Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, an artist will curate five videos about hospitality. We begin this series with Adham Faramawy's selection, considering science fictional luxury and hypercapitalist imagery from hotel adverts in Dubai.
Burj Khalifa, Dubai
In response to the Liverpool Biennial’s theme of ‘Hospitality’, I decided to take a look at an aspect of the hospitality of a city that has become important to me, Dubai.
Dubai is one of the emirates of The United Arab Emirates. It is both a city and a corporation where the government has set up industry specific free zones exempting companies from the usual tax laws. As a city, Dubai exemplifies neoliberal business and culture. Watching the development of this emirate has been like watching a myth in process.
I’m Egyptian, based in London, born in Dubai just before the economic boom. My mother and sister both live in Dubai and work in the Media City free zone. Some of their work as journalists involves attending product launches and receiving corporate hospitality in the hope that they will cover new products, spas and beauty treatments. For me this has meant looking at a lot of Facebook pictures taken in hotels and the occasional chance to tag along for an interview with a businesswoman or the first lady of Malaysia at Atlantis on The Palm.
Some of the videos I’ve selected were produced by the Jumeirah Group to advertise their facilities. All the videos employ utopic science fictional visual language to display spectacular ‘luxury’ experiences.
In these videos, the hotel experience is constructed in terms of the superhuman. With the laissez-faire attitude of Randian capitalism, the idealism of an athletic body post-Riefenstahl is sublimated, defining the very character of the building it inhabits. The architectures in these short narratives are set up, as with every successful advert, to create a (potentially phallic) lack in the prospective consumer. As such the neoliberal luxury experience of the spa is offered as the filler to satisfy that lack, a near spiritual solution to the stresses and speed of corporate business.
It is here that I would like to point out the similarities between the video adverts for the Talise Ottoman spa in the Zaabeel Saray hotel and videos of the Damanhurian Temples of Humankind, located inside a mountain north of Turin, Italy. Both spaces appear to refer to an arabesque style in their backlit stain glass windows, which alongside their skyscape frescos act as a nexus between Islam, ancient Rome, and new age spiritual systems.
As much as these spaces and the videos advertising them draw on a nascent spiritualism to attract consumers, they also use images of the active body and celebrity.
In 2008 Andre Agassi and Roger Federer played tennis on a specially turfed court on the helipad at Burj Al Arab. In an exciting and peculiar display of integrated spectacle, the content produced is part advert, part celebrity reality-curio fashioned for television. The pair ascends the building in a glass elevator, invoking the childlike awe of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, as they discuss the impressive scale of the hotel to a soundtrack of The Never Ending Story, appealing to childhood fantasy narratives more directly...