by Vatsala SethiDec 30, 2022
The intricate pattern of the Persian carpets immortalise the rich cultural history and beauty of handwoven textile. The series of flora and fauna embedded in the carpet epitomise the importance of time devoted to its making and its classic appeal, hinting at its time immemorial history. Bringing these nuances to the fore is the interactive installation Jardin de lumière by Qatari artist Ghada Al Khater, in collaboration with Parisian digital studio bonjour Interactive Lab. The Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus Al Khater as part of the Qatar-France Year of Culture 2020, showcased this installation at the Nuit Blanche, a 24-hour festival of international arts and culture held in Paris.
As the visitors walk on the carpet, the elements of nature – flora and fauna – come alive on its surface, as if they are designing the patterns of herati, boteh or even the central medallion. The intersectional approach to the beauty of arts and cultural facet of society is close to Al Khater’s art practice. The artist was resident at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris in 2014. The cultural and textile history of Qatar put forward by the artist is successfully achieved with the animation techniques led by the bonjour Interactive Lab. Talking about the creative collaboration in an interview with STIR, Jean-Philippe Jacquot, who runs the bonjour Lab studio with Alexandre Rivaux, says, “We met and collaborated with Ghada Al Khater in the context of the Qatar-France Year of Culture led by Auditoire. Due to the pandemic, the project came to fruition rather late and our work began in July via video conferences. The first thematic elements for La Nuit Blanche 2020 that reached us were related to ‘the resurgence of nature in the city’ before moving to daydream and travel. The principle of the Nuit Blanche is that of wandering, of letting go, we wanted to bring to the public an experience of the universe of Qatar that they could freely take over: we naturally came up with the idea of a Persian rug that would come to life as people passed by.”
Given the scale and scope of the project, the iterations would have been inevitable. Since the installation carried a strong cross-cultural understanding, teams were cognisant of “the artistic direction and a global treatment that would be accessible to all audiences while bringing all the desired subtleties.” The location of the installation at the heart of Paris, along the Champs Elysées, if on one hand attracted the viewers’ attention, on other side it heightened the necessity to let the visitor savour the taste of Qatari aesthetics, “so it was important to try to make people forget about it and create a real parenthesis in the city, naturally transporting the public to the Qatari atmosphere.”
Jacquot adds, “We studied rugs, selected plants and animals from Qatar and modelled them piece by piece in order to have a lot of latitudes when animating them with the technique of generative design in which we are specialists. This allowed us to bring a real diversity of colours and movements, making each person's experience unique. The detection of presence on the rug was done using a laser barrier that allows us to interpret people's movements. The diffusion was done by crossed video projection (to eliminate as many shadows as possible) bringing us more softness at a very short distance than LEDs.”
The all-encompassing polysensorial experience for the visitors opened a possibility for the public to watch, listen and even breathe the atmospheric taste of Qatar. Jacquot expounds, “In our opinion, it could not have been complete without an immersive sound environment, for Ghada, without the typical scents that can be found in Qatar. To do this, the diffusion through the ground of a fragrance specially designed by Ghada for this occasion allowed to be instinctively called by the installation. The sound dimension was also very important, in the distance Fjiri, a traditional song was also used as a call, then to better immerse oneself once on-site in a typical, natural but also almost amniotic atmosphere by the use of pulsating electronic consonants. We recorded and collected natural sounds and traditