The theme of the Diriyah Biennale’s first edition – Saudi Arabia's first contemporary art biennale – is ‘feeling the stones’. It is inspired by the idea of ‘crossing the river by feeling the stones’, a slogan that emerged during the 1980s as a metaphor for action at a time of social and economic transformation.
The Biennale will take place in a 20,000 square metre area, located in the recently developed creative district of JAX in Diriyah. The exhibition will unfold in six sections examining themes that include memory and preservation; cultural transmission; social engagement; the Anthropocene (the time during which humans have had a substantial impact on our planet) and the spiritual. It aims to create new connections between Saudi Arabia and the international art world, bringing new trends in global contemporary art to Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning cultural scene, with nearly 70 artists exhibiting.
In his installation at the Biennale, Wolfgang Laib contrasts the scale of 8000 small, conic rice mounds and miniature granite houses with a monumental ziggurat, a Mesopotamian religious step pyramid. On the role of scale in his work, Laib notes: ‘It’s necessary to have both the fragility and the sense of size where small can be bigger than big.’ Although the rice mounds are comparatively small, they compel the viewer to bend down in observation, a manipulation of the body achieved purely through aesthetic means. Visitors look down on the mounds and the low, long houses as if from atop the ziggurat’s staircase, surveying from the bridge between heaven and earth. Although Laib has created ziggurat sculptures for over two decades, this is the first time he has shown such pieces in the Middle East, where the form originated. Laib’s mounds of varying heights recall the rise and fall of these structures over time, inviting viewers to consider how even the humblest materials can take on new forms.