VCUarts Qatar Faculty Merges Tradition and Technology in Al Koot Fort Installation
Re-envisioning a heritage site that has a unique place in Qatar’s history, while retaining its identity and cultural symbolism, is a balancing act. And, a Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) faculty member has managed to do just that – and with finesse.
Hadeer Omar, an Assistant Professor in Art Foundation at VCUarts Qatar, a Qatar Foundation partner university, was commissioned by organisers of the Tasweer Photo Festival Qatar to activate and transform three key segments of Al Koot Fort – an edifice that is a cherished symbol of Qatar’s history in the heart of the city since 1906 – with a contemporary twist.
In response to the brief, Omar came up with an installation titled ‘And Thereafter’.
Michael Hersrud, Graphic Design Associate Professor and Art Foundation Director Simone Muscolino – both members of the VCUarts Qatar-based artists collective Sonic Jeel – with London-based sound and light designer Katia Kolovea collaborated with Omar on the project. The installation is open to the public until 30 May.
Al Koot Fort has a unique and complex history, says Omar.
Its location is at the confluence of the historic market area and the seaside port and is now centrally placed between Souq Waqif and Msheireb Properties. Hence, the significance of the locality was crucial to the narrative development of our concept.
She said that the surrounding area, specifically Souq Waqif, inspired them to create, generate and tell the story of the place from a new perspective – one that weaves together heritage and contemporary aspects of daily life to be translated and transformed into impressionistic media experiences.
Walking into each section, one can immediately sense how the team recorded visuals, sound and mapped light to heighten the multi-sensory experience of the three segments – The Transition (courtyard of the fort), The Journey (the back room) and The Metamorphosis (the entrance room) – in the installation.
The audience will experience a combination of light, sound and video projections as they navigate through key spaces in a non-linear journey guided by experiential elements such as scent, sound, light, and images. Though the layout creates a natural progression of experiences, the audience is free to move through the sections as they please. A one-way directed route is not necessary to appreciate the overall narrative.
Muscolino notes how the project marks a milestone, that it was both a culmination of several years of experiments and research and the starting point for further explorations into distinctive approaches to contemporary audiovisuals in the context of activating spaces.
For the last decade, Muscolino said that together with Omar and Hersrud, they have been developing a language that can be applied to graphic artifacts, photography, video, and sound.
It is great to have the opportunity to add an experienced light designer like Katia to that collaborative equation. We have been growing together, developing individualities that resonate together.
The installation – in such a charming location as the Al Koot Fort – is a tangible representation of this collaboration.
Muscolino shared that there is a group of creative practitioners around VCUarts Qatar, who are significantly contributing to developing the audio-visual culture of the country. Additionally, he said that it is very exciting that all these experiments are taking place in the run-up to a mega sports event such as the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
For visitors wondering at the brain-storming, processes and effort that went into an installation of such magnitude, they might want to listen to Omar sum up the experience:
The entire project, which was almost a year in the making, pushed the boundaries of our research and helped consolidate our ideas using emerging technologies. In fact, we developed a series of different workshops among ourselves to investigate appropriate tools and technologies. And, in order to familiarise ourselves further with the site’s narrative and architecture, we created a pop-up workstation on-site to get inspired by the space and generate content accordingly. It was a learning curve made enjoyable and unforgettable by working with colleagues and designers who share the enthusiasm for technologies, storytelling, and cultures.
‘And Thereafter’ is curated by Maryam Hassan Al Thani, and is part of the larger Contemporary Heritage project where sites of cultural importance are activated by other local artists.
In the broader context, Tasweer will feature a dynamic and interconnected programme of exhibitions, awards, commissions, collaborations, presentations and workshops that draw innovative international photography together with photographers and photographic communities in Qatar and the Western Asia and North Africa region.
For updates and more information about the festival, visit tasweer.qa.
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