INTERVIEW: Jette Sandahl, director of Copenhagen Museum, on creating Egypt's Cairo Wall

Ati Metwaly from Copenhagen, Thursday 12 Sep 2013

Ahram Online meets Copenhagen Museum director Jette Sandahl, the force behind the award-winning Copenhagen WALL showing images of the city's heritage. Sanduq El-Dunia is the sister project to be displayed in Cairo

Jette Sandahl
Jette Sandahl, director of the Copenhagen Museum (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Beginning on 30 August and running over three weeks, the award-winning Copenhagen open-door installation known as The WALL is transformed to Sanduq El-Dunia. The installation has, since 2010, presented interactive images of Copenhagen's history, culture and heritage. Now, the WALL lends its space to images from Cairo, inviting local viewers into a fascinating journey through Egypt's capital.

Located by the Queen Louise’s Bridge in Nørrebro's district, The WALL is a multi-user, multi-touch interface project launched by the Museum of Copenhagen in association with Gibson International and Spild af Tid/Waste of Time. This 12-metre-long, two-metre-high installation consists of four plasma screens that visitors can touch to travel through a large universe of images evoking the city. They can also login to the interface and upload their own photos, add comments and descriptions, to personally develop and contribute to the interactive artwork.

Sanduq El-Dunia is developed by DEDI and its partners: the Museum of Copenhagen, CULTNAT, and the Women and Memory Forum (WMF). The organisers also cooperated with a number of cultural institutions, architects, artists and individuals. Among the organisers' plans is to create a similar wall in Egypt's Cairo.

Ahram Online (AO): What was the main trigger behind the creation of the Copenhagen WALL?

Jette Sandahl (JS): The Museum of Copenhagen created The WALL as part of an effort by the museum to get in touch with broader groups and the community at large. Until the creation of this installation in 2010, we had been a more traditional museum. We needed to do something in the city, in the urban place. The WALL became a dynamic platform for the people to view the images as well as to upload their own material. On the other hand, for the museum it is a way of presenting content that we already had in our archives.

AO: So The WALL is basically a way of presenting the cultural heritage of the city, past and present. How do viewers contribute to it and what audiences are addressed?

JS: The WALL is a tool that does not eliminate anyone; the interface has been designed in a way that allows everybody to view the content and add their own. It is a very intuitive project that does not depend on the verbal language of the user. As such, The WALL is equally addressing people who might not have good reading capacities, children for instance, or who for any other reason prefer to be addressed through the language of images. Everyone can browse the images, and through them visit Copenhagen, its history and cultural heritage.

It is worth adding that until today, The WALL has attracted 1.4 million users who experienced a total of seven million images.

AO: Now, Copenhagen’s The WALL turned to Sanduq El-Dunia, presenting the city of Cairo. What was the trigger of this initiative?

JS: Shortly after the creation of the Copenhagen WALL, a group of young dynamic people operating within DEDI visited the city. They were especially interested in The WALL and approached us with the aim of creating a similar installation in Cairo. The Egyptian constituent is especially attracted by the guiding principles behind The WALL, which are cultural democracy, taking artwork to the public space and the participation of the public in the whole artistic project. Though The WALL is not yet presented in Cairo, DEDI and the partners created a pilot presenting Cairo on the Copenhagen WALL.

Sanduq El-Dunia was launched on 30 August, together with the bi-annual Images Festival, which also celebrates art and reality through pictorial media. The festival ended on 7 September, yet the Cairo WALL continues for two additional weeks.

For Copenhagen, Sanduq El-Dunia is an extremely interesting opportunity to look into Egypt's capital while, for the organisers, it is a step in the further development of the project that will eventually lead to presenting the same installation in Cairo.

AO: How was the preparation process of Sanduq El-Dunia similar or different to the creation of the Copenhagen WALL? What were the challenges?

JS: There is no doubt that the Copenhagen WALL already gave us experience in anticipating and overcoming challenges. What is interesting about Sanduq El-Dunia is the incredible richness of the content. The versatility of the material reflects the incredible historical and cultural wealth of the city. On this level, I would say that to me, it is more fascinating than the Copenhagen WALL.

The Cairo project was also easier in terms of the logistics behind the material collection. When we started working on the Copenhagen WALL we had to deal with material that was not digitised, and hence had to start from scratch. In Egypt, however, there are large collections of already digitalised material -- in CULTNAT (the Centre for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage), in the universities -- presenting both the historical aspect of the city and its present reality. Individuals also provided a large range of digitalised resources.

AO: When will Sanduq El-Dunia be presented in Cairo? Did you decide on the location?

JS: Organisers of Sanduq El-Dunia, or Cairo WALL, are looking into several potential locations. It is important to underline, however, that the Cairo WALL will not be exactly the same as the one we have in Copenhagen. It can never be the same. The WALL has to adapt to local circumstances in terms of the content, the climate, and other considerations. One of our main challenges with the Copenhagen WALL is cold weather during winter; this is when the interface tends to become much slower. For Cairo, I would imagine the challenge would be the heat, the sun, the dust. We have to think about it when we work with our partners in Cairo and seek specialists who can advise us in each of the areas.

For those reasons, one of the options we considered was semi-indoor locations. The installation in Egypt might be mobile, on wheels, so it can be moved around the city, thus reaching larger groups of people. And as for the timing, it is yet to be determined. It would depend on the political and security situation of the country.

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