The morphing visual landscape of Dubai

A new book explores the reinvention of the city's art and architecture

Topics: Design, Imprint,

The morphing visual landscape of Dubai

brusselsprout

ImprintWhen, oh, when will someone invite me to Dubai? I’ve read about it, watched reports and talked to plenty of people who have spent time there. It’s a long flight from New York and unless someone was to send me, I’m not sure I’d ever choose just to go. Perhaps if I had a layover on my way to Australia I’d carve out a day or two, because the emirate fascinates me. My yearning to be the beneficiary of such a generous invitation has been renewed of late by Brusselssprout, a Dubai-based arts organization.

Even for someone who spends his days poring over books of all sorts, from time to time one lands on my desk and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Such was the case with Brusselssprout’s first book, “Dubai Graphic Encyclopedia.” The title is straightforward enough, as is the content – scores of alphabetically arranged monochromatic images commonly associated with Dubai. But with hardly any descriptive text and the simplicity of the illustrations, what is one to make of this book?

Seeing in Dubai the 18th century English aesthetic ideals of the beautiful, sublime and picturesque, the people behind Brusselssprout first started out with magazines (free to download here) that graphically reinvent the city of Dubai, citing the likes of Andy Warhol and Rem Koolhaas. In issue one, they dubbed Dubai “as the first genuine work of art in the 21st century” – hyperbolic to be sure. The past 12 years have indeed yielded beastly development there, though the real changes started in the late 1960s with the discovery of oil and the eventual forming of the United Arab Emirates in 1971. But there is no doubt that recent building projects in Dubai, beholden to global economic booms and busts, have, from an outsider’s point of view, morphed it into a locale that makes Las Vegas seem quaint.



the Burj al dubai

Leafing through this catalog of Dubai’s visual touchstones and tropes – from aircraft to camel, henna to skyline – becomes an exercise in pattern recognition, which is equal parts brusque and appropriate. Yes, there are the remnants of the region’s distant history seen in minarets and gutrah (traditional cotton head wraps worn by men) but the buildings, cars, traffic signs and Western logos of today’s Dubai dominate this visual landscape. This dominance of the contemporary does not diminish the past, it simply equalizes everything, which is disturbingly reassuring, and ultimately very telling.

burka

In the April 2008 issue of Print, I reviewed “With/Without,” a book published by the incomparable magazine Bidoun. This anthology dedicated to Dubai focused on how the emirate functions by virtue of a complicity that makes it impossible for the past and present to fuse, resulting in free zones where anything goes, regardless of religion, nationality, sexual preference or personal taste. Like that volume, the “Dubai Graphic Encyclopedia” provokes thought, though in this case with far less direction, which is the point, I think. What do I know? I’ve never been there. Someone invite me!

I’ll give Brusselssprout the final word on the book’s aim: “What the first edition Dubai graphic and visual encyclopedia presents is a reality that acts as a counterpoint to all the excess of attempts to decipher and understand Dubai.”

Copyright F+W Media Inc. 2012.

Salon is proud to feature content from Imprint, the fastest-growing design community on the web. Brought to you by Print magazine, America’s oldest and most trusted design voice, Imprint features some of the biggest names in the industry covering visual culture from every angle. Imprint advances and expands the design conversation, providing fresh daily content to the community (and now to salon.com!), sparking conversation, competition, criticism, and passion among its members.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>