The Tower of Gratuitous Oblations

Start Date: March ,1 2011
End Date: March ,1 2011
Location: Dubai
Architect: Maxime Hourani

Artist: Lana Daher and Writer: Houssam Abdel Khalek

From Beirut to Dubai at an intervention

Performed by: Alexandre Paulikevitch

The Tower of Gratuitous Oblations is an artistic intervention by The Office of Public Affairs.middle east specifically developed as a touring project for different Arab cities. Resorting to architecture, performance, and visual arts, The Tower of Gratuitous Oblations raises questions around the current urban, social, and artistic transformations shaping Arab cities.

Inspired by the tradition of the peep show, a performer carrying a peep box on his back and improvising theatrical sets in the city, The Tower of Gratuitous Oblations is a narrative experiement recounting the current  changes of cities in the region.

A performer transporting an architectural model on his back wanders through Dubai's and Sharjah's streets, stopping at different public art venues to place the model in an exhibition context for a short layover. The model is then taken back into the city. In between the urban trail, an actor narrates urban stories accompanied by visuals. Roving in and out of the gallery space, from the world to the urban space, The Tower of Gratuitous Oblations wants to engage in a crossed dialogue between the city, the art world, and the public.

The script reflects fragments of the relationship of three individuals representing three different social groups with Dubai, the city where they work and live. Shadowed by the symbolism of the tower, the characters develop a performative channel of communication with the urban space in relation to their personal experience.

The visual display shows an anti-narrative composition of found media reproduced to form an anonymous representation of the rising city. It functions as a peep box exhibiting still and moving images through digital frames and the printed matter surrounding them. Occasionally, puppet characters connect with this setting through the viewer's interaction. The narrative is regularly subverted as the order of viewing of each level is not defined, but constantly recreating itself.

A performer, in an orange suit as worn by migrant workers, is walking in public space. He is carrying on his back a sculptural model that takes the form of a tower. The elements of symbolic value appear to the public in the sites of ordinary living. The presence of the performer announces a local absurdity.

The performer draws attention to his act while he walks next to passers-by. He casually infiltrates the spaces of encounter. The performer stops, rests his back weight on the floor, and sits next to the tower as a living sculpture. He starts his impersonation of the role of the migrant worker. He lies down on the floor to express the body gestures that were inspired by his experiences with the migrant workers in their places of work, rest, and living. Here, the public engages with his silent presence as they approach to investigate the sculpture and gaze inside the tower.

The performance goes on to enact and stage an anthropomorphic re-creation of the city. This visual and physical connotation sets the scene to transit from the character of the migrant worker to the character of the expat that inhabits the city and views it from another optimistic and gratifying perspective.

The suit, now lying next to the tower, is left on the floor to express the emptiness of the moment, the absence of the migrant worker in the rise of the city. The tower is left in the space as an exhibition container than presents a video interpretation of Dubai expressed in the form of an advertisement and invoking a sense of generic belonging that can only be idiosyncratic to the state of Dubai.

The public is drawn again to the scultpure after the performer leaves his stage. The visual artist used video as a medium to represent her interpretation. She occasionally introduced 3-dimensional symbolic objects to the digital display. The performer reappears again when it is time to remove the tower and continue his path.

The performance will be presented at the following venues and dates:

March 14, 2011

Dubai International Financial Center

March 16, 2011

Sharjah Biennial

Multaqa Al Qasba - Maraya Art Center

15:30@ The Shelter

17:00@ Contemporary Art Gallery

March 17, 2011

Dubai Art Fair

Al Quoz

11:30@The Jam jar gallery

13:30@The Third line gallery

Madinat Jumeirah

17:30@ Exhibitor Hall B

19:00@Exhibitor Hall A

March 18, 2011

Sikka Art Fair


11:30@Bastakiya Heritage Area

13:00@Bait Al Wakeel

The Tower of Gratuitous Oblations is co-produced by:

The Young Arab Theater Fund, Hakaya, and the European Union, with the Office of Public Affairs.middle east, and including special assistance from Art Dubai and The JamJar.

The patron of this event is Mrs. Yola Noujaim

This event could not be possible without the support of Lara Abu Saifan, Marwa Arsanios, Mirene Arsanios, Rachael Brown, Antonia Carver, Cynthia Choucair, Mayssa Fattouh, Laila Demashqieh, Serene Huleilleh, Bashir Melhem, Tima Ouzden and Christine Tohme.

Special Thanks to Yasmeen Daher and Nadime Safieddine for their video editing skills.


Houssam Abdel Khalek is a writer, creative contributor and cultural activist. In addition to his creative practice, and following his Master's in culture, creativity and entrepreneurship, Houssam is an independent researcher in the fields of cultural policies, cultural and creative industries and the dynamics of their integration in local economy.

Lana Daher is a visual and graphic artist, living and working in Beirut. In parallel to her print portfolio, she has been exploring visual and aural media specifically in the form of sound fragments, video works and live analog image processing.

Maxime Hourani is an art practitioner, architect, and urbanist who resides in Beirut. After being involved in projects that deal with preservation and memory of the war, he initiated The Office of Public Affairs.middle east, an emerging Lebanese initiative that is working on promoting public issues in the Arab region through contemporary art practices.

Alexandre Paulikevitch was born in 1982 in Beirut, Lebanon. In 2000, he moved to Paris to pursue his interest in dance. He graduated from the University of Paris VIII with a degree in Theatre and Dance. He has been living in Beirut since 2006, creating spaces of reflection on so-called "Oriental Dance" through his work as a teacher and performer.

The office of Public Affairs.middle east is an organization working to raise public awareness of political, environmental, and social issues through artistic processes. Our projects work by engaging the public socially with artistic interventions in the city, by introducing new forms of expression and creating new meeting points.



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