Art Basel Hong Kong 2014

May 15 – May 18, 2014

Art Basel Hong Kong 2014

May 15 – May 18, 2014

Athr Gallery will be exhibiting new work by renowned and celebrated Saudi artist, Ahmed Mater, from his series Desert of Pharan, titled Disarm at Art Basel Hong Kong.

Makkah is a source. Makkah is shaped by its own narrative which can be traced back to the time of Abraham but it also releases increasingly significant effects beyond its borders, as global Muslim populations rise and become more connected. In the city of Makkah a new future is being plotted and planned. The contours of that future becoming visible amidst a landscape teeming with initiatives to develop and reinvent seemingly immutable rituals, states, and assumptions, culminating perhaps, in the re-imagining of life at the centre of the Islamic world. Amid a rapidly changing economic landscape, Makkah is re-examining its methods and its relationships with itself and with the rest of the world. Existing models of urban development have been implemented on a vast scale and equipped with imported financial and development know-how. Makkah is attempting a transformation in order to adapt to the geopolitical, technological, environmental, geomorphological and financial context in which it exists.

In early 2012, Ahmed Mater began a series of deliberately experimental and meandering journeys within this most visited yet most exclusive of sites. In many ways these expeditions—by foot, by car, rarely covering the same route twice and at all times open to creative happenstance—have their roots in psycho-geography, the conceptualization of rudderless urban motion as a form of self-expression that began in post-war Paris and took as its starting point Walter Benjamin’s fascination with the poetic, flâneur-like wanderings of Baudelaire. On the other hand, they refer back to the work of Makkah’s first photographer, the 19th century ‘Makkan doctor’ ‘Abd al-Ghaffar—as a practising doctor himself Mater feels an implicit affinity to him and his work— yet his explorations also go beyond what is usually implied by psycho-geography in terms of their relational dynamic. Mater’s emphasis is on his own progress as well as the social evolution of the people around him, a subject that has acquired added significance in recent years.

Like few cities on earth, Makkah bristles under the weight of its own dramatic symbolism. It is a hallowed site revered by millions and at the same time a point of perpetual immigration. This has been the case for centuries, yet over the last few years the city has begun to be recast, reworked and ultimately reconfigured. With this comes a new set of concerns. There is a dissonance today among many of those who live in the city or maintain an emotional stake in its future regarding what this place is, what it could be or what it should be, all of which provides a contextual background to Mater’s urban exploration.

The Disarm extract of his overarching Desert of Pharan project, shown here at Art Basel Hong Kong, is a collation of photographs and video stills taken by the artist when on shoot from a KSA army helicopter.

Details such as the easily unnoticed ‘disarm’ status on the monitor; the Makkah Royal Clock Tower towering over the Kabbah in the distance; the crowds of pilgrims glimpsed through the tunnels of the new high rise accommodation become latent references to the world’s past and current social and political tensions. Captured in the light box stills, taken from the artist’s unauthorized filming of the monitor, is a hint to Makkah’s plausible future. Here we see a sprawling metropolis monitored from the skies, with an army whose mission it is to detect the undesired movement of illegal pilgrims navigating their way across the arid and inhospitable terrain of the Kabbah Mountains.

MA – I see the tower at 9 o’clock

ZJ – Try to get it to 12 o’clock

MA – OK, tower now at 12

ZJ – Can you see that?

MA – Yes, head straight, it’s incredible

ZJ – I can see the clock hands moving right in front of me

MA – Amazing, we could almost touch the swords and date tree

ZJ – Allahu Akbar

MA – It's too close now

ZJ – Keep your altitude, turn away, move towards 3 o’clock

MA – Time now 8 hundred hours, 46 minutes

ZJ – Exactly

MA – Allahu Akbar Allahkbar

BASE – MI2 movement on F2 Arafat, head to F2, over

ZJ – OK sir, making way to F2 Arafat, over

Disarm – a conversation between two helicopter pilots, extract from 100 Found Objects, 2014, Ahmed Mater.