The Theatre of Digital Art in Dubai’s Souk Madinat Jumeirah aims to welcome the future with its new Digital Extravaganza exhibition.
The show, which is running until August 31, invites audiences to become travellers on a near-psychedelic journey through the senses, moving from Earth all the way to the metaverse in a “new media wonderland”.
Works by six artists comprise the main visual show, which audiences can enjoy from the comfort of bean bags and cushions in the theatre.
Embodied within immersive three-screen surrounding displays, the six short film-like works are introduced by Synti, a 3D holographic figure connected to a language bot — a young female robot figure — the theatre's first digital model and visualisation of artificial intelligence.
Synti discusses the artworks with the audience and acts as a kind of emcee from another plane or planet.
A standout work is American visual artist Jonathan Monaghan’s Out of the Abyss.
An enormous oversaturated beach, reminiscent of Dubai’s JBR Beach, acts as a backdrop for candy-coloured satirical surrealism, pointing cynically yet playfully towards an uncertain, apocalyptic future.
Think of horses in perpetual movement, clad in gas masks and Beats by Dre headphones, ridden by similarly-garbed muscular “knights” in shining purple and gold armour; the colours of royalty.
These figures carry an unusual mix of items: a yoga mat, a selfie stick, an organic grocery bag, a Macbook — every marker and icon of so-called conscious consumerism.
On the central screen, we see a curious building, white and forbidding, even parliamentary, crowned in a cluster of surveillance cameras and credit card machines.
Other symbols allude to capitalistic critique: stock price figures, Steve Jobs discourse, more yoga mats, gilded gold and fine art finally leading to the innermost part of the structure, its heart: a generic, homogenous salad aisle of a supermarket.
At different points, the building gains wings and becomes animalistic, creating a tension between the natural and artificial.
Has artificial power and materialism become our new natural, even primal state?
Out of the Abyss is the most overtly “vocal” work of the lot and makes for a tongue-in-cheek experience mere minutes away from places like the Burj Al Arab and the glittering glass-front offerings within the Souk Madinat Jumeirah.
The other artworks feel more abstract and aesthetically focused, while still carrying subtler, often climate-focused messaging.
Luna Ikuta’s Afterlife brings to life phantom-like botanical arrangements from film and digital archives; Kevin Mack’s Anandala, an official selection of both the Red Sea International Film Festival and 78th Venice International Film Festival of La Biennale di Venezia, creates a virtual world populated with Blorts, shapeshifting forms of colour and texture that act as living creatures.
Russian artist Daniil Zuev, known as Darkzuu, presents A special world: a friendly future, a series based on drawings by children with developmental challenges who visit the Yom-Yom Inclusive Centre, St Petersburg, where he animates their sketches into figures on a journey in fantastical, natural environments.
Meanwhile, French digital sculptor Arnaud Laffond’s Refuge/Refuse reflects on how we process information through hot, slick, stylized scarlet visuals and floating “talking heads”.
Finally, international art group Synticate, which is heavily involved in exploring eco futurism, showcases Eyra, an abstracted dive into the solarpunk movement.
Synti concludes the show by cryptically stating: "See you in the future."
We are then launched into a short viewing of contemporary art projects newly minted into NFTs and transformed into 3D assets for Theatre of Digital Art’s Metaverse, each selected via open call.
A total of 238 applications from 43 countries were narrowed down to the 10 best, which were displayed with their QR codes for viewers to access more information on how to collect them. Some of the projects were also prepared for AR.
While much of the deeper resonances and significance of this kind of digital art innovation would be lost on less tech-savvy adults, one can imagine them completely flying over the heads of children.
Yet the show is a visual delight for younger people, exposing them to the new frontiers of how consistently progressive technology can be employed and manipulated to produce creative narratives, or simply, fun, new worlds.
Digital Extravaganza’s immersive features can make kids feel as if they’re actually embodying the crazier, more surreal parts of their own fantasies and imaginations.
This was evident by the many spellbound, transfixed children at the show’s opening, necks craning and swiveling to the screens, as if to intently drink in the shifting sounds and colours like a milkshake.
Digital art and explorations of the metaverse, which include the growing saturation of NFTs in the art market, are on an upswing in Dubai, evident through the introduction of a digital section in the emirate’s biggest art fair, Art Dubai.
A long-running event such as Digital Extravaganza fits neatly into a rising trend and offers art, crypto, tech and NFT enthusiasts, along with ordinary families, an adventure of an evening.
Digital Extravaganza runs until August 31 at Theatre of Digital Art. Tickets are priced Dh50 for children up 12 years and Dh100 for those 13 years and above. More information is available at toda.ae