©Marta Michalowska. Sharjah, April 2019.


Artist Shona Illingworth completed a two-week research and production residency hosted by Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) in April 2019 as part of her ongoing installation project, Topologies of Air, commissioned by London’s The Wapping Project. During the residency, Illingworth explored how people in the Arabian Gulf region understand their relationship to the sky, considering complex intersections between its past, present and future through meetings with experts, workshops with children, and filming in Sharjah’s desert, industrial and urban landscapes.

Illingworth began her residency at Sharjah Art Foundation with discussions on the UAE’s post-oil strategy and future space exploration at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre. She also conducted interviews with scientists and astrophysicists at the Sharjah Center for Astronomy & Space Sciences, met the team at the Sharjah Heritage Institute and reviewed archival materials. After her research with the specialists, the artist spoke to a diverse range of people living and working in the UAE about how they view their relationship to the sky. Alongside the residency, Sharjah Art Foundation hosted the workshop ‘Imaging Sky’, during which fourteen children shared their perspectives on the sky and how they imagine its future through drawing, conversations and filmmaking.

Illingworth also took part in Sharjah Art Foundation’s two-day conference titled ‘Outreach and Engagement: Broadening Access to Arts and Culture’, which focused on community outreach and audience building. She was one of the speakers in the panel discussion ‘The Role of Public Programming in Audience Engagement’. This panel explored the role of public programming in building and sustaining audiences.

On 11 October 2019, Illingworth will return to Sharjah for ‘Sky Forum’, a public discussion hosted by Sharjah Art Foundation that will bring together experts across history, culture, astronomy and space science to consider the past, present and future relationship of the people of the Arabian Gulf region to the sky as well as wider transformations of the composition, nature and use of airspace and outer space. ‘Sky Forum’ will invite participants to consider the sky above our heads, not as a void, but as a multi-layered, complex cultural and legal space, both shared and personal, with a long history and rapidly changing future. ‘Sky Forum’ will contribute significantly to Illingworth’s ongoing project, Topologies of Air.

‘Sky Forum’ will be followed by a conversation with Illingworth and a screening of selected extracts of her work. During this event, the artist will reflect on her residency with Sharjah Art Foundation in the context of the production of her installation Topologies of Air and her wider practice. Together with Marta Michalowska, Director of The Wapping Project, with whom she has been working on her latest piece for over two years, Illingworth will look at her interest in the sky and what underlines her drive to understand the historical, cultural, philosophical, political, legal and scientific concepts of this space undergoing radical transformation in the face of technological and climatic change. The discussion will be illustrated with a special preview of work in progress and extracts from Illingworth’s earlier works, including Lesions in the Landscape (2015).

To learn more about ‘Sky Forum’ and register your attendance, click here.

Topologies of Air was commissioned by The Wapping Project, London. Shona Illingworth’s residency in Sharjah was organised and supported by Sharjah Art Foundation. Illingworth is Reader in Fine Art at the University of Kent, and Topologies of Air forms part of her research practice. The residency and the accompanying public programmes were generously supported by the British Council, DCMS and GREAT through the UK-Gulf Culture and Sport Programme.

About Topologies of Air

Topologies of Air is an immersive multi-screen sound and video installation examining the impact of accelerating geopolitical, technological and environmental change on the composition, nature and use of airspace. The piece questions the narrow terms by which airspace is currently represented and defined. The work invites the audience to look up and consider the air above their heads, not as a void or free space, but as a multi-layered, complex cultural and legal space, both shared and personal, with a long history and rapidly changing future. This sensory and captivating work weaves together extensive conversations with scientists, researchers, lawyers, philosophers, economists, astronomers and archaeologists and evocative imagery shot in places such as Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, Canada’s Northwest Territories, Greenland, Australia and the Arabian Gulf, among others. Also included is archival footage that looks at airspace from a multitude of perspectives.

About The Wapping Project

The Wapping Project is a London-based arts organisation that commissions and produces major new artworks for national and international exhibitions. It supports the production of new works with its own funding, fundraising, project production and management and builds partnerships with national and international organisations.

About Shona Illingworth

Shona Illingworth works across a range of media, including video, sound, photography and drawing. She is known for her immersive video and multi-channel sound installations and evocative research-led practice, in which she explores the dynamic processes of memory. Her work has been exhibited internationally, with shows at the Museum of Modern Art, Bologna; FACT, Liverpool; UNSW Galleries, Sydney and the Wellcome Collection, London. She has received high profile commissions from Film and Video Umbrella, the Hayward Gallery, London and Channel 4 Television. Her piece 216 Westbound, recently exhibited at the Imperial War Museum, London, was purchased by the Contemporary Art Society for the Imperial War Museum’s permanent collection. Illingworth was shortlisted for the prestigious Jarman Award in 2016.