Camelops Femina in Dubai: An Interview with Olaf Breuning

Olaf Breuning is one of those mystical artists with a gift that is both totally innate and at the same time seems to involuntarily possess the artist – as if he were haunted by the immense creativity that overcomes him. This is evident in the art that he has created and presented in over 250 exhibitions, either solo or group, since his professional career started in the late 1990s. The Swiss-born, New York based artist, has created everything from creatures made out of rakes and cardboard, to films that explore the thin line between reality and fiction, bizarre photographic explorations, and installations made from kitchen appliances. Now Breuning brings his phantasmagorical world to Dubai for the very first time with a striking and magical exhibition at Carbon 12 gallery. “Camelops Femina,” as the exhibition is called, is a fictional exploration of pre-conceived ideas and iconography that digs back 10,000 years in history to excavate an extinct species of Camel that once roamed North America. The images, which were created exclusively for this exhibition, are distinctly Breuning in the quotidian and strange manner of the composition of the photographs where models are dressed like desert sheiks or Bedouin gypsies to represent the imaginary extinct species of camel. This wonderful exhibition is on view now at Carbon 12 in Dubai. Pas Un Autre got a chance to speak with the artist himself in the following interview.

PAS UN AUTRE: You’ve had over 250 exhibitions since the late 90s and this is your first in the Middle East – do you have any expectations – trepidations?

OLAF BREUNING: Trepidations? Uhh…. I will have them if there would be a reason! And expectations? No never have them. The most important for me is that I do an artwork I like. And so far I love the "Camelops Femina."

AUTRE: Your work experiments with, or is a reflection of, popular culture – what are some of your predictions as to where pop culture will go in the next 10 years?

BREUNING: Haha, pop culture...I am not sure…if it still exists…the art industry is pop culture itself. For example Andy Warhol’s work in the seventies was something different because the self-awareness of art itself was still very conservative, but today there seem to be no borders…just different strategies produced and read by different groups of people. Random, like our time in general.

AUTRE: What are some of your favorite inventions of the last 10 years?

BREUNING: To be able to challenge my small brain and come up with always new ideas responding to me and the time I live in.

AUTRE: Have you always want to be an artist? Can you remember the first time you said to yourself: “I want to be an artist”?

BREUNING: I think I never said that, it was always a natural situation. Maybe I am just a natural self-centered person who cannot do anything else than speak about himself. No, no I am a modest person.

AUTRE: What is your ultimate goal as an artist – is there a specific message you want to communicate?

BREUNING: No, no message! I do art to go through this life on my terms. Sounds dramatic, but it is fun and addictive. I feel free as an artist and I hope I can do so until my last day.

AUTRE: Why is art important to society?

BREUNING: Well, I am not a politician, but would I would say: EDUCATION! Whatever that means, just to give different points of views to things.

AUTRE: Where do you find inspiration or creativity?

BREUNING: Mostly at Balthazar in New York, the breakfast restaurant I’ve gone to for 12 years from Monday to Friday. This is the time where I have my first coffee and make my drawings for new ideas.

AUTRE: Is art a product or can a product be art – or both?

BREUNING: Art is whatever you say is borders, just a matter of definition.

AUTRE: Your art deals a lot with the human condition in the 21st century – is there something unique about this time or perhaps different than other epochs?

BREUNING: Yes! THE INTERNET, it changed the way we see the past, the now and the future…so long we are online.

AUTRE: What can we expect from your show Camelops Femina at Carbon 12?

BREUNING: I show with my kind of humor and I hope people in Dubai like my humor.

AUTRE: What’s next?

BREUNING: One day New York, one day Toronto, four days New York, one week Japan, one week Switzerland....and after that I have to focus on a show in August at the Paul Klee museum in Switzerland.... have to make some art!

Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Camelops Femina will be on view until April 30, 2013 at Carbon 12 Gallery, Warehouse D37, Alserkal Avenue, Street 8, Al Quoz 1, Dubai contact for all inquiries

Kourosh Nouri of Carbon 12 Gallery in Dubai

Out in the exotic, desert landscape of Dubai a blip is growing ever larger on the international art world’s radar. In the cosmopolitan metropolis that is Dubai, the second largest city in the country known as the United Arab Emirates, which sits southeast of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf, bordering Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south, a host of galleries, artistic institutions (such as Art Dubai), patrons, and local artists are making their name known in the international and local art market. Dubai might have a few more years before a certifiable recognition as such, but with galleries such as Carbon 12 and about 20 other galleries who are setting up shop in the revitalized Al Quoz industrial zone, the contemporary art scene in this distant Middle Eastern locale is growing fast. Carbon 12, which opened its doors in 2008, was co-founded by Kourosh Nouri who always dreamt of opening a gallery and Nadine Knotzer. Carbon 12 represents established and emerging artists and major artists like Olaf Breuning. We got a chance to speak with Kourosh Nouri, director of Carbon 12, about his gallery, his thoughts about the art scene in Dubai, and his incredibly ambitious plans for the future. 

PAS UN AUTRE: Can you remember or talk a little bit about your first introduction to the world of art?

KOUROSH NOURI: Professionally, it was when I started to collect (very) modestly in the mid 90's. I started in Iran, with "super emerging" Iranian artists, at a time no one was even looking at this country/region...My first significant professional steps where in 2007, even though in early 2000 I was already following super closely the art scene, where the idea of wanting to open a gallery was growing in my mind. I have spent altogether over a year and half of intensive research, and heavy benchmarking before I even set a date (nov. 2008) for the opening of the space. The whole adventure started in 2007... and, it was hard to keep my mouth shut!

On a personal basis I fell in love with Brancusi's muse when I was in my early teens... so, my love of art started already more than 20 years ago. I also remember the first art book my parents offered me when I was 6, "history of modern art" by Arnason and in English. I still have the book in the gallery's bookshelves...

AUTRE: Why did you want to become a gallery director?

NOURI: It is much worse, I wanted to own a gallery, and that already since 10 years! The why is, I guess, for the passion I discovered for contemporary art. Now that I look back, I am proud to say that not once I regretted my decision. So far, except commercially maybe (!), everything is going according to plans... I have the most beautiful profession in the world, despite all the ups and downs, and I am surrounded by magnificent artworks of amazing artists I am proud to represent.

AUTRE: Can you talk a little bit about Carbon 12 Gallery?

NOURI: Carbon 12 opened its doors in November 2008. We started the concrete planning of the gallery, with my partner Nadine (Knotzer) already in 2007, and in January 2008 we decided to open the gallery in Dubai. The choice of the artists was a bit surreal in a sense... we listed our "dream team", from museum shows, art fairs, books, and gallery shows. From very early stage we wanted to have a wide program, in a way very painterly, but comprehensive and rich... hard to get bored with all those amazing artists. The process was beautiful and organic...Earning money is a must, but a must for the big picture, the big picture being this fabulous work we are dedicating ourselves to. The name Carbon comes from the most widespread element in nature, the common element to all living being, loved the name for decades, and in French literature Edmond Rostand in Cyrano de Bergerac named the captain of the musketeers Carbon de Casttel-jaloux... This masterpiece of literature was always in my eyes the reference in arts in general. That's how the name came to me, and since it is super catchy and I didn't want to call my gallery Nouri Falegari-Knotzer contemporary arts or projects (We avoided that one!!!), here we are with Carbon 12, and 12 as the non-radioactive isotope of Carbon.

AUTRE: Carbon 12 represents a lot of emerging artists as well as established artists – what do you look for in an artist or what is the X factor an artist needs to be represented by your gallery?

NOURI: Here again, we are really blessed by the artists who have decided to trust Carbon 12. I like the notion of x factor for artists... well, never thought about it that way... now that you put it, yes; crazy talented, professional, multi-layered, and so different one from another, yet a very thin hair connects all our artists together.

AUTRE: I don’t know if you want to talk about this, but art can at times by seen as subversive by some creeds and religious beliefs – do you ever run into any restrictions or censorship when putting on a show?

NOURI: Never faced anything similar here. Having said that, we are also extremely respectful of all cultures and believes, and we don't work with provocation, pure and stupid without any fundament. All our artists have so much more to offer than provocation, so that we face any censorship. Dubai and the UAE is a great country where over 170 nationalities coexist peacefully and harmoniously with each other.

