dubai life

regular readers might vaguely remember a trip i had to dubai a while ago. it was my first time in a non-english, non-western environment and it totally floated my boat.

on the way back from chilly europe last month, i stopped off again in dubai and had another wild time.

i was supposed to write list of things that i saw, absorbed or experience in dubai last month, as a tip for my friend niko, but didn’t make it in time.  i think it’s still current for those heading mid-east-ward anyway, and it was nice to revisit.
1. raw coffee.
Seven Seeds Espresso
this specialty roaster is in the dubai garden centre, near the fishing section. 
of course. 
where else do you find the only decent coffee place in all of dubai? my friends were unsurprised that i have managed to track such a place down in the depths of dubai. afterall, one must sustain ones addiction somehow, right?
run by kiwis (our antipodean coffee brothers-in-arms), my first double espresso was made by the #4 in the UAE barista championships, and the coffee was being roasted by #1. i didn’t drink coffee from anywhere else the whole 2 weeks i was there, and while i’ve had slightly better coffees on my recent travels, it was far and away the best coffee in the emirate and such a welcome relief.
2. tashkeel

i found out about tashkeel early on in my trip, but couldn’t get there until the last few days of being there. in fact, i took myself out there as a treat for myself on my birthday. 

and what a treat it was!
originally a purpose-built art school for zayed university, the art course was dropped after the first intake. director, lateefa bint makhtoum, herself an ex-student, didn’t want the amazing building and facilities to go to waste, so she bought it and turned it into a members’ art centre and gallery. i was treated to a tour of the studios  and promptly turned green with envy: screen printing, textile printing, large-format digital printing, laser cutters, jewellery studios, photo studios, IT studios, fine art area, members’ kitchen/lounge and a phenomenal library. you can become a yearly member and have access to all the facilities. it’s a dream, i tell you. a dream!
sadly, it’s a little out of the way from downtown dubai/sheik zayed rd, and there’s no artist-in-residence program yet, but it’s coming. they have a second complex in the historical bastakiya section and a partnership with the delfin foundation.
i had the chance to meet the direktor and she was as generous, smart and super-talented as you would expect from that kind of initiative. and the show they had on at the time – artists who represented UAE at the shanghai expo – was also great. you can see the slow blooming of emirati artists.
3. traffic.

a design retail space has recently switched over to a private/collector gallery and it’s so exciting. i saw two shows there and went to the opening of uppers and downers, which also included a powerful performance called ‘be safe o  egypt’ by  performance artist rania ezzat*. the feel of the shows there are exciting, challenging and have guts, unlike many other shows in similar spaces in dubai. the space itself is a warehouse conversion in the al quoz area (the area where loads of galleries have popped up in the last 3 years), and they have cats!

4. dubai metro.

dubai metro

this has made dubai loads more accessible than last time. it’s now starting to approximate a modern urban city. and interestingly, with it, has come a lot more human-scale signage, and a better bus system. one thing i noticed last time i was in dubai was the scale of typography and signage. it was all only viewable from cars, therefore was large, lit and high-up. people are obviously walking along pathways to the metro a lot more, so i’ve seen far more small text, small signs with maps, actual footpaths and more accommodation for human movement (as opposed to vehicular). it is going to be fascinating to see how this ripples out in the next 5-10 years.

dubai metro signs

5. awkward silence and emptiness. there are hugs gaps in dubai buildings now – massive amounts of unfinished apartments and officeblocks. apparently an embarassment for the municipalities and the developers (who won’t let artists/musicians use the spaces like in other cities). the cranes have really slowed down and the sound of flapping shadecloth and plastic covering is the loudest thing about the constructions sites.
between the lack of jackhammers, cranes and construction clutter and the reduced traffic (because everyone has left or catches the metro), the whole city is so much quieter than it was. 
don’t get me wrong – with a 7-lane highway running through the guts of it, it’s not a quiet city by any means, but it was noticeably less intense that at the height of the boom back in 2007.

