Following a long tradition of creative commissions and support of the arts, Art Dubai and Absolut have selected artist Yazan Khalili to deliver a large-scale bar installation at Art Dubai 2015. The Art Bar installation, entitled 'The Island' will be themed around the concept of past futures, questioning his ideas of reality, of belonging and of the theatrical nature of life itself. Art Bar by Absolut is Art Dubai's social hub, attracting fair visitors, artists, gallerists and collectors who want to network and enjoy themselves after-hours in a truly unique, cosmopolitan, nightlife destination. 

Khalili who lives and works in and out of Palestine, was one of the founding members of Zan Design Studio and a finalist in the A.M. Qattan Foundation's Young Artists Award, as well as an artist-in-residence at Delfina Foundation in London and The Danish Film School. He was also the production coordinator for Sharjah Biennials 9 & 10. 

How old where you when you realised you had a knack for photography? 

I first realised that I had ability as a photographer when my digital camera was stolen in 2005. Up to then I enjoyed taking photographs, but it was only when I searched for a replacement that I discovered a 35mm Nikon camera and the art of using film. This required me to adopt a totally different approach to the photography. 

I totally fell in love with the concept that you would not see your photo immediately and the quality of the image itself, and this led me to adopting an artistic approach to taking photos.  I've had barely any training so for me photography is all about taking photos of things that I think are interesting.

What has been one of your favourite projects to date?

The project that I have always enjoyed working on is called Landscape Gardeners. I've worked on it for three years now – taking photos at night around the West Bank. It's a very personal and powerful collection of works.

This is a nod to Dubai's urban makeup where height [of the buildings] has come to symbolize reaching towards the future.

Can you give of us any special clues as to what you will be creating for Art Dubai this year?

When looking at the Art Bar from Art Dubai at Madinat Jumeirah, all visitors will be able to see is a high mountain in the middle of the island. The height of the mountain creates intrigue, drawing people towards the island. This is a nod to Dubai's urban makeup where height [of the buildings] has come to symbolize reaching towards the future.

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What are your thoughts on Art Dubai and is there anyone in particular you're looking forward to see? 

Over the last few years its profile has increased enormously not only in the region but internationally too. I'm really looking forward to being a part of it and seeing what it has to offer.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far? 

It was when I was once asked to teach. It made me very proud that I was considered to have something worthwhile to pass on to others.

What is some of the best advice you have ever been given? 

Never trust taxi drivers!

Art Dubai interview

Can you give us some of your thoughts on the Middle East's flourishing creative scene?

It's being affected by a very extreme political situation that is pushing artists and art production to be reactive to a situation that is very dangerous and worrying. Important and amazing works are being produced, but the source of this creativity for me is one of sadness.

If you could collaborate with any other artist/designer in the world who would it be? 

I collaborate a lot with Lara Khaldi. She's my partner and we have worked together on projects since 2007. It's an experience that I always enjoy and find rewarding.

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How did you come up with the theme of your Art Bar installation – what was your inspiration?

I began by questioning the notion of islands as a space of survival from endless seas – a refuge from the everydayness of life as well as spaces for isolation and loneliness; landscapes detached from reality. Having previously lived in the UAE I was also very interesting in exploring themes of past futures and the city's fixation on modernity. 

How did you develop the programming for the Art Bar Installation? 

One of the key concepts that I have been exploring is "The Act" and looking at how people behave on the island. As such the programming of the space is key. We will be working with lots of performers and sound artists to engage and interact with our audience. We are particularly interested in working with local bands and performers from across the emirates. I really feel that these bands represent an authentic side of Dubai that is great to explore and will reproduce the energy and vibrancy that's apparent here.

Can you tell me more about the people you have collaborated with for this project?

I have been collaborating creatively on this project with another artist, Arnar Asgeirsson. He has been a huge part of the conceptualisation and design of the Art Bar. Art Dubai and Absolut have also been fully supporting the process. Building the collaboration has been both a challenge and really interesting at the same time. Building a project that is well communicated and developed takes a seriousness of approach but once we found our focus/theme, that project developed from seriousness to pure fun.

Art Dubai interview

What attracts you to this type of commission? Is the end product the result of collaboration with the projects different partners? How have you experienced this process? 

I was glad to be given free rein to develop an entirely new concept for the Art Bar. Collaborating with Art Dubai and Absolut has been a challenging but positive experience.

Describe your approach and methodology, the techniques and equipment that you use, and your sources of inspiration. What is the most important consideration?

We have tried to take an innovative approach to our conceptualistion of the Art Bar. We have looked at the Dubai landscape, both physically and from a perspective of its mentality.  We have tried to capture the essence that moment when the future is created and then take a look back at that moment, at a future date, so we are presented with a past interpretation of what we thought the future would behold. It this instant we have visualised a "past future" – nd this is the central theme of The Island Art Bar.

What are the greatest challenges you face in your work?

Dubai embodies the concept of idea generation so developing new concepts that haven't been explored before is always a challenge. Presenting the connection between what's artificial and what's real in Dubai plays into this whole idea of perceived realities, constructed past and futures.  Working with a big team at Art Dubai and Absolut means that lots of ideas are being generated and which require consideration.

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Art Dubai takes place at Madinat Jumeirah from March 18 – 21, 2015