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Taking A Cross-cultural Approach To PerformanceNika Project Space Unveils Exhibition ‘Coded Gestur

Opening on May 4, 2023, the second exhibition on view at NIKA Project Space brings together conceptual artists from non-Western regions, probing the correlation between post-Soviet and hyper-capitalist societies through key themes of alienation, artistic labor and repetitive gestures.

On View: May 4 – July 16, 2023

NIKA Project Space, Dubai’s new art and culture platform, presents its second exhibition ‘Coded Gestures’ on view from May 4 – July 16, 2023. Curated by art critic and researcher Nadine Khalil, the exhibition follows the gallery’s mission of supporting cross-cultural dialogues, pairing artists from Central and East Asia with local UAE-based artists. The works, ranging from sculpture to video and photography, function as apparatuses for understanding the context of gestures hidden behind individual processes and collective structures.

Rooted in society's shared experiences, the exhibition gives voice to artists from non-Western regions, finding a common language across seemingly divergent backgrounds and traditions shaped by multinational local contexts.

The new 250 m2 industrial space designed by T.ZED Architects, presents the works of five conceptual artists: Alexander Ugay based in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Minja Gu based in Seoul, South Korea, along with UAE-based artists Fatma Al Ali, Mona Ayyash and Khalid. These contemporary artists translate the creative gesture into a means of invisible labor, exploring it as a source of repetitive vocabularies, ultimately becoming a compelling way to look at the disciplining of bodies and forms. Distilling the idea of labor from a broader social lens to an artistic one, with its varied manifestations of alienation, the exhibition connects the idea of psychological absence with the presence and absence of the body in performance, ultimately questioning the core notion of labor itself.

The exhibition will open with a live performance of Minja Gu's House Tea de la Maison de la Casa (2023), a tea ceremony in which the artist invites all viewers to hundreds of tea infusions, invoking the role of participatory exchange. It is presented alongside the documentation of a recent site-specific act of tea-making the artist performed in the UAE with the local community, commissioned by NIKA Project Space.

From memorized movements of Korean labor migrants in post-Soviet states seen in the video More than a Hundred Thousand Times (2019-20) to AI-generated imagery indexing major historical events affecting the Korean diaspora (Unknown Return, 2023), Alexander Ugay tackles social alienation through imaginaries and archives. His works are fittingly positioned near Fatma Al Ali’s meticulously stacked bricks, My mother told me not to collect bricks (2020), which upon closer look, reveal disparities and the embedded relationship between individual and collective systems.

“The artists in this exhibition bear witness to their changing societies, captured through daily movements. They use visual and algorithmic languages to index invisible histories, from the 1937 Korean deportation to Central Asia to a sports event that never happened,” says curator Nadine Khalil. “As we looked deeper into the works proposed by Alexander and Minja, we found that an interesting thread emerges between post-Soviet and hyper-capitalist societies, linking them in terms of consumerism, excess and residual forms,” Khalil continues.

Specifically commissioned for the show, Khalid’s piece, my job is to look at the sunset (2023), is an incessant documentation of daily sunsets printed in real time and mounted in the gallery throughout the 44 days, documenting the artist’s habitual practice. In a similar vein, two other takes on repetition are presented with Minja Gu’s 11-hour documentation of her version of a marathon done in two days in 42.195 (2006) and Mona Ayyash’s pixelated video, Trampoline (2015) featuring athletes preparing for their jumps, over and over again. Following the gallery's focus on showing lesser known female artists, founder Veronika Berezina explains further: “These are the kinds of conversations I was interested in bringing to light when I opened NIKA Project Space, especially with women artists who should be more widely recognized.”

UAE-based Lebanese curator of the show Nadine Khalil further comments on Veronika's fresh lens on Dubai: "Veronika has a deeply considered approach to contemporary art practices. For example, we first connected over the work of a female artist in the Sharjah Biennial who presented fermented fruit as part of her project on lost histories in Palestine. Since then, there has been a synergy between our interests in research-driven performance art in different contexts. The conversations between different artists in the show have evolved out of our own exchanges and her commendable vision of linking lesser-known regions of the world."

Following the thread of conceptually driven performance art, NIKA becomes a space for a daring, boundary-pushing approach that carves a new path for experimental art forms in Dubai.