Buildings, Too, Are Children of Earth and Sun

Exhibition text by Alaa Al Shroogi:

The UAE often evokes wonder, seen as a place where even islands and lagoons can be built. This ability to redefine what is possible was immediately apparent to Cuadro resident artist Matt Shane, as was the distinctiveness of the local architectural construction.

His paintings are not indexical representations of places he visited during his time in Dubai and Sharjah. Rather, they are fictionalized interpretations of a shifting urban environment. “These are mercurial grounds,” he states, “at the border of perception and fantasy.”

Shane’s work references the Hudson River School and 19th century European Romantics in its detailed scope and sweeping perspectives. However, unlike their sublime and pastoral depictions, his landscapes are heavy with ominous signs of development, coupling the sublime with an anxiety towards the scale of human impact on the environment. Paradoxically, the effect appears natural, as though an organic urban decay was responsible for the shape-shifting of the structures.

The impact of this destruction evokes a surreal sense of times past – ancient times of the Tower of Babel and even the Pangaea phenomenon. The neglect due to the absence of humanity makes the viewer acutely aware of a contemporary community and social order, whereas the relics of structures built by unseen inhabitants amplifies a dystopian shift in the landscape, which seems to be enforcing a return to its previous state.

“A city – any city, every city – is the eradication, even the ruin, of the landscape from which it rose. In its fall, that original landscape sometimes triumphs.”

(Rebecca Solnit, The Ruins of Memory)

This exhibition was presented by Cuadro Gallery in Dubai, The Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah, and Project Encounter.