6. the art map. a little publication put out by art in the city, it covers the art galleries in sharjah, dubai and abu dhabi. that number has grown substantially in the last few years and this little map helped me out loads. it also lead me to follow UBIK and @discobb, which lead to a stack of great art meetings with strangers.

7. al satwa.
it’s the little india/pakistani/old school section of dubai – the part where you remember that people actually live in this city. and it’s where ravis is –  a famous street-food style restaurant, which is not quite as awesome as the equivalent in sharjah, but it’s still pretty great and relatively cheap too. i hear that satwa has changed bucketloads recently, but as a tourist, it’s still a relief to go there and have a more authentic city-esque experience.
8. wafi rooftop gardens.
this was totally cheesy, and something i probably wouldn’t have done in my home town, but we went to the open mic night, sat on m&m beanbags and watched people belting their little hearts out. some great, some not-so. but, it was nice and normal in amongst the designer rah-rah of wafi mall (which also has to be seen to be believed). they also have a movie night on sunday nights, which we never managed to get to, but would also be worth checking out.

by the pool 2



9. sun and swimming.
ok, so maybe not everyone gets to do this when the go to dubai, but northern winter afford this kind of decadence.  i spent a lot of it sunning myself and swimming in a rooftop pool. it’s highly recommended for curing what ails ya.
10. walking.
similarly, only really enjoyable in winter (summer is 50ºC outside), and often you will hear the echo of the muezzins call to prayer across the parts of the city. in fact, i loved that sound – just walking across stretches of sand, hearing asr, maghrib or isha prayers sung from the minarettes. if you’ve grown up in islamic countries, this probably won’t float your boat, but i couldn’t help but romanticise it over the two weeks i was in town.
ps. dear niko. i’m so sorry that i didn’t send this through in time. but hopefully they’ll pick up on the project and you’ll have to go back again. many times.
*pps. i was there as egypt was all kicking off and i can’t tell you how charged and exciting it felt to be in the neighbourhood during their revolution. al jazeera was on regularly and i had touching moment in doha airport with the tunisian sales assistant of the al jazeera stand there as the news of mubarak’s resignation rang out across screens. an airport has never been so political – strangers discussing the unfolding news in front of screens and most in solidarity with egypt. i have more to write on this later, but i just thought i’d add it as a beautiful aspect of my trip.

image credits: 
satwa image nicked from dubaithoughts.blogspot.com (my images were crap).
tashkeel print studio image nicked from panopticon.blogspot.com (op cit)

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good times.

Upper Brookfield Pool

SunTrees

Bush Property

Cootchie Bikes

Cootchie

i’ll be back with real words soon – i just have a huge pile of applications and proposals to write up in the next 4 days.

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things i’m not going to do whilst i’m on holidays…

Despatch

some of these are by design. others are unfortunate circumstances. either way, i’m on holidays next week.

• any of the things i do for my day job

• use my laptop

• look in my diary

• go to these exhibition openings:

OMFG!
Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Helier’s Street, Abbotsford
ADAM CRUICKSHANK, HIT & MISS, KOTOE ISHII, ROB MCLEISH, SIMON PERICICH, DELL STEWART, EMILE ZILE.

opening 25th november

boo! hiss!

Leading 100 Horses to Drink
Tai Snaith at Kings ARI on King St, Melbourne
opening 27th november

boo! hiss!

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
The Commission Gallery, Upstairs 25 Bray St, Off Commercial Rd, Prahran

opening 27th november

boo! hiss!

• wake up at 6:30 (except maybe to get on a plane)

yay!

• miss my awesome friend jem’s birthday

• catch a tram

• post a blog

• think about work – art-related or otherwise
yay!

• worry. i’ve got someone doing that for me already.

