When looking at the skyline of Abu Dhabi along the Corniche, it is easy to spot the rows of new, well-kept buildings. Like many modern cities, buildings in Abu Dhabi are often demolished or given a facelift to maintain their pristine look instead of allowing them to naturally age and show signs of wear and tear.
The perpetual newness of these spaces, however, created a point of alienation between Keriana Piripi, Class of 2015, and the city where she has lived for the past four years.
"Abu Dhabi doesn't really exist in the space of time that I'm used to," said the New Zealand native. "There are no seasons, or things to mark time changing or passing. It seems a universe suspended in a bizarre container of its own making."
Piripi wandered around Abu Dhabi determined to find out what it means to preserve the skeleton of a city. Known as dérive, it's a process where people go on walks, create maps of cities, and collect objects that have personal and emotional resonance to them. As she picked things up along the way — often building materials — she began to notice how many objects showed signs where time had affected them. Wanting to preserve those moments, Peripi started thinking of different modes of preservation such as salt, binding things in threads, and keeping things in jars.
It was this collection of things cast away in Abu Dhabi that formed the core of her Capstone art exhibition: Psychogeographica: A Universe Shed of Its Matter, held at the NYUAD Arts Center in early April.
"I dredged and isolated found detritus from the city: steel, rock, wood, clamps, carcasses, wires — raw elements left to the wayside," she wrote in the abstract description of her project. "I struck these remnants with modes of preservation — salt, binding, specimen jars, water, taxidermy. Psychogeographica wrapped Abu Dhabi in time, with each strange fragment contextualizing the other — warping the universe to age the city."
The collection of items such as a wooden plank in a pseudo splint, peacock feather, and a rock bound tightly by strings under a bed of salt, were intricately arranged to tell a story, and a lot thought was put into placement of each object. For example, in a row of specimen jars containing old bolts and screws, different amounts of salt were placed in each jar, oxidizing and rusting materials at different rates so visitors were able to see varying degrees of deterioration.
Beyond collecting discarded objects on the streets, Piripi also explored shops in the city and beyond. Her favorite piece was the taxidermy of a bird sourced from an old antique store in a souk in Sharjah. She was immediately drawn to it from a window display and just "had to have it."
Upon closer inspection, the stuffed bird, originally from Java, Indonesia, was anything but well preserved. The antique store owner told Piripi it had deteriorated significantly in the intense heat when he closed down his shop for three months in the summer. Still, fitting to Piripi's research theme of how time can indeed affect things in the UAE, she purchased the bird and endearingly called her Esmeralda.
The collection of items in her exhibition not only allowed visitors to reflect on the endless pursuit of modernity, but also question the concept of time and age in a thoughtful way.