Asma Kazmi on the Outcomes of Cranes & Cube

20 Jul, 2018

Asma Kazmi on the Outcomes of Cranes & Cube

We were thrilled to offer Asma Kazmi a 2017 Faculty Seed Grant for her project Cranes & Cube. Below, she describes the work she completed as part of this program!

In August 2017, Professor Asma Kazmi along with two graduate students Olivia Ting and Nancy Sayavong went to Saudi Arabia, utilizing the BCNM Seed Grant funds. For Professor Kazmi, this field research trip built on the ideas she had been pursuing in her virtual reality work called Cranes and Cube, which maps the architectural and material history of the radically changing sites and topographies of various cities of Saudi Arabia.

Like many major cities around the world, Saudi cities have faced frenzied construction and commercialization in the last ten years. Historic residential neighborhoods and markets in Mecca and Jeddah dating back to the 7th century have been demolished to build hotels/malls that flaunt spectacular edifices, heavy ornamentation, and ostentatious moments in architectural design. The BCNM Seed Grant funds enabled Professor Kazmi and her graduate students to travel to various cities along the coast of the Red Sea to survey the tides of decay and reconfiguration of these locales.

The artists focused on creating poetic records and representations that pieced together the material / architectural past of the locations by reading the city as palimpsest—a mode of observation which considers simultaneous strata of information to make visible aspects of architecture that subsume and ambiguate each other. They deployed heterogeneous documentation/interpretive technologies such as 3D scanning/modeling, photography, animation, drawing, and video to visualize the making and unmaking of numerous sites.

For the grant recipients, this trip opened up new and complex ways of thinking about urban development, conservation, craft, documentation, and the study of material histories. Here are some questions that guided their process: What are the discernable overlaps between religiosity, the market economy, and the public and private realm? What are the possibilities and limitations of VR in recreating a site? What is gained by preserving traditional architectural forms and building practices? What does it mean to narrate the history of a developing city with a dehistoricized architectural past? What are the ethics and aesthetics of showing excesses in building practices, dilapidated structures, and the marginalized population of a rapidly growing city? How can new media assemble poetic narratives and illusionary fragments to facilitate new imaginations and understandings about people, places, histories and futures?

For Professor Kazmi, this research trip facilitated two multimedia art projects—Cranes and Cube and Indian Mangoes by the Red Sea—that have subsequently been shown at the Wattis Institute of Contemporary Art and the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. In Fall 2018, aspects of these works will be installed at the University of Hawaii and Wayne State University, Michigan.