Time of the Empress, which was recently shown at Abu Dhabi Art, represent cycles of history through a modernist architectural landscape that ebbs and flows

It draws your gaze, mesmerising you with its hypnotic rhythm. The seven-channel video installation lures you into a world where ghostly buildings are constructed and disintegrated in a never-ending cycle of pixels and fluid lines.

“Time of the Empress” was first showcased in the Beyond section of Abu Dhabi Art, whose eighth edition ran from November 16 to 19 and featured works by artists representing 20 countries as well as 40 galleries. Its creators are Aziz+Cucher — Anthony Aziz and Sammy Cucher — who have been collaborators since 1992, and who are represented by Gazelli Art House in London and Baku.

“My experience [at Abu Dhabi Art] was extremely pleasant and the whole process felt utterly professional and well supported. Certainly, given the chance, I would return,” said Aziz.

Now, art lovers in the capital can marvel at the large-scale installation, being showcased in “Gateway: (Re) Birth”. A thematic group exhibition curated by artistic director and long-term Abu Dhabi Art collaborator Fabrice Bousteau, it features works from emerging and established artists from around the region, and includes a uniquely woven carpet by Azerbaijani artist Faig Ahmed that elevates this traditional skill to a modern level; a silk, velvet and mild steel atlas by Lebanon-born Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum; a wall installation by Kader Attia, a French artist of Algerian descent, and kaleidoscopic images of Abu Dhabi and Dubai by UAE artist Zeinab Al Hashemi.

“Bousteau chose it because it fit into his theme of Re-birth and because it seems to capture something essential, or evocative, about the surrounding landscape in the Gulf region,” said Aziz.

“I would be happy to create a new piece for the fair in the future, if given the opportunity,” he added.

To viewers, “Time of the Empress” appears to be a simultaneous statement on the fragility of life and the ongoing conflicts across the world. The installation’s title can also be interpreted as a nod to the fragility of “empires”, regardless of which form they appear in and their presence in time — past, present or future.

It was created in 2012 by the Brooklyn-based artists as part of the artists’ “Some People” exhibition at the Indianapolis Museum of Art the same year, before being showcased at their 2014 solo show at Gazelli Art House.

“The inspiration [behind it] was to try to represent cycles of history by representing a modernist architectural landscape that ebbs and flows, rises and falls with the winds of time. It is open to interpretation so that it can be appropriate in almost any political [or] economic context. As events unfold globally, the piece takes on new meaning and relevance,” said Aziz.

It took the artists two years to create the video installation, which was inspired by their travels through the Middle East and the Balkans in 2009 to research the aftermath of war. During that period, they came across many buildings that were in various states of disrepair and decay that prompted them to think about human fragility. “Time of the Empress” also emerged as a response to the 2006 conflict between Hezbollah fighters and Israel, a conflict that had a personal impact on both artists — Aziz is a third-generation Lebanese-American with members of his extended family who still live in Lebanon and Cucher was raised in Venezuela in a Zionist family that moved to Israel.

“It was first conceived of when travelling through the former Yugoslavia and seeing quite a lot of buildings that were affected by the recent wars there. Then there was a sketching period, and a testing period, then a production period. We were quite pleased in the end. This is what it takes to make a project like this a reality,” Aziz said.

The artist observed a wide range of reactions to “Time of the Empress” during the art fair’s three-day run.

“Visitors to Abu Dhabi Art had many different reactions, including ones similar to what we intended ... some saw the imagery in a more personal [or] emotional way; some in a more politically charged way, and some in a very optimistic way since the idea of Re-Birth is by definition positive,” he said. “I would be happy to [showcase it elsewhere in the region] but have not yet been invited ... I think it speaks to the current conditions in the Middle East and I think it captures a sense of historical time which of course is profoundly present in the region.”

Aziz+Cucher have worked in a variety of media, including digital imaging, sculpture, animation and video-installation. They were considered pioneers of digital manipulation in fine art photography in the 1990s and their work features in prominent collections worldwide, including San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art and the Fonds National d’Art Contemporain in Paris. The artists also represented Venezuela in the 1995 Venice Biennale.

Currently the artists are working on a new project that will be showcased at the MILL6 Foundation in Hong Kong during Art Basel Hong Kong in March.

“Our new project is not a video project. Rather, we are making a series of large tapestries woven on a digital loom in Belgium [and] will be showing four of these tapestries at Art Basel Hong Kong,” Aziz said.

The first of this series, entitled “Some People” Tapestry (Magnolia Editions), was showcased in 2014. A 2x3-metre digital jacquard tapestry, it depicted more than 30 entwined figures that represent human emotions and gestures within a landscape that has been devastated by either misguided war or ongoing tribal and nationalistic conflict.

Would the artists consider returning to the region? “Absolutely, I would be happy to return for a project in the future. I think there is a lot of exciting energy in the Gulf right now and there is a growing audience and appreciation for cutting edge contemporary art projects,” Aziz said.

Nathalie Farah is a writer based in Abu Dhabi.

“Gateway: (Re) Birth” will run at Manarat Al Saadiyat until January 21. For more information, visit www.saadiyatculturaldistrict.ae or call 02 657 5800.