The Simon Lee Foundation Institute of Contemporary Asian Art, a major curatorial initiative at The Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA), presents Star Machine, the first major museum exhibition of Farah Al Qasimi (b. 1991, Abu Dhabi) in Australia. Opening on 4 February 2023, this vibrant installation brings together over 20 works from a key five-year period of the artist’s practice (2017-2021) and includes some of her most well-known photographs and the recent video General Behaviour (2020). Employing overflowing frames, reflective surfaces, fractured perspectives, precise lighting and, above all, a meticulous attention to detail, the works help us freshly frame important questions around ‘what do photos do now?’.
Based between Brooklyn and Dubai, Al Qasimi employs photography as a relational tool of intimate inquiry into how spaces and subjectivities inflect each other. She practices with an understanding of social media’s conflation with emotionality, performance, and youth culture, and its re-purposing by artists and individuals alike, as a tool for complicating the medium of photography, its relationship to self-creation, and the consequences of our present socio-technological condition on the re-configuration of the public and private sphere.
Her practice stages the mundane alongside moments of explosive beauty, humorous indifference and transgressively awry social commentary. From this complex and fluid position, Al Qasimi’s hyper-colourised and hyper-reflective photographs draw us into the lives of friends and strangers, women and men, many of whom dwell amidst glittering shopping malls and lavish homes in America and the United Arab Emirates. In these kaleidoscopically stylised settings, she opens out the ambiguity inherent in our efforts to locate grounded identities and attachments in a persistently mutable world.
The exhibition is titled after Al Qasimi’s photograph Star Machine (2021), a self-portrait taken in the artist’s family home during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Seeking to change the monotony of her surroundings, the star machine brought the heavens to earth through a projection of light. As the fake stars dramatically envelop the artist and her environment, the work sums up many of the concerns that drive Al Qasimi’s output and the show itself: the ways that realities are layered and imagined, and how photography is not simply about documenting and critiquing the world but part of how we shape composite worlds within worlds.
The works in Star Machine flicker between darker moments of disconnection and idyllic expressions of care, community and faith. Between these poles, Al Qasimi cognitively maps the traces of affect that simultaneously hold and punctuate our daily lives. Through a mixture of close-ups, mid-shots, and long-shots, that at times almost completely dissolve the subject, the images position the viewer at an intimate distance as part of a general atmospheric disturbance. In using photography, an inherently social medium, to seek out sensations of closeness when you are physically separated, Al Qasimi leans into mindfulness to show that spiritual experience must not always be threatened by consumption; about how Neoliberalism’s individualisation of well-being need not run rampant; to show how images can be coping strategies, and so too might all of our big and small acts of self-making and transcendence.
Farah Al Qasimi: Star Machine is curated by Rachel Cieśla, Lead Creative for the Simon Lee Foundation Institute of Contemporary Asian Art (SLF ICAA).
Farah Al Qasimi: Star Machine is supported by the Simon Lee Foundation and assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, the Australia-Japan Foundation and the Australia-Korea Foundation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Press release from the Simon Lee Foundation Institute of Contemporary Asian Art