“Departure’ is an exhibition currently at Warehouse421 from 4th May - 4th September 2016. On May 5th, the Spanish sculptor, Xavier Mascaro came to discuss his work and show us round the gallery. Mascaro builds boats. Outside the gallery sits an 18 metre iron ship which radiates heat from a day in the desert sun. Part of the experience is the reaction to the elements, as the weathering changes the work. Mascaro says ‘I love how metal ages, how time leaves an imprint on it, recording races of blows and oxidation’.
Inside the gallery, there is a fleet of 26 individual but similar ships, on a smaller scale. The theme is one of mobility and departure. They are made in sections, so there is almost as much absence as there is material. This fragmentation encourages the audience to complete the sculpture with their imagination. It isn’t clear whether the boats are discarded wrecks or in the process of being built. Xavier explained that the boats are also intended as a source of hope, and of a journey about to begin. This is partly implied by the use of sailcloth on each one, as it is a temporary evidence of life and the cover is symbolic of protection. However, in practicality the cover is not sufficient to protect and the material is useless as a sail, so that again presents a contradiction…and of course the boats can’t float. The boats, seen together as a fleet also ask the viewer to consider migration or exodus, and invites the construction of a personal narrative. Alongside the sculptures, Xavier has presented a documentation of his process. He is inspired very much by ancient shipbuilding - Phoenician, Egyptian and Chinese but also by Greek mythology, and feels a strong connection to the historical craft. He uses industrial foundries to cast the pieces because this connection to shipbuilding and craftsmanship is very important to him. He actively encourages ‘accidents’ in the process and some of these accidents can be clearly seen in the sculptures. For example, when casting the 18 metre ship, the molten iron exploded out of the cast and sent a plume of hot metal, which became an unexpected but beautiful, violent addition to the work. Xavier has also included preparatory sketches and photographs which show him working out structure and form. They are very much working drawings and have a practical end and so give a real insight into his process. There are plenty of mathematical notes too, although he jokingly said that they may not all be accurate maths! It’s an expensive mistake to buy the wrong amount of iron.
Gallery421 is situated in Mina Port and is housed in two warehouses which overlook the fishing harbour. Across the road lie rows of abandoned Dhows. Huge boats, lying on their sides with their prows pointing to the sky. They are also weathered and broken and bear comparison to Mascaros fleet next door. If you didn’t know, then you would assume ‘Departure' was made specifically for this location.
Abu Dhabi has a two thousand year old history of pearl fishing and relied on the sea for the livelihood of it’s people. The fishing season was traditionally in the four months of summer, and when the men were away, families would often move to the coast on camels with their belongings. Poems were sometimes sent from the men, to their wives during this time. Part of the exhibition illustrates this connection, with a collection of Emirati poems which reflect the endurance and difficulties the fishermen and their families faced. Some are new and others historical but they all describe absence, loss and hope.