All across the floor of the Traffic gallery in Dubai are strips of LEDs, forming lines and squares and rectangles. Seen up close, they look like a maze, but stepping back reveals the floorplan of a large house, in fact a scaled-down replica of the floorplan of the Pakistani mansion in which Osama bin Laden spent his final years.
This work by James Clar is part of The State: Social / Antisocial?, an exhibition curated by the Emirati artist Rami Farook and running across two Dubai galleries, Traffic and The Third Line, both in the Al Quoz area.
This exhibition is the third in a series, following 2010's exhibition The State at Traffic and The State: Uppers & Downers, earlier this year. The current exhibition continues the themes of the earlier exhibitions, discussing the state of the world through, as the gallery puts it, "artistic representations depicting social behaviour, ecology and psychology".
The State, of course, has a double meaning - the current situation and the nation State. The state we are metaphorically in and the state we are literally in.
"There's more than one interpretation of 'state' and having the exhibition in two spaces reflects that," says Tarane Ali Khan, of the Third Line gallery. "It allows for a broader perspective, two opportunities for people to see how the different works utilise the different spaces to best reflect the dual meanings."
Both of these ideas pervade many of the works.
At the Third Line, in a work by the artistic collective Slavs and Tartars, a mosaic of shapes make up a mirror inlaid with the words "Resist Resisting God". Through the viewer's reflection, the words become visible. It is a statement on the state of the world and the importance of religion, especially in this region.
Yet at the same time, the viewer is not alone in being spoken to, even though their image appears in the mirror: the exhortation to submit to God is not made to the viewer alone, it is made to anyone who looks. This is a central question of some modern nation states. There are states in the world today that promote that idea of submission to God as a central part of their nation's ideology. In these cases, as in the work, it is not individuals alone who are being asked to submit to God. The state intercedes in this idea of a personal God, taking on the role of exhorting people to believe and in leading the believers.
What the work seems to be asking is how far such exhortations can be made by a State. In this conception of religion, it is not only a flawless deity who asks individuals to believe - it is, rather, a State, with all its flaws and complexities, that asks people to believe. But can a flawed system make such a request?
This question of authority is expanded in a work by Rami Farook at the Third Line, featuring a riot shield inscribed with the words "God Save the King". There are many layers to this work that bear on the central dichotomy of the state/the State.
One can read it firstly as a straight political point, made with reference to the recent riots in the UK, where the law enforcement arm of the State was used to quell protests against the current state of the economy, the state of the politics, the state of the world.
But Farook, I think, wants to make a broader point about authority, hence why the old formulation "God save the King" is used, as opposed to the more accurate "God save the Queen". In this broader point, there is the question of the role of force - particularly the force of the State - in maintaining the status quo, the current state of being. This is particularly relevant these days, when protesters are challenging the status quo, from Yemen, to Syria, to the United States, and being met by the force of the State. "God Save the King" can be read as an ironic take on America's police force arresting those protesting at what Wall Street has done to them, or on those Arab leaders of republics who have used the power of the security apparatus to pass - or attempt to pass - power to their sons, hereditary republics in all but name. In many of the works at Traffic and The Third Line galleries, the State appears as something vast and impersonal. Over at Traffic, this is particularly true. Unsurprisingly, the United States appears or is referenced in many of the works, given its impressive ability to project power beyond its borders.