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time to say goodbye

there’s something really weird about finishing off a trip. a sense of relief, sadness, and something inexplicably warped about it – something resembling inertia.

getting back to London after Europe, everything fell a bit flat. Londoners seemed like a repressed bunch of constricted bureaucrats after the relative easiness of Europeans. And the city itself also felt incredibly constricted with so many roadworks, awkward transport, overbearing architectural mess and I hate to be clichéd and whinge about the cost, but holy crap, after coming back from the euro, it’s fucking exorbitant.

and perhaps I really needed to see all that stuff because I’ve been forced to head home early and there’s something easier about a divorce when all you can see is the crap.

in preparation for leaving, I head back to a few of my old haunts and to make sure I caught up with a bunch of friends I had made here, which was more important than anything.

I went back to soho, drew in the national gallery, popped to the tate modern louise bourgeois show (which I will review later, but suffice to say, it bloody rocked!), went to see control, wandered around chancery lane and discovered gorgeous wine bars near charing cross.

I caught up with as many of my London friends as I possibly could and would formally like to link to (as a form of web 2.0 props) to the following boys and girls , in no particular order, who made my time in London and Europe a fucking awesome time:

Doddsy, Angus, Feltbug, Claire, Charlie F, Charlie G, Marcus, Marita, Paul, Ben, Russell, Helen, Emily, NP, Gemma, Rob M, Sam, Wal, Christos and the rest of the coffee morning/interesting crew.

And of course my little crew of Lauren’s Ladders: Will, Seb and Nina

In fact without these people, who found me through my blog, or others’ blogs, I know that I wouldn’t have had the time I had.

It will probably take me a few days to a) get over the jetlag and b) process the enormity of my trip, but once I do, I need to post about some of the random things that I’ll take home from my trip – those weird little things that will stick with me and influence my life forever more.

Thanks again to all those peeps and now it’s time for phase 2 of world domination: the MFA

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Four simple steps for city mayors who find themselves with extra people in their cities, otherwise known as tourists

1. Signage, signage, signage!
People, it’s not that hard, really, to spend a little bit of time, effort and money into really developing your signage. And how about, once you’ve put it up, try it out. Get someone to give it a trial run to see if it really works – there’s nothing more annoying than following signage that just fucking ends no where near where you’re ending up.

2. Tourist information booths.
I know they might seem a bit daggy, but honestly, theyr’e fucking vital and they could be really simple. Just make sure they are in key places like Airports, Central train stations and a couple of the main areas in the centre of town. You could even be a bit innovative and have collapsible ones that you could take to specific areas when there’s a big event on (like the Grand Prix, or a Film Festival). They need to give out maps, be staffed by people who at least speak the local language and one other (probably English) and are open at least as long as the plance they’re in (if not 24hours!). In fact, they could just be like John So’s info people that stand on the corner of Flinders and Swanston Sts in Melbourne, giving out info and maps to tourists, so you get to really connect with your tourists, AND you’re employing older people and ex-homeless in the mean time (Rob – do you have any connections with cities looking to refine their tourist industries? Mayor of London perhaps?).

3. Access to Money
Although most of us tourists have money with us when we arrive, sometimes things don’t work out that way and we need to get some, or we need to change it. Make sure that there’s both a Cambio/Wechsel/Change booth in the main Airport and Train Station (and boat terminal, if applicable) AND and ATM. How about one next to the other! That would be kind of sensible – put all the money type places together!

4. Access to transport and tickets
Firstly, read step 1 again.

Go on, read it…. read it!

OK..

Now, make sure it’s easy for both your locals AND tourists (or are time-consuming and bumbling fools, we can’t help it) to access transport system/tickets. Make sure there’s working machines and an open person to talk to, in case something goes awry, as late as the system runs (tourists arrive at all times of the day, usually way after your peak hour commuter has gone home). And always have a daily ticket available – it’s just common sense to be able to jump on an off transport and you’re making your way around town. If you don’t want to make it cheap, fine, be like that, but at least have one.