AUTRE: How would you describe the artistic atmosphere of the United Arab Emirates – is there a large “art scene” in Dubai?

NOURI: The art scene is small... still waiting for the real "birth", however there are about a hand full professional and amazing galleries in the country, and these galleries are as well among the top 10 in the region.Naturally, the number of private collectors is relatively small and mainly consisting of expatriates, the few emerging collectors are not enough to be considered as a growing trend... There are no institutions, and corporate collections are totally absent! Fortunately there are a few experts and Artdubai who do an amazing educational job, almost like the missing museums. This will pay off for sure in the next 3-5 years.

AUTRE: Do you have international collectors or is it mainly local connoisseurs of contemporary art – would it be impolite describe or elaborate upon a typical art collector in Dubai?

NOURI: I love the polite way you pose that question. it almost forces me to be rude and provocative...the collector of Carbon 12 based in the UAE, can be described as follow: under 50 years of age, highly qualified and Europe/US educated professional, with a decent net worth, collecting art since less than 5 years, and very open-minded to any artistic approach, and working tightly with us, and following in average 3-5 of our artists. Many of them, follow us in art fairs, and know the mechanics of a gallery. Dubai art scene & the middle east is very fortunate to be on the radar of lots of international Museums. Many artist represented in the Region or from the region have been selected by famous Museums over the last few years. Our aim is to bring more and more people to Dubai and make them discover the small but amazing art scene we have.

AUTRE: Who are some of your favorite artists working today and why?

NOURI: I genuinely love and respect dearly all the artists we work with... sounds maybe strange, but the roster we have is the "dream team", and in my list I can mention all the artists we represent. This is the magic of contemporary art, the favorite works change, rotate, let you discover more layers...

AUTRE: Carbon 12 visits a lot of the art fairs – why are art fairs important and how would you describe the general milieu?

NOURI: We need to reach out, the art market in the region is too small, a "Waiting for Godot strategy" is not a solution. Also the culture of collecting is still very weak in the region. We also like to put Dubai on the international Art map and make people discover more about it. So far we had great experiences in the past, Art Cologne last year was amazing, "our" Art Dubai is gradually becoming the "Basel" of the region, abc in Berlin was great, and here and there in Viennafair little things happen. Of course we want to start going to our fair wish list, but considering we are turning 4 years old on the 28th of November, we need to be patient.

AUTRE: How would you describe the art market right now and how to do your see it evolving in the future?

NOURI: Slow at this very moment!!! The future is bright, and beautiful though! My gallery opened in 2008, after the financial meltdown... so, euphoria, commercially, is an unknown thing to us. We never faced the heat of 2007-2008 where collectors would fight for every artwork, and galleries were counting sold-out shows one after the other. So, for Carbon 12, every week is a move forward, every acquired collector a blessing, and every exhibition an achievement on out path to become a highly respected international art gallery.

AUTRE: What is the next show on view at Carbon 12 Gallery?

NOURI: We have opened on the 5th of November the fire with James Clar's "Iris was a Pupil"... an incredible show, and the public's as well as the collectors feedbacks has been incredible. In December we will continue with Hazem Mahdy, one of our emerging artist, and January will see the well expected first solo of Anahita Razmi at Carbon 12. This will coincide with her solo show at the Stuttgart museum of art. Olaf Breuning promised us a "Dubai" show for March. A lot of good things ahead then...

AUTRE: What does the future look like for Carbon 12?

NOURI: Shiny and warm like the weather here! Our program is always set two years ahead, and we will have many exciting shows. We want to make out of every single exhibition the best possible one, in terms of quality, content, and critical value... We really aim to make sure that every artist who leaves Dubai, sits in the plane thinking about the next exhibition with us at Carbon 12. We also hope to connect more and more with international institutions, and place our artists in museum shows, and museum collections. So far, we are really happy about our regular fairs, the top ones being Art Dubai, and Art Cologne, and maybe in the future we will be adding a few more on our list of international participations.

Automatic Assembly Actions: An Interview with ANAHITA RAZMI

Anahita Razmi is one of those artists that are tough to define, but all the same make shock waves that force us to take a deeper look inside ourselves. Ramzi, a video and performance artist based in Stuttgart, makes work that deals with issues concerning identity and gender by employing objects with a national and cultural significance; sometimes borrowing and citing the work of other high-profile artists. Working within the tradition of appropriation and re-enactment, Razmi detaches cultural symbols from their established meanings by employing them in unexpected situations and contexts. Her works, like the tongue-in-cheek Burquini which was designed for the swimming activities of Muslim women and the more serious Roof Piece Tehran, where she had 12 dancers dancing on the rooftops of different building in Tehran in a county where dance is illegal and artistic performance is forbidden. Ramzi, whose father is Iranian – her mother German – has a special connection with Iran and it’s panoply of struggles. On view now at Carbon 12 Gallery in Dubai, Ramzi’s solo exhibition Automatic Assembly Action, which opened with a performance RE / CUT PIECE, a modfied appropriation of Yoko Ono’s 1964 performance Cut Piece, will be open until March 14. Pas Un Autre got a chance to ask Razmi a few question about her artistic practice, her current show at Carbon 12 and what she has planned for the future. 

PAS UN AUTRE: When was the first time you realized you wanted to be an artist?

ANAHITA RAZMI: For me there was no decision of becoming an artist, it was more a progress within time. I studied media arts before continuing in fine arts, but  never became passionate about just editing or designing stuff. For me being an artist means dealing with a lot of risk, but also with an incredibly multifaceted field of themes and references. I don't think one can become tired of it.

AUTRE: What does it mean to be a female artist in the 21st century?

RAZMI: I wouldn't choose to speak generally, but at least for me I feel and hope that categories like male - female at least for artists working conditions become more and more irrelevant these days. My work still often deals with these categories in a broader sense, but I am trying to question stereotypes and preassigned images, rather than determining them.

AUTRE: Can you name some other female artists who inspire you and why?

RAZMI: My work is often referencing other female artists work, - for example I recently quoted Tracey Emin and Cindy Sherman. Anyhow, I am quite amenable for inspiration, I never choose to sit in my studio and work from a blank sheet of paper.

AUTRE: What do you think is the biggest spiritual quagmire for people in todayʼs times?

RAZMI: Dependancy on questionable values and rules. That deserves a bigger discussion however.

AUTRE: Is art important in politics….how can art spark political discourse?

RAZMI: I don't think art should at all be considered as something with a function. Anyhow, I still feel that it can be an independent factor questioning political situations and conditions within a society by activating discussions, thoughts and possible reconsiderations.

AUTRE: Some of your work has dealt with the politics and restrictions imposed on people living in Iran….is religion a problem or is it how people use it?

RAZMI: A lot of my work is making reference to the current situation in Iran. Anyhow I am never choosing to explain about the country, - I am more making reconciliations between existing images that are shifting between the Middle East and the West.

AUTRE: Your work is extremely multifaceted and people seem to have a plethora of ways to describe it – how would you describe your work?

RAZMI: I am happy to hear that, as I don't like my work to be pigeonholed. I am using different kinds of media and am not sticking to one method of producing my work. Still I think, one can find repeating conceptual strategies within my practice: appropriation of existing works and images, certain themes (like contemporary Iran) that repeatedly are dealt with.

AUTRE: Can you talk about what we can expect at your upcoming show at Carbon 12?

RAZMI: The show is my first solo exhibition at Carbon12 Dubai, so I am quite excited. It is titled Automatic Assembly Actions and features two new video installations, one photoseries and a textile work. I also did a performance during the opening, which involved the audience.

AUTRE: Whatʼs next?

RAZMI: My show Swing State will open mid february at Kunstverein Hanover, which will be accompanied by a publication. From april on I will be in residency in Los Angeles for 6 months working on a new project - really looking forward to that.

Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Anahita Razmi Automatic Assembly Actions will be on view at Carbon 12 Gallery until March 14, 2013, Warehouse D37, Alserkal Avenue, Street 8, Al Quoz 1