Jumping into the digital world with a multi-disciplinary exhibition at Abu Dhabi Art

Omar Kholeif's My Life in the Metaverse delves into the history and influence of art in cyberspace

Omar Kholeif will use sculpture, painting, video and NFTs to explore the digital world. Photo: Blake Gallacher
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Author and cultural historian Omar Kholeif will be curating My Life in the Metaverse at Abu Dhabi Art.

Kholeif, who was previously a guest curator for Abu Dhabi Art’s gallery section, is returning to the fair with the Gateway exhibition, an expansive showcase exploring the history and aesthetics of digital culture.

“My attention is and always has been on storytelling and its creative potential — indeed, its possible for the collective imagination,” Kholeif tells The National.

“I have used the context of the increased fascination in this specific field of art and technology as a jumping-off point to build a historical exhibition that seeks to create a context for the emergence of these creative practices.”

My Life in the Metaverse will be a multi-disciplinary exhibition using sculpture, painting, photography, video and NFTs as well as a journey through a simulation, guided by Kholeif’s alter ego Dr O.

Earlier this year, Kholeif launched the artPost21 podcast as Dr O, which takes listeners into today’s complex world of art and culture.

“Within minutes of being in the studio and behind the mic, I found myself speaking an Octave lower than usual, adopting a different voice and personae — I was now Dr O,” Kholeif says.

“I have since then, used Dr O as an avatar to tell the kinds of playful, semi-fictional stories that I feel that I, in my professional capacities, am not always able to do. One of those adventures is the exhibition My Life in the Metaverse.”

Visitors to the exhibition will enter into the world of Dr O, a figure living in their computer, while curating the world from their desktop and reflecting on the nature of technologies within art as well as how it continues to evolve.

The show features a comprehensive chronology of work including that of influential artist Nam June Paik and his 1973 performance, Global Groove. A version of the work was also turned into an NFT. Andy Warhol’s infamous Polaroids, which were influential in how culture explores and views the idea of the self, will be on show along with Trevor Paglen’s grand sculpture, The Standard Head.

Visitors will also see the rise and fall of Web 2.0 and what is likely to be its successor Web3, which incorporates concepts such as blockchain technologies, token-based economics and decentralisation.

'Cloud #135 Hough Lines' by Trevor Paglen (2019). Photo: Trevor Paglen / Pace Gallery

My Life in the Metaverse adopts a playful approach to explore, examine and critique the different possibilities of the field,” Kholeif says.

“The audience is invited to make their own inferences, and also have the tools and resources to go beyond the realm of the exhibition to keep on asking questions.”

The exhibition begins and ends with a concept store entitled Dr O’s Pop Shop: The Blockchain Edition in collaboration with the Emirati brand Kran. Inspired by celebrated artist Keith Haring’s Pop Shop of the 1980s, Kholeif’s concept store will invoke an immersive retail experience for today’s world.

“Here, audiences can immerse themselves in artist-designed merchandise, including newly commissioned works, but they cannot buy it,” Kholeif says.

“Rather, they’d need to look up the smart contract and investigate the terms — they can choose to hire or lease the Pop Shop, or any other number of things, just as they would any other number of conceptual artworks.”

Kholeif’s upcoming book Internet_Art: From the Birth of the Web to the Rise of NFTs is due to be published by Phaidon Press early next year.

My Life in the Metaverse, was partially curated from Kholeif’s research for the book, which plots the history of art making within the world wide web showcasing work spanning a range of media from influential artists and innovators alongside Kholeif’s own career as an artist over the last two decades.

“The reason these artists are here is because they are all making history,” Kholeif adds. “I can’t wait to invite you all to join us on this journey.”

My Life in the Metaverse will be part of Abu Dhabi Art’s artistic programme and is on display at Manarat Al Saadiyat from next Wednesday to January 22.

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Updated: November 09, 2022, 2:36 PM
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