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Saturday, 18 August 2018

Egypt's second edition of Cairotronica probes future through media arts

Cairotronica, which took place earlier this month, invited audiences to engage in interactive installations while exploring electronic media arts though different platforms across Cairo

Fatma Khaled, Thursday 24 May 2018
Cairotronica
(Photo: courtesy of Cairotronica)
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In an attempt to spread awareness across Egypt about media arts, Cairotronica experimented with future possibilities in electronic art, while changing notions of technology, in its second edition that ran 5-11 May.

Carrying the theme, “A Future of Possibilities,” Cairotronica was staged across different venues in Cairo, including the Palace of Arts at the Cairo Opera House, Cimatheque, the Grand Nile Art Centre, ZigZag, the Institut Francais D’ Egypte, the American University in Cairo (Tahrir campus), and the Goethe Institut.

This year’s edition witnessed the participation of 13 Egyptian artists and several international artists, from Argentina, France, the USA, Greece, Spain, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, Japan, Jordan, Morocco, the UK, Poland, Taiwan, Thailand, Russia, Denmark, Belgium and the Ukraine.

Media artists and electronic engineers displayed their works and led a number of film screenings, artist talks, workshops, live performances in parallel to an interactive exhibition that took place at the Palace of Arts.

“Cairotronica is about art, technology and science, so if you propose the idea of an imaginary future and give it to an artist, scientist, or an engineer and ask them what could be the future possibilities, they will in return express those ideas through a medium in technology while allowing media arts to grow,” artistic director Haytham Nawa told Ahram Online as he spoke about this year’s theme.

This year, Cairotronica involved more interaction with audiences compared to the previous edition, according to Nawar, who emphasised that media arts are always a work in progress with no certain conclusion.

“Visitors interacted with the exhibition a lot because most of the artworks on display were based on interactivity. This helps change the conventional concept of galleries and museums where you are not allowed to touch paintings. Touching art works unables the viewer to understand the concepts in a unique way,” he added.

One of the special projects this edition was the “Cairotronica Make” which provided audiences a chance to learn crafts and subjects related to 3D technology, as was the case with laser cutting. “We are moving forward, towards the community and not waiting for the community to come to us," Nawar clarified.

“The Japanese artwork titled Chains, was another distinguished project as it discussed the future of crypto currency. The group working on the project monitored the changes in currencies of five main markets and expressed it through data visualisation and discovering the future of economies.”

Chains mirrored the growing public interest in blockchain technology as well as the possibility of its misuse, such as money laundering and financing anti-social groups, according to the Cairotronica’s exhibition catalogue.

Throughout the three-floor exhibition, audiences roamed with an aim to understand the purpose of each artist. At the front door stood a display by French artists Stephane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon titled “Neoteny Institute for the end of work.”

Comprised of a work station, the installation presented different species of plants while visitors were invited to watch videos showing symptoms of degradation linked to labour at the beginning of the 21st century, according to the project’s description.

In this context, the installation asked an important question: “How is it possible to build a viable society by locking people in such dull environments?”

Cairotronica
“Mykovaluta – Prelude” by Kalus Spiess and Lucie Strecker (Photo: courtesy of Cairotronica)

Art meets science

Not only did the exhibition take viewers to artistic displays, it also became a platform where arts meet science.

On the second floor, a joint project between Austria and Germany, titled “Mykovaluta – Prelude” and created by Kalus Spiess and Lucie Strecker, offered yet another interactive experiment to visitors.

The project requests a visitor to sit on a chair and wear a headset and a glove equipped with sensors and wires. The visitor is then asked to play a set of questions through the headset and is required to answer accordingly in a microphone sitting on the table.

“The glove has sensors that measure the sweat caused by the stress of the questions,” Strecker said. The questions were asked in a quick pattern, including “How much money do you have in your bank account? How do you earn your money? What is really important to you?”

Strecker further explained that the project questions the economic systems that drive us through a scientific idea that examines how microbes in our bodies affect our brains.

“This display is part of my research, a four-year project called The Performative Biofact where we try to understand how performing arts can relate to new understandings of the body, bio-technologies, and how they can change our collective consciousness of what the body is. We reach the conclusion that our bodies are open systems,” Stecker added.

The answers that visitors gave in this interactive display were later gathered and displayed during the festival’s closing live performance. 
“I was very happy that we were invited to Cairotronica, because we really needed situations where we can test and experiment. The festival granted us a chance of exploring something new,” Strecker told Ahram Online.

Cairotronica
“Unknown Destination” by Ahmed Soleman (Photo: courtesy of Cairotronica)

Egyptian presence

Cairotronica did not lack works by Egyptian artists. Included was “Reproduce the Game” by Ahmed El-Shaer that depicted the nostalgia of a series of video games, and “Unknown Destination” by Ahmed Soleman, which was an artistic interactive installation experimenting with the nihilistic values of humans.

Other works included “Good Luck” by Amr Hamid, where the artist used an imaginary simulation to portray the most important texts and quotations appearing on social media in the last decade in Egypt, and “Secret Coins” by Mohamed Allam that showed how the movement of bodies is organised by an unwritten choreography.

Mario 2018, one of Egyptians’ favorite childhood games, was also on display, this time in recreational form, in a project by Nayra Moustafa who aimed at presenting the innocent part of our lives, outside of time.

Another Egyptian input came with “Magic Sand” by Shadwa Ali who collaborated with six French artists to form an interactive metal box with sand that moves around as visitors approach it, hinting at the importance of human observation.

Among other works displayed by Egyptian media artists were “Desertification of Earth” by Gamal El-Khesen, “Sun Outage” by Mena El-Shazly, “Haughty” by Mohamed Shoukry, “Idemix” by Sameh El-Tawil, “They said the Nile used to run from East to West” by Mahmoud Magdy, and “Land of Fear” by Yara Mekawei and Mohamed Ismail Shawki.

Apart from displays and installations, this year’s Cairotronica also included live performances in which artists explored the relation between audio and the visual, mapping possibilities and testing notions of transformation. Those performances included “Code 03” by Khaled Kaddal, “Deuterium AV” by Motorsaw, and “Mykovaluta” by Klaus Spiess and Lucie Strecker.

The festival concluded 11 May with “French Touch” by Labat, Jellyzone (DJ set), and Bosaina at the French Institute, showcasing the emerging French music scene and fostering exchanges with the Egyptian music scene.

Cairotronica
“Neoteny Institute for the end of work” (Photo: courtesy of Cairotronica)

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