Although the exhibition contains marble, brass, copper, gold and silver, one’s eye flutters across the works almost like a feather in the wind. The entire viewing experience is intended to evoke the lightness of a grain of sand being tossed around in the desert and whilst, a single grain is infinitesimal, sand itself is a material from the earth and carries its own intrinsic weight and strength.
It is these dichotomies that Daniel Gustav Cramer and Joana Escoval were exploring when they selected the title for this exhibition at Grey Noise.
“The title itself is an art piece,” explains Umer Butt, the gallery’s founder. “[The artists] were thinking about sand as a material, one that travels, is light, lives at a particular temperature and has an impermanence and a flow - much like the show itself.”
Upon entering, the viewer has to take a second glance to actually spot the artworks. Escoval’s sculptures, crafted from hand-made metal composites, are so thin and fine that their presence is silent. Their titles are surprising and transport you to another place. Healthy forests provide clean water is a wire suspended inches away from the gallery wall in an off-balanced arc, quivering in the air. It resembles, perhaps, the sweep of a tree top or instead, an antenna. It is certainly its ability to conduct energy that Escoval is interested in. She chooses her materials carefully, using chemical components that reflect the natural environment and therefore contain the aura of the people and places around them. This esoteric element of her practice is something she takes great interest in especially as she lives and works on the volcanic island of Stromboli.
On the gallery floor lies a sculpture made from several interlinked silver rods placed in an arrangement that brings to mind an astrological map or cosmos. However, their colour is almost the same as the floor beneath them so the viewer must crouch to take a closer look and in doing so, slows down to ponder upon the detail.
This is an essential element to appreciating the entire show. This is not a fast-food exhibition, rather, a five-course meal to be digested and ruminated slowly, which is an apt metaphor to describe Butt’s entire programme.
Grey Noise was founded in 2008 in Pakistan and moved to Alserkal Avenue in 2012. Butt admits he is interested in challenging the viewer and presenting shows where there is “less to see and more to read and think”, which encourages people to go push beyond their impulse towards immediate satisfaction or understanding.
“I devise exhibitions to challenge viewers about what art actually is,” he said. “The word challenge is important because its opposite – ease – is the death of me. I don’t want to be a comfort blanket, I find that exceptionally boring. If I am bored, I can’t entertain my audience."
At its core, the gallery focuses on conceptual art that is contemporaneous and often experimental. Butt is fully aware of how people may respond to this type of art, and he welcomes to opportunity to provoke viewers into new thought.
“At Grey Noise, I aim to create tension and the artwork is not always tangible, which people can find agitating. But I like to agitate my audience, because that can open up new possibilities,” Butt explains. “If people want to stay and discover, they are welcome.”
In Sand, the rewards come in taking the time to feel the dialogue between the two artistic practices. Whilst Escoval’s work is about materiality and its dissolution, creating spaces and portals through which to travel, Cramer’s is more grounded but no less concerned with emotional responses to the environment. His photography framed to sizes no more than 20x27cm also ask for a certain proximity to view them properly and they are taken of elements of nature: a crater; a waterfall; an owl. However, they are much more than the framed subject. Cramer is interested in the size of the image, its place in the gallery, what is close to it and how the viewer will see it. He is telling a story through his photographs, but there is no resolution to that tale.
On the floor are two untitled installations that consist of a stack of printed A4 sheets that audiences can pick up, read and take away. The poetic monologues on each are almost similar but contain subtle differences – something that is also apparent in his repeated image of an owl. It is the same owl and same framing but not quite the same image.
Contradictions are at the core of both artists’ work, and a visitor can simultaneously feel as though they are floating and are being weighed down whilst traversing the ebb and flow of this exhibition.
“I think that it is difficult,” admits Butt. “But life is difficult, everything is difficult, we are difficult, so why not involve aesthetic poetics in that difficulty?”
Daniel Gustav Cramer & Joana Escoval. September 23 – October 28, 2017. This is the first time either artist has exhibited in the UAE. They are represented by Galeria Vera Cortes in Lisbon and for Sand, Grey Noise collaborated with the Portuguese gallery.