Artist: OFFICE - Kersten Geers, David Van Severen
Location: Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Year: 2014
Researcher: Nahla Al Tabbaa

OFFICE, consisting of Kersten Geers David Van Severen, have been building gardens as part of their practice. OASES, which was commissioned for Sharjah Biennial 11: “Re-emerge - A New Cultural Cartography”, formed a large part of an ensemble of works from various international artists that looked at the courtyard as a physical and metaphorical space of intertwine, being the passage between the public and private, and a place of gathering.

This project was inspired by the traditional Arish form of architecture that can be seen in abundance in Sharjah's heritage area. Made from dry palm leaves, they are woven intricately to provide shelter and shade. During their site visit, they became particularly interested in the various oases that are peppered in the desert landscape of the UAE. In the vast, arid, and altogether inhospitable environment that the UAE has been built out of, oases provide poignant natural forms of resistance in the name of hospitalbility. That hospitability, and its relationship with the traditional tropes of generosity and hospitality that the region espouses, informed OFFICE to plant OASES in various locations in Sharjah.

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The installation, planted in three different locations in Sharjah's Heritage Area, emphasized the maze-like character of the old town, offering a private yet public place allowing passers-by to look inward. The installations consisted of palm trees, with particular installations relevant to the particular location of that installation (e.g. a drinking fountain was installed in the oasis situated next to a mosque, mirroring its architectural features), and each installation was bordered by a mesh like structure and dry-palm weaving. The centrepiece of each garden oasis, located within the privacy of the trees, represented the staples of culture and society that had made the desert hospitable – be they a drinking fountain, or a stall offering tea and juice, or a ‘majlis’ of seats offering a space to converse intimately.

The Heritage Area of Sharjah is one of the very few public spaces in the UAE that can only be accessed by foot. This gives it an intimacy in how one journeys through what is indeed a maze of houses, art spaces, studios, mosques, tailor shops and courtyards. It is also an area that is very exposed to the harshness of the sun, and the summer heat cannot be ignored in everyday work and life in the area. OASES, in an accurate representation of a desert oasis, provided refuge and respite from that sun, highlighting the unique relationship between the private and public spheres that are particular to the region’s geography and climate.

Such was the installation’s success as more than a temporal art piece that one of the installations still remains as a permanently used source of shelter and respite for the local community. Particularly interesting is the fact that, whilst an oasis of palm trees sitting in the middle of Sharjah’s urban landscape may have stood out architecturally, the artists had managed to successfully integrate the meaning of the installation, its uses, and its subjective relativity towards the local community, seamlessly.This project is nominated for its simplicity, seamlessness and site-specifity. It is an artwork that disguises itself as a green public space, which is non-evasive both as a physical intervention and as a complex artwork. It is allowed to age, grow and has no timeline, but can inspire similar interventions in the city.

Curated and comissioned by Yuko Hasagewa for Sharjah Biennial 11- Rememerge, Towards a New Cultural Cartography, the curator and Sharjah Art Foundation comissioned projects by artists, musicians, architects and performers ' whose artworks and practices resonate with strands of the curatorial theme: the complexity and diversity of cultures and societies; spatial and political relations; notions of new forms of contact, dialogue, and exchange; and production through art and architectural practices of new ways of knowing, thinking, and feeling.' Biennial participation is by invitation and will begin their research by conducting a site-visit to Sharjah and will then proceed to propose a new work based on their experience and practice. The works are then produced with the support of Sharjah Art Foundation's Production Team who comprise of architects, engineers and artists. OASES received funding from the Production Programme grant at Sharjah Art Foundation.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency