World Fairs have always reflected the spirit of an era, acting as markers of social change, and in some cases translating this spirit into structures or monuments that have become emblematic. Among many examples, the 1958 edition in Brussels, inspired by scientific progress, left the Atomium as a lasting reminder. The Unisphere in New York was born out of a desire for peace, at the height of the Cold War in 1964. As for Expo 2020 Dubai, which will run until 31 March 2022, it first expresses – if only by its location – the geopolitical changes under way, the rise in power of regions concerned about establishing themselves, beyond their economies, on the diplomatic, scientific, sporting and cultural stage.
On the occasion of this gigantic event, bringing together 191 countries on 438 hectares, the United Arab Emirates is thus putting the spotlight on a fertile generation of young talent in the Middle East. The Fair will notably present the works of 11 contemporary artists, half of them from Gulf states, such as visual artists Hamra Abbas from Kuwait, and Afra Al Dhaheri and Asma Belhamar from the UAE.
The artistic installations reflect the major preoccupations that are the common thread of the event and concern our societies in these times of accelerated environmental crisis: the urgency of an ecological transition, the threat of climate chaos. The monumental sculpture by artist Monira Al Qadiri, for example, transforms an oil rig into a strange iridescent underwater creature, a synthesis between ancestral pearl divers and the oil prospectors who shaped the Gulf economy.
“I imagine this chimera as the representative of a more sustainable future and a commemoration of how our world used to be,” says the artist.
Another environmental manifesto is the work One Day on Two Orbits, created by Nadia Kaabi-Linke as a fossil of our modernity and the beginnings of postconsumerism.
“I can’t imagine anything more vital than a culture of moderation and mutual care regardless of origins, wealth, and social status”, she explains. This ambition is also seen in most of the national pavilions, including the French one, which offers the construction of a new economic, social and cultural model against an elegant bioclimatic architectural backdrop. The Fair should make a lasting mark, leaving Dubai with a new eco-cultural district with high-level infrastructure to encourage the emergence of an art scene in the Emirates.
"The only permanence is ongoing change."
How did you approach the creation of a work and what messages did you want to convey to the Expo’s visitors?
N. K.-L. One Day on Two Orbits is a permanent public artwork made of concrete and steel that could be described as a fossil of industrial modernity. It is intended and even conceived to last long after the exhibition. In fact, all the works were commissioned as permanent artworks. After an extremely out-of-the-ordinary year, it was important to me to use the opportunity of this world exposition to reflect on the humble side of humanity. I wanted to create a work of art that would remind us that we are all anchored together on this planet regardless of our cultural and racial backgrounds.
Even when our mobility is physically restricted, this planet carries us permanently through the solar system. Everything is constantly moving. The only permanence is ongoing change. I used two celestial movements, the rotation of the Earth and the lunar orbit, to draw a one-day long interval image of the shadow of a bicycle. For me, a classic bike is a beautiful symbol of autonomy. It is powered by human-generated energy and does not depend on external resources.
How does this work evoke the notion of sustainability?
N. K.-L. Sustainability might have a tough time in a world when entrepreneurs who think they are heroes rocket into orbit just for fun. However, I am optimistic since there is also a calm, strong, and more sustainable movement gaining awareness. I can’t imagine anything more vital than a culture of moderation and mutual care regardless of origins, wealth, or social status.
Phenomena such as a virus or climate change remind us that in micro- or macro-cosmos, we – all other species included – connect through one commonly shared home, the planet. That feeling is what I understand as the humble yet more potent side of humanity. This is what I wanted to express through my artistic proposal.
In your opinion, is the health crisis accelerating awareness of sustainability issues?
N. K.-L. Yes, the pandemic made it clear that the only way to overcome the health crisis is by healing and helping everywhere equally and simultaneously.
The virus has no preference between rich or developing countries. It doesn’t discriminate against anyone, and that is what makes it so strong. People can only fight it if they learn from it and stop discrimination too.
The Art Explora Foundation for Contemporary Art is representing Arts and Culture in the French Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. We caught up with its representative, Bruno Julliard, to find out more about the artistic programme that is taking place both in the UAE and on Paris metro line 7 at Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre station. A novel cultural experience to bring Expo 2020 Dubai to life on the Paris network!
"This partnership shows that it is possible to embrace artistic excellence and creativity while sharing it with the general public, wherever they may be."
How does Art Explora’s presence in Dubai fit in with the Foundation’s perspectives and objectives?
B. J. Since the Foundation was created in October 2019, our goal has been to create cultural outreach activities on a global scale.
Dubai will be the opportunity to showcase our future museum ship, a project aiming to bring art and culture to every port in the world. It will also be an opportunity to secure international partners for this ambitious project.
How did the partnership with RATP Group emerge in relation to the World Expo?
B. J. Like us, RATP Group is a partner of the French Pavilion. Moreover, it has long been highly committed to incorporating art into the public space, including in metro stations. RATP and the Art Explora Foundation thus share a common philosophy: to bring culture to as many people as possible. It is precisely this desire to make art accessible to all that made RATP an obvious and legitimate partner for our Dubai/Paris project. In addition to our museum ship, the Foundation will create an artistic programme both inside and outside the French Pavilion.
We have approached several French artists, and various artistic proposals have been made. One of them will present works by French designers and graphic artists on billboards at the entrance to the French Pavilion. RATP wishes to display these works at Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre station, on the network it operates in the Île-de-France region, for seven days in November to benefit its passengers.
