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

Caline Aoun

The Desert Has No Surface


In Caline Aoun’s installation, many stones from the basalt plateau of Harrat al-Sham are polished on one side. While the polishing serves as an act of care and protection for the stones, the result of the process visually amplifies what naturally occurs on their surfaces: sun reflections, wetness, and dryness. The installation is activated through a shimmering effect seen at different times of the day, which appears when the perfectly arranged constellation of the position of the sun, the posture and the movements of the viewer, and the angle of the stone is achieved. Therefore, the spectator is privileged as an embodied participant and the work only appears within this participatory exchange. The whole meaning coincides exactly with what the viewer experiences of the “actions” of the stone beyond the interface between its solid substance and the gaseous medium around it – the air.

While one can touch and understand the properties of the stone, the surface of materiality is intangible, as it stems from a dynamic flux in which materials of the most diverse types undergo constant transformation. The moment the observer witnesses the refraction of light, the physical limits and the surface of the stone vanish. The stone, the light, the air, and the viewer merge into a singular material entity, but these singular moments can disappear if conditions are not ideal – lacking the sun, for example. As such, Aoun’s installation also disappears and blends back with the natural elements, symbolizing the hidden generative dynamics of the desert landscape, and inviting us to delve into the interplay between permanence and impermanence, and our transient existence amid Earth’s enduring transformative forces.