More than just art
April 21 2014 11:06 PM

A HUMOROUS REFLECTION: Playing with Tajfel, by Diane Derr.  Photo by Umer Nangiana

The Strange Wonders exhibition brings together an eclectic group of artists who are aiming for more than mere beauty in their works, writes Umer Nangiana

A piece of art done well is all you need sometimes to change a society’s perceptions towards certain fallacies or habits that it has clung on to for centuries. A true artist captures the essence of the problem and puts her message across in a manner that pinches, but not hurt.

It provokes critical appreciation. One such exhibition of artworks is going on right here in Doha. The Strange Wonders Exhibition 2014, presented by Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCUQatar) in collaboration with Msheireb Properties, opened on April 14 and is scheduled to run until May 6 at the Msheireb Enrichment Centre moored off the Doha Corniche.

Each year VCUQatar hosts an exhibition that showcases new art and design created by current university faculty and staff.

This year’s exhibition has on display some stupefying ideas executed with artistic simplicity. They would appeal, attract and impress besides making you think critically about the subject they are rooted in.

Kaltham is perhaps the most brilliant of all the ideas on display. Work of Simone Muscolino, a participating VCUQatar faculty member, Kaltham portrays a conservative “arabot” which does not like to be photographed in public. The project reflects the local concerns about personal visual representations in the context of a rapid change in social behaviours, triggered by the proliferation of mobile photo-cameras and social media, which promote image sharing.

The arabot, holding a fancy purse and wearing fashionable shades, shakes violently in reaction to camera flashes. The interactive design works on simple electronics. It is a programmed circuit on a board with inputs, outputs and sensors.

“When the amount of light reaches a certain threshold on the sensors, it triggers the reaction. There are three server motors that follow certain rules. Every time the amount of light goes up and reaches a threshold, different sets of movement are triggered,” Muscolino, the artist, told Community.

A mirco-controller which is a simple computer allows designers to programme simple projects. It makes possible to use simple technology to reflect some behaviours, he added.

“I teach photography and video-making to local students and 95 percent of them are girls. When I arrived here I was advised to be sensitive with taking pictures of women or sharing them. I am a photographer too and I remember when I arrived here I was very concerned every time I had to take a picture around,” said the artist.

“I was trying to be as sensitive as I could, but then staying here years after years, I have seen the fusion of social media — Facebook, Instagram etc. I know my students like this kind of media a lot and they have this kind of personal conflict between wanting to take part in the activity of photographic social media sharing,” Muscolino added about his idea of the arabot.

This year sees the first collaboration of VCUQatar with Msheireb Properties, with the exhibition being installed in the Msheireb Enrichment Centre, an educational portal showcasing Qatar’s past and its ambitious plans for the future.

The title of the show, Strange Wonders, is based on a direct quotation from one of the Qatar oil pioneers, Thamir Muftah, who spent his youth at sea with the pearl-fishing fleet before beginning work in Qatar’s oil industry in 1946, said a statement by VCUQatar. Describing the host of new experiences that he and his fellow oil workers encountered at that time, Muftah recalled that “we were seeing so many things of the like of which we had never even imagined. Colored tins, pineapples, pears, oranges, all kinds of strange wonders.”

By looking to Qatar’s past to stimulate innovative new art and design, the exhibition aims to provide the opportunity for artists and viewers alike to consider and explore their own personal, contemporary and even tangential strange wonders.

Participating faculty and staff include: Law Alsobrook, Ryan Browning, Marco Bruno, Paolo Cardini, Nathan Ross Davis, Diane Derr, Monique Fouquet, Levi Hammett, Fleming Jeffries, Ali Khan, Kelley Lowe, Thomas Modeen, Simone Muscolino, Jesse Payne, Michael Perrone, Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, Ryan Rasmussen, Christine Tien Wang and Annette Wendling-Willeke.

Eng. Abdulla Hassan al-Mehshadi, CEO of Msheireb Properties, said, “Msheireb Properties is very pleased to partner with Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar to host this inspiring exhibition at Msheireb Enrichment Centre. We take pride in introducing our community to the creative works from this leading university. Our partnership with VCU underlines our commitment to educational and cultural initiatives, and supports our vision to preserve our heritage and identity and build bridges between the past and the present.”

He added, “This strategic collaboration fulfils our objective to enhance key relationships with national institutions and corporations across all industries, to support Qatar’s 2030 National Vision of developing a knowledge-backed economy.”

Msheireb Properties is a real estate company and subsidiary of Qatar Foundation.

Paolo Cardini, another artist featured at the exhibit, has a unique idea of his own: The Doha Rider, sitting on the back of a Vespa, is an autonomous creature, a symbol that reflects and simplifies the behavior of spectators.

Reacting to sharp sound or noise, the rider starts revolving a sort of a whip in his hand which is attached with a small light. It creates a perfect illuminated circle. “It is a tool to substitute the subjectivity of the audience with a projection of itself, a sort of mirror to communicate with ourselves,” the writer has written in the synopsis of his idea behind the piece of art.

Playing with Tajfel by Diane Derr is a humorous reflection and exploration of the unique and diverse population of Qatar. As the viewer stands in front of the screen with a live video feed, the face of another Qatari resident is digitally mapped onto theirs. Each time the viewer blinks an alternate portrait is mapped. Derr has used an open-source software and digital images as medium.

Another notable piece of art on display is Thomas Modeen’s Meat & Bone Artifacts. Modeen used 3D printing to produce artefacts that would be impossible to make using any other method, thus using technology in a way it has not been used before. His medium of artwork has been ABD plastic and FDM support material fabricated by fused deposition modelling.

Jesse Payne’s Censored — oil on Belgian linen — is a beauty in itself.  “This twilight landscape eludes to the unknown and serves as a metaphor for the journey of life,” says the artist about his work.

It is evident that a lot of thought went into every display at the exhibit, with many pieces aiming for more than just artistic creations for the sake of beauty. That they are enamouring in their presentation is a bonus in itself. With plenty of time still left until the exhibit ends, art appreciators would do well not to miss this one.



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