Do you have a particular favourite among the works presented?
B. J. Yes, the olfactory one. It’s a graphic work paired with a fragrance specially created for the exhibition. It was produced by an artist and the perfumer of the world’s leading perfume producer, International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF).
It is a sensory experience that will be printed as a flyer, thousands of which will then be distributed randomly at the metro station and at the World Expo. It is exciting to see this collaboration between two spheres come to life! They had a very strong and productive desire to work together.
How will the artistic programme be presented?
B. J. All the works will be printed in duplicate to be exhibited in Dubai and in the Paris metro simultaneously. We have planned various communication tools in the station (printed material and QR codes) to present the partnership between RATP, the Art Explora Foundation and the French Pavilion.
This will also allow us to share the artists’ intentions. In addition, anyone who wants to know more about the works will be able to easily explore and learn about them.
It was only natural, therefore, that both players should join forces in an unprecedented initiative, with the aim of widening access to the World Fair. For a week in November, RATP will be offering Paris metro passengers an in-depth overview of the French Pavilion. In concrete terms, Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre station will be using its advertising spaces to display most of the artworks present in the United Arab Emirates, with a QR code and written media to provide a better understanding of the artists’ work. As part of this collaboration, Art Explora brings its expertise in digital technologies, used as both a medium for contemporary creation and a vector for immersion and cultural dissemination.
In Dubai as in Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre station, the two partners will display a monumental and interactive installation by visual artist Neil Beloufa, among other works. RATP will also shine a spotlight on the works of six French artists, who have been given free rein on the theme of sustainable cities and their ecosystems. Sharing the same philosophy, the Art Explora and RATP teams are working together to bring art to the largest possible audience, and transport the public to the heart of contemporary creation.
The Art Explora Foundation and RATP Group, both partners of the French Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022, have found a common vision and purpose. Created in 2019 by French entrepreneur and patron of the arts Frédéric Jousset, Art Explora is dedicated to bringing culture to a wide audience in innovative ways, such as Hangar Y, the mobile museum and the European Award, in support of art centres that set out to attract new audiences.
In the French Pavilion, Art Explora handles the artistic planning of the permanent exhibition, where it is presenting one of its most iconic projects: an itinerant digital museum, housed in the world’s largest catamaran and sailing from port to port. For its part, RATP is offering its millions of daily passengers a major collection of permanent works and pop-up galleries, in approximately a hundred Paris metro stations.
For more than a century, the Paris metro has provided passengers with an artistic journey through works of art and stations transformed into exhibition venues, theatres of innovation and design laboratories. A demonstration in three stops.
“Je ne suis jamais allé nulle part” (“I have never gone anywhere”) is the poetic title of the monumental arch created by German artist Tobias Rehberger, winner of the Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale in 2009, to mark one of the entrances to Pont Cardinet, one of four new stations on the extension of Paris metro line 14. Created at the initiative of Emerige Group, RATP and Île-de-France Mobilités, the work revisits the iconic Art Nouveau style of Hector Guimard, adapted to the futuristic architecture of the Clichy- Batignolles district that the station serves.
With its 264 vividly coloured facets, 5 metres tall and 12 metres wide, it cannot fail to catch the eye, adding a playful yet majestic transition between the metro and the street, between underground transport and the open air. Tobias Rehberger’s artistic installation was inaugurated on 1 July and is a perfect example of RATP’s cultural policy of constantly providing new works to brighten up the daily journeys of its millions of passengers. On the metro line 14 extension, they will soon discover two other internationally renowned artists: English artist Julian Opie, at Porte de Clichy station, and Kimsooja from Korea at Mairie de Saint-Ouen station. No matter that you’re not going anywhere… so long as the eye travels.
This is a first in the rich cultural history of the Paris metro: an artist returns after 25 years to create a second work of art in the same station. RATP called on Manuel Cargaleiro, Portuguese painter and ceramic artist, world-renowned master of azulejo, to decorate the new entrance to Champs-Élysées – Clemenceau station, near the Grand Palais. In 1995, in that same station, Manuel Cargaleiro created a large ceramic fresco with refined geometric patterns.
His new work, in five polychrome panels, illustrates the growth of his style. While he still combines virtuoso freehand painting with the decorative art of the azulejo, the simple geometry of his initial work has blossomed, breaking lines into floral effervescence and undulating reflections. The palette of primary colours is enriched with subtle nuances, making the contrasts even more striking. RATP is thus inaugurating a new type of movement, no longer from one era to another, or one creator to another, but within the work of the same artist.
Offering passengers a moment of escapism, an artistic exploration consistent with the history and geography of the station: nowhere is this idea better expressed than at Arts et Métiers station. In 1994, for the bicentenary of the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers, RATP entrusted two Belgian comic book authors, Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten, creators of the famous Les Cités obscures (“Cities of the Fantastic”) series, the task of completely remodelling the station. The duo returned to the roots of the industrial and technical boom, keeping in mind the enthusiastic and pioneering spirit that inspired the first World Fairs, as well as the builders of the Paris metro and the novels of Jules Verne.
The result is daring, original and of great aesthetic coherence: a Nautilus version of the station, covered with 800 pink copper plates, penetrated by mysterious cogs and with 11 portholes showcasing inventions from the last centuries. A retro-futurist submarine, in the purest steampunk style, designed to take passengers into the depths of Paris, or return them to the surface, creating a dreamlike transition between the metro and the musée des Arts et métiers.