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Desert X AlUla 2024 has closed. This installation is no longer on view.

Aseel AlYaquob

Weird Life: An ode to desert varnish


“In the expansive canvas of the desert, intricate streams etch stories on boulders, forming a resilient tapestry of colorful patterns. Often dismissed as mere lichen or erosion, these subtle striations, known as ‘desert varnish’ grace landscapes like AlUla’s, forming a luminous veneer of hues that range from yellow and orange to profound red and black. Scientists, grappling with this mystery for two centuries, explore the notion of ‘shadow biosphere,’ suggesting unconventional life forms. Amid evolving debates, the concept of ‘weird’ life emerges, signaling the need for undiscovered tools to unveil these mysteries – tools yet to be realized.”
Weird Life: An Ode to Desert Varnish is a site-specific sculpture that AlYaqoub derived from the distinct outlines that characterize various rock formations across the landscape, such as Jabal AlFil, Gharameel, and the Dancing Rock. The work encapsulates an ancient fleeting instance unseen by human observation – a cascade of desert varnish descending upon a mountain or rock, forever set in limbo. Excising the rock thus amplifies the phenomenon, creating an internal void as a space for contemplation. Guided by material research and development, “the sculpture aspires to replicate the augmented physical attributes of the varnish, as discerned from found scientifically derived imagery.”
AlYaqoub draws attention to the similarities in the rock formations found on the Moon, Mars, and Earth, encouraging reflection of terrestrial mysteries rather than the prevalent human drive to colonize the extraterrestrial unknown. This imperative delves into the complexities of our immediate surroundings, enriching our understanding of the mysteries inherent in our familiar world and, in turn, fostering a more nuanced comprehension of the cosmic realms that extend beyond.