Fashion Industry Ever Truly Be Sustainable?
Founder of clothing brand One and Four speaks about sustainable practices
opinion
Why Institutions Now
What contemporary arts institutions might become in the future
expression
A Letter
Micro-fiction by Amrita Shergar to inaugurate alserkal.online's new showcase for creative writing
culture
Connecting Cultures Through Contemporary Art
Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi shares her thoughts on curating the second edition of the Lahore Biennale
culture
One-on-One with Nabila Abdel Nabi
A conversation with Nabila Abdel Nabi, Tate Modern's first MENA curator
culture
Mystical Warriors
The works in Reza Derakshani’s latest show at Leila Heller Gallery reveal the mystical connections between the artist’s time in Russia, and the forgotten tales and symbolism of his Iranian heritage
culture
Is This Tomorrow? Art vs Architecture
Architecture and arts writers experience the show from their own perspectives
style
At the Confluence of Art and Industry
Architect, designer, and writer Edwin Heathcote reflects on Concrete’s significance
culture
Poetry In Motion
Nujoom Al Ghanem fuses poetry and filmmaking for 'Passages', a reflection on the universal experience of displacement and alienation. The Emirati poet and director speaks to Melissa Gronlund about her solo presentation for the National Pavilion UAE at the 58th Venice Biennale
opinion
The Lighthouse Podcast x Vilma Jurkute
Alserkal's Executive Director Vilma Jurkute sat down with Hashem Montasser, creator of The Lighthouse Podcast, to share her experience in developing Alserkal Avenue as the leading arts & culture district in the region.
culture
Cape Town: A New Capital for Art
The eighth edition of Investec Cape Town Art Fair took place in February against an uneasy socio-economic backdrop — concluding in solid sales, and a newfound zeal for multiculturalism.
culture
METASITU in conversation with Ghada Yaiche
Artist collective in discussion with an architect on urban and ruin
expression
Drone Go Chasing Waterfalls
Thoughts on Stephanie Comilang’s film Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (Come to Me, Paradise)
culture
An Incomplete History of UAE Cinemas, Part 1
In Part 1, Dubai-based writer Mezaina examines independent cinemas pre-multiplex days
culture
The Overseas Filipino Artist
Fresh insights on Filipino artists in Dubai through the lens of Sa Tahanan Collective founder
culture
An Artistic Meditation
On Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim’s practice, about the mind, its subconscious and space.