Extra loving touches

Late night food.
In my experience, Germany (and Austria to some extent) had their priorities well sorted. You can get food and beer at all times of the day at the major stations and airports (including supermarkets!). When tourists have just come off a long haul, or are about to jump on a train across 15 borders, most will want to grab food of some sorts. Be nice and give them a range from cheap, nasty, exlusive’ and healthy (a little from each is always nice).

Easy and affordable baggage storage.
There is nothing more of a drag than having to check out of your hotel/hostel./hovel at between 9 and 12, not leaving until 6 hours later and having no where to store your luggage. Having lockers is a really easy way to go about it, or if you want to really make things complicated, you can have a whole office connected to it (including Lost and Found – that always helps). It means that your tourists can continue to enjoy your beautiful cites, without having to get major back strain, or fuck off your citizens by running them over with those annoying suitcasewheelie things.

All of the above will certainly go some way to a happy tourist and we all know what happy tourists means: they spend more money and tell more people how great you are, which probably gets you either a myspace page/facebook group or re-elected, whatever takes your fancy.

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linz and ars electronica day 0,5

The theme of this year’s Ars Electronica is Goodbye Privacy and all the work/talks I’ve seen so far has been an excellent perspective on that idea.

Arriving at about 7pm, I wasn’t sure what the hell to do, to start with, but I figured that the information desk was a good place to start. information guy there was very helpful (and has been over the whole weekend), gave me a bit of an idea about what was happening and sent me on my way.

The first thing I checked out was a great video/audio walk (audioweg) through the old area of the Gusen I concentration camp. Unlike all the other Nazi concentration camps, this one has not been made into a memorial, but is a working village now – houses where the Blocks were, people living in the old SS quarters, and Private Property signs to prevent pilgrims. It was an amazing movie and cleverly highlighted the immense power of an area’s history never really lays down to die.

Next I grabbed some food, drink and managed to introduce myself to Raina at Wieden&Kennedy New York (by coincidence!). We ended up going to3rd Life at Second Krebs™ together – a fantastic party/experiential happening taking the experiences of Second Life™ and Web2.0 stuff and creating them in reality: 3rd Life. Second Life features as a subject/motif/starting point very heavily this year at Ars and while I’m not a fan of Second Life at all – in fact, it bores, frustrates, and leaves me cold- as an architecture itself of what is specific about community engagement/user generated content/web 2.0 stuff, interests me as an idea. The concept of it existing and people engaging with it is of immense interest to artists, architects and creative thinkers alike. Not to mention the advertisers and brands who use it to engage people to buy things. And it fun was doing all of those kinds of things in real life/time. Second Krebs was definitely all in good fun, with a bit of interesting critique thrown in and very easy to enjoy.

Raina and I bought a ‘cheap avatar’, had our profiles ‘changed’, had a look at the offline dating room, mailed some spam using the offline outbox, (a box, with a girl and horse delivering mail, after Raina left, I checked out the offline StreetFighter, complete with changeable backgrounds, choosable characters and players who had to shout out the commands “punch!, punch! special weapon! jump! run!”, etc. It was fucking brilliant!

I popped a question into the Google Oracle, but did it wrong and it came up with no results.

The small details were great too – there were ‘pop ups’ around the place:

and apple symbols everywhere:

Then I saw a poster on the wall that said that a great noise band from the states were playing that night at a club not too far. I decided to leg it and took my chances on a) being able to afford to get in with the money I had on me, b) that the band hadn’t already started. I was lucky – got to see most of the support ‘band’ and then The Locust. They’re bloody awesome, intense, not something I have in my record collection ‘cos I like something melodic at home, but so utterly fantastic to see live. I’m not sure whether it was intentional about the timing of their appearance for Ars, but for me it was perfect timing – the Locust all play disguised as Locusts (minus the wings), keeping their privacy – and their music is hugely distorted by all kinds of nutty frequencies. It’s amazing! Being so near the Czech border too, there were loads of crazy Czech doom core kids – it was great to see.

Getting home at 1am, after almost leaving at 8:30 – What a way to start the festival!

As usual, there are more pics on flickr

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