Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Sujin Lim, Oil Painting (detail), 2019, five photographs with video (color, sound, 7 minutes 57 seconds).

Sujin Lim, Oil Painting (detail), 2019, five photographs with video (color, sound, 7 minutes 57 seconds).

“Echoes: A World Between the Analogue and the Virtual”

Qasr Khuzam

In the courtyard of Jeddah’s historic Qasr Khuzam, where Saudi Arabia’s first oil contract was signed, was Muhannad Shono’s simple ramp engineered from sand and soil. Titled The span and the divide, 2021, the installation graphed a slope from the ground to the compound wall, its geometric form slowly deteriorating over the course of the show. Inside the palace, several other works also indexed the passage of time. Hugo Aveta’s video Ante el tiempo (In the Face of Time), 2009, reverses footage of sand falling through a warehouse ceiling, as if in an hourglass. Darren Almond’s Perfect Time, 2012, is comprised of synchronized digital clocks whose numbers are fragmented and spliced together in a way that renders them as incomprehensible as, say, a mounting Covid death toll. Time, in “Echoes: A World Between the Analogue and the Virtual,” was not out of joint so much as infinitely slippery and malleable.

The second Saudi edition of Bienalsur, the itinerant recurring exhibition of the Global South, arrived in Jeddah following a Riyadh iteration. It took acoustic phenomena as a metaphor for what its curator, Diana Wechsler, vaguely called the post-Covid “flow between two dimensions, time and space, through different kinds of experiences,” a displacement that Nathan Jurgenson rather more convincingly theorized a decade ago with his critique of “digital dualism.” The conceptual framing didn’t quite land, but the exhibition felt remarkably cohesive and pleasurable all the same, due in part to its gorgeous Art Deco setting. Many works seemed to break the world down to its most basic constituent elements. I imagined the show materializing like the opening sequence of the 1990s environmentalist cartoon series Captain Planet and the Planeteers, with earth, fire, wind, water, and an automated heart, perhaps corresponding to the digital portions. While earth was present in Shono’s ramp, the aftermath of fire was intimated in Joël Andrianomearisoa’s suspended bouquets of artificial flowers sprayed black (works from his “Dancing with Angels” series, 2021), howling icy winds were evoked in Chris Larson’s Deep North, 2008; and Angelika Markul explored an underwater Atlantean structure in the Sea of Japan in Yonaguni Area, 2016.

Algorithmic works included Daniah Alsaleh’s Evanesce, 2021, a video installation featuring constantly morphing deepfakes trained on images from the golden age of Egyptian cinema—paintings of video stills that seemed to teeter on an uncanny-valley precipice but never quite tip over—and three generative works from Daniel Canogar that process live data streams such as CNN International’s video feed or fluctuations of the commodities market to create ever-changing painterly videos that move between cascades of Matrix-like glyphs, woozy blooms of color, and the rippling moiré effect of washed silk. A disembodied cyborg scarecrow in Tony Oursler’s aU>t-0, 2019, which creepily stage-whispers non sequiturs —or are they technical specs?—such as “schizotype B constellation”provided humorous ballast.

I’m not sure what made this show feel so very, very 1990s—in a great way—but it’s worth noting that rather than Captain Planet–style didacticism it involved something more like the gentle pedagogy of Sierra Entertainment–type eco-games. This observation is especially pertinent to Tanja Deman’s video Horizon, 2021—despite lines such as “I can feel the toxic layer we covered over the earth.” The work, one of the tenderest portraits of a seascape I’ve ever seen, depicts the surroundings of an isolated Adriatic island—sometimes calm, sometimes roiling with waterspouts or reflecting a resplendent sunset—over time.

Sujin Lim’s video Landscape Painting, 2019, shows the artist setting up easels in front of industrial developments—a power plant or a bridge to the mainland, for example—on South Korea’s Yeongheung Island and slowly, methodically, creating a photorealistic painting of the same patch of horizon without the eyesore. At the end of each segment, the easel is carried away to reveal the present-day landscape behind. In Lim’s Oil Painting, 2017, she does the same in Jeddah’s (very) historic core of Al-Balad, this time painting on glass and using crude oil to “repair” damaged buildings, her gesture made all the more poignant on this occasion given that the neighboring area is currently being systematically razed. Both works left no doubt that the effects of development cannot be undone.