Reviews/Visual Art

Nostalgia-filled exhibition sparkles at AGWA

24 April 2023

Jaimi Wright discovers a neon slideshow of memory in Farah Al Qasimi’s vibrant photography exhibition.

I find the idea of nostalgia intriguing, in that it is both a universal and individual experience. On one hand, we can all recognise the potent, heady sensations it induces, but as we each have lived different lives and developed different memories, each of us has a unique experience of, and relationship to, nostalgia.

What makes artist Farah Al Qasimi’s exhibition Star Machine – currently on display at Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) – so impressive is the way in which she taps into this paradox. In using her trademark “larger than life” style of photography to explore the emotional extremes common to nostalgia, Al Qasimi encourages the audience to share in and reflect on their memories, amongst her own.

Curated by Rachel Cieśla, Star Machine forms part of the Simon Lee Foundation of Contemporary Asian Art program, a curatorial initiative by AGWA that explores the gallery’s connections with contemporary art practices, and cultural thinking in Asia and its diaspora communities.

In keeping with this overarching theme, Al Qasimi’s inspiration for this exhibition draws from her ideas of home, memory and identity. Al Qasimi was born in the United Arab Emirates and is currently based between Brooklyn, New York, and Dubai, and her neon tinted photography oozes sentimentality from her own lived experience. At the same time, the intense emotional qualities of her memories have a near ubiquitous accessibility.

A work from 'Star Machine' - pictured is a stack of plastic moulded chars in pink, blue and red, with a pile of prayer rugs hanging over the back of the chairs.
Farah Al Qasimi, ‘Prayer Rugs’, 2021, archival inkjet print, 177.80 x 121.92 cm, Courtesy of the Artist and The Third Line, Dubai, © Farah Al Qasimi, 2021

The exhibition’s titular artwork Star Machine (2021), an expansive archival inkjet print, is a self-portrait of the artist in her pyjamas faced away from the viewer and curled up on a couch in her living room, which has been soaked in the blue light of a star machine.

Taken in Qasimi’s home during a two-week COVID-19 quarantine, the magical light of the star machine heightens the artist’s living room from domesticity to fantasy. Though taken during a period of illness, the softness of the stars creates a dreamlike cosiness, forming a memory that is uncomfortable yet exquisitely homey.

General Behaviour (2020) is a ten-minute video compilation of Al Qasimi’s mobile phone archives, presented as though we are watching the clips from her laptop. The edge of the laptop is decorated with stickers of smiley faces and flowers, reminding me of my childhood in the late nineties.

Al Qasimi’s videos present her day-to-day life, interspersed with diary entries and narration, edited with what appears to be effects standard for mobile phones. This imagery creates a loud and performative collage, layers of both celebration and dissection of her memories.

It’s a light-hearted invitation; through General Behaviour the audience is placed into Al Qasimi’s shoes to reflect upon their own messy recollections.

Cieśla’s curation of Al Qasimi’s works marries wonderfully with the exhibition’s themes, the physical slippage between pieces creating an ideological slippage between memory and presence, dream and reality, past and future.

Southern Winds Café (2021), an enormous PhotoTex wallpaper, extends across one entire wall of the gallery space, its contents condensing breathtaking landscape and café decoration. Prayer Rugs (2021) an archival jet print in which prayer rugs in neutral tones are piled upon stacks of neon plastic chairs, is hung at the centre of Southern Winds Café. Six Different Screams (2021) looms across from the left-hand wall and over towards the aforementioned two artworks. The six archival jet prints are six different close-up perspectives of Al Qasimi’s throat mid-scream. The playful contemporary chaos of these prints is enhanced by their placement.

Star Machine is an exhilarating nostalgia trip. Al Qasimi’s vibrant photography creates a welcoming format for her viewers to partake in their own neon slideshow of memory.

Star Machine continues at the Art Gallery of Western Australia until 30 July 2023.

Pictured top: Farah Al Qasimi, ‘Star Machine’ 2021, archival inkjet print, 114.3 x 152.4 cm, Courtesy of the Artist and The Third Line, Dubai, © Farah Al Qasimi, 2021 

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Author —
Jaimi Wright

Jaimi is a Development Coordinator for ARTRAGE and your friendly neighbourhood arts writer. She also writes for Art Almanac and ArtsHub as she cannot keep still. Her favourite piece of play equipment is the roundabout even though her stomach should know better.

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