Lantian Xie: Full Special
From the moment you enter this exhibition, it is like a whisper in the ear, a knowing wink or a roll of the eyes. It’s an inside joke directed at those living in the UAE. The title comes from the all-too-often refrain heard at the country’s numerous gas stations. “Full special” refers to a full tank of special petrol. They are the words spoken as an order or request to the serving staff who man the pumps. It is a nod, not just to the UAE’s street vernacular or the source of its great wealth, which has over the past few decades, attracted people from all over the world, much like bees to the proverbial honey pot. It is also a clever and subtle indication at the fabric of society; the way life functions inside these desert metropolises.
The entire show is full of nuance, irony and humour. The first work the viewers encounter is a plastic folding table filled from end to end with water bottles, distinctive in their bright orange packaging, which denotes that they have added Vitamin D. In a country with some of the world’s highest temperatures and almost perpetual sunshine, this installation – also titled Sunshine – suddenly makes Vitamin D water (which is a common sight upon most grocery store shelves) seem ridiculous and wasteful. It also calls to mind traces of the omnipotent capitalism that seems to be woven into the skin and bones of life in the UAE. The artwork seems to say: “Here, we have managed to bottle the sunshine and present it to you in garish colours in order for us to be able charge you for it.”
Entering into the sparse and minimal exhibition that is so typical of Grey Noise’s programme, another striking presentation is a collection of bubble wrapped framed prints. I immediately think of excess, I think of the amount of times we pack up our lorryloads of possessions in bubble wrap and cart them from place to place, sometimes never even unwrapping them. Taking a look at the artwork’s title also introduces another dimension of searing commentary. Top 10 Middle Eastern Art (2018) is a clear dig at the art industry and its fickle tastes as well as bringing in the more serious discussion on what exactly Middle Eastern art is or what geographic area this term refers to.
Upon the walls are a series of oil-on-canvas paintings, which seem, to me, to recall the more incongruous elements of modern life that we all take for granted but are confronting when presented this way. Largest Quad Homes in Dubai (2018) and Think Fast, Look Alive (2018) are both of advertising posters seen in Delhi and Singapore respectively, yet painted and presented on the walls of an art gallery, they underline the glitzy and manufactured lifestyle that many people submit to.
One of the most intriguing paintings is called Welcome (2018). It depicts an iPhone screen, complete with the battery percentage and status bar and an image of Kim Kardashian’s daughter North West dressed in a fur coat and holding a lollipop. The combination of all these factors makes one question the lens through which we are viewing life. Peering into the lives of social-media sharing celebrities through the screens of our phones, walking around with our eyes down and our screens shining, the only way to get our attention is to use loud and brash slogans and then, we subscribe to the consumer culture and fill our lives with so many things that we don’t know what to do with them.
Through this small but well-formed exhibition, I was left with a cynical and yet somehow refreshed view of life in the UAE and indeed, in the modern world. I was also impressed by the tools through which I was shown this message.