Arab British Centre launches new artwork from Middle East digital residency

Two pairs of artists create collaborative digital work

The creatives part of the Arab British Centre's Connect ME Digital Residency programme
The creatives part of the Arab British Centre's Connect ME Digital Residency programme

The Arab British Centre, in collaboration with the British Council, is launching two new digital artworks created as part of their Connect ME Digital Residency programme.

The programme paired creatives aged between 18 and 30 from the GCC (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) and the UK to create collaborative digital work during a four-week online mentoring programme.

The project was mentored by multidisciplinary Saudi artist Manal AlDowayan.

Over the past month, multimedia artist Dina Khatib (UAE) and illustrator Ollie Cameron (UK), and artist and designer Carolin Schnurrer (UK) and visual artist Meshal Al-Obaidallah (Saudi Arabia), worked together on projects that consider how digital tools can encourage connectivity across borders.

The two new artworks will be available to view on the Making Marks website from Thursday.

Articles of Exceptional Value

The piece of work by Khatib and Cameron, Articles of Exceptional Value, is a collaborative effort to document the 5,597-kilometre distance between them.

In a time where physical forms of communication are heavily restricted, the artists explored how visualising the unseen space between them could become a means for connection and exchange.

Over the course of a month, they posted a series of packages to each other between the UK and Dubai.

In both countries, postal services have long lists of prohibited items, including sending art.

In response to this, each artwork's title is inspired by a different prohibited item from these lists.

The postal services also include a ban on sending "articles of exceptional value".

Every time a package was mailed, the artists were required to declare the monetary value of each box.

Khatib and Cameron chose this to be the title for the body of work, as they found that with every mark generated over time, the packages gained an alternative form of value; an unrepeatable recording of the 5,597km distance connecting them.

“My experience of collaborating across borders was very interesting,” Khatib said.

“Our goal for the project was to figure out why we had been paired with each other, how our practices were similar and different.

“We found that we both have a research-intensive process, but with mine focused on a digital media output and Ollie’s on an analogue.

Articles of Exceptional Value is a combination of those elements.”

As artists who both love research, we gladly could have been experimenting and playing around with different ideas up to the day before the deadline.

Cameron said: “The biggest challenge that Dina and I faced during the residency was settling on one idea.

“As artists who both love research, we gladly could have been experimenting and playing around with different ideas up to the day before the deadline.”

Farewell Arabia: A Bold New Vision

Schnurrer and Al-Obaidallah created Farewell Arabia: A Bold New Vision, a digital experience that reinforces today’s repetition of dominant narratives from the distant past, the oblivious looping of past and future histories.

Al-Obaidallah’s practice is grounded in his own geographic locale, by archiving current affairs of his region.

Schnurrer’s is at a more primal, sensory level, establishing connections that pass the limits of borders, culture, language and other categories of exclusion.

Together, they seek to recalibrate viewers’ perception of "the other" culture.

In their work, they explore the Arabian Peninsula through the lenses of Orientalism (externally) and provincialism (internally).

It highlights how "the other" is perceived from a distance.

Their digital artwork is centred around an old post-colonial British documentary, set in the Arabian Peninsula in the 1960s.

The narrator tells of the sudden development of Arabia after the oil boom, its effect on society and the uncertain future.

Similarly, Farewell Arabia: A Bold New Vision recycles history to tell of the current changing landscape, urban rezoning, and the colossal giga-projects.

“Through our exchange, we collected found footage, soundbites, quotes, symbols and other fragments," Al-Obaidallah said.

"These reappropriated fragments were processed, destroyed, accelerated, decelerated and rearranged.

This mishmash of fact and fiction prompts a not-so-new understanding of the region.

“This mishmash of fact and fiction prompts a not-so-new understanding of the region.”

With a focus on audio and text, the collage is presented as a story on an experimental website, narrated by an inhuman voice.

“One of the main challenges in creating Farewell Arabia was learning how to work together remotely,” Schnurrer said.

“It’s harder to connect online than when together in a studio, but with digital collaboration on the rise, it’s important that artists define their own ways of working together. We found our flow.”

To celebrate the end of this edition of the Connect ME Digital Residency, the Arab British Centre is hosting an Artist Talk with all four artists and mentor AlDowayan on Wednesday, at 1pm GMT on Zoom.

Khatib, Cameron, Schnurrer and Al-Obaidallah will reflect on the residency, presenting their finished artworks and providing insight into their creative processes.

The event is free but registration is required: https://makingmarks.uk/artist-talk-winter-residency/

Updated: February 26, 2021 10:00 PM

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