Still Life – Art, Ecology and the Politics of change

The Sharjah Biennial 8 (SB8) will present various attempts in visual arts and film that address the growing social, political and environmental challenges the world is facing due to excessive urban development, pollution, political ambitions, and the thoughtless misuse, abuse and exhaustion of natural resources.

SB8 will focus on the renewed role of art in addressing a wide range of issues that directly and radically affect, and in an alarming magnitude the human existence on this earth (man’s relation to earth and earth’s relation to man). The biennial will not only stand for these issues as a venue and a platform for presentations, exhibits and discussions, but will take an active role in commissioning artists to produce new work corresponding to the topic at hand and will also partner with institutions to stimulate wider involvement with the issues brought up particularly amongst educational institutions.

We are aware of the critical ambiguity of the subject we touch, of its growing importance and the great responsibility it carries with it. We are also aware that we are part of the product-producing and -consuming society, and of the constantly growing tribe of biennials, that year-by-year makes a growing number of artists, curators and audiences jet around the globe, hopping from event to event.

We are aware that many things we do contribute to the problem being considered. So perhaps, we are better off by not criticizing too much. And inasmuch as Sharjah, being part of the UAE – whose economy is mainly based on fuel reserves and recently benefited tremendously from its power resources utilizing them to create a superficial, man-made world, with its addiction to cars, high-rises and technological progress – may become an easy target for criticism considering the theme of SB8. However, seeing the desert turning lush green signifies that the people of this place are obviously trying to use the resources they have to create a more comfortable place on earth, a place more luxurious than it once was, a sort-of man-made Garden of Eden. Still, we need to be critical, because art does not exist in some insulated, privileged realm. We believe that our approach could be a positive gesture in the global conversation about this looming threat. The way forward might involve discomfort, through sacrifice of certain hard-won privileges. When we look at a big chunk of the new inventions and developments in the world, their main focus is on facilitating and smoothing out core tasks in our daily lives, automate certain procedures and mechanize/digitize them. Yet all this is leading to an even bigger consumption of energy and resources. Arguably, we have the responsibility to infiltrate and contaminate the thinking pattern of people by spreading suspicion about the cost of this development frenzy and the price we or the future generations will have to pay. This biennial will assert a strategy of “contamination” rather than insulation, falling in with other attempts to merge together art, society, and environmental issues. We are not here to judge, or tell people how to live their lives, but aiming to problematize these concerns in order to understand our everyday relationship to nature and the environment, and our responsibility towards them. Our aim is to implicate all sectors of society into questioning our social, political, and ecological praxis.