184 Nails: Hassan Sharif

12 January - 26 February 2022

184 Nails is a non-static exhibition featuring works that will be replaced at the end of every week. Twenty-one works selected from Hassan Sharif’s ‘Semi-Systems’ series will be rotated across the gallery walls at least twice during the seven-week exhibition run. Works not exhibited will be stored in a shelving unit in the gallery space until their return. ‘Draft papers’ from separate works will be exhibited in a continuous procession across the gallery walls. Respective ‘artworks’ will be exhibited alongside this chain of ‘draft papers.’ A random system determines the order of the works on the gallery walls. 

 

Rope presented Sharif a constant invitation to tie a knot. Corrugated board, to repeatedly fold. Wire, to endlessly bend. Mathematics was another generative material for Hassan Sharif (1951-2016), which he exhausted to create his ‘Semi-Systems’ series. These seminal works were produced in two phases. Beginning in 1982 at The Byam Shaw School of Art, London where Sharif was a graduate student, and continuing in Dubai until 1985 after Sharif had returned home. He returned to ‘Semi-Systems’ in 2006 and continued expanding this series for a decade until his demise in 2016. The Semi-System works often comprise two elements, the ‘draft papers’, and the resultant ‘artwork.’ The draft papers are where the work initiates - Sharif would conduct mathematical exercises on inexpensive A4 paper to search for a formula, which would then turn into a tool to explore the possible permutations. Utilizing numbers or numerals to count, measure or move, Sharif studiously applied himself as a way to seemingly abdicate himself from thought itself. A momentum and rhythm arise through the nature and behavior of the systems he invents: they begin to guide Sharif’s hand and mind to arrange, order, group, sort and organize. Graphic shapes enter a synchronized choreography—lines begin to turn at sharp angles, rhomboids begin to swivel, cubes begin to stack up, numbers begin to shower. For his work titled One 2 Four (1984, reconstituted in 2007), Sharif generated fifty-two draft papers. These papers, when laid out in succession, conjure a storyboard of automated thought, indicating scenes from the subconscious. Or are these images of exuberance, of Sharif bending, folding, twisting, but in his mind?

 

Sharif was constantly on the run. Evading arrest from stasis. Rummaging in search for autonomy. An autonomy of thought. Not to forget an autonomy from function for his selected materials, as well. This stasis-versus-movement dynamic materializes in 184 Nails as the exhibition performs as a contradictory system. In the small exhibition space at the back of the gallery, non-exhibited works (waiting for their turn) will be stacked in a shelving unit, as if sitting in an archival repository. A conflicting format will be on display in the main gallery hall, where the works are thrown into a swirling state of restlessness. This shape-shifting action points at a proposal: can something new arise from the churning of this momentum? While Sharif’s legacy is cemented, the question at stake is how his archive can be made available to generate new ideas. Can we reconsider Sharif’s work as raw material instead? 184 Nails acts as a trigger for new possibilities interdisciplinary short circuits have been made with different departments at American University of Sharjah. Two professors in architecture have identified a recurring fundamental absence in the Semi-Systems works, which has led them to investigate systemic interdependence. Based on the variations in Sharif’s graphic numerals, an ethnomusicologist is attempting to dismantle a maqam ensemble to generate a serialism score. A mathematician is exhausting a Semi-Systems formula to push the limits of permutations in a quest for mathematical beauty. These inquiries will surface in the gallery, not as attempts to decode or commemorate Sharif’s work, but as their own experiments. As Nietzsche would have argued, history is not an archive to be preserved. But a storehouse/baqala/bodega with an endless supply of material that needs to be ransacked to generate new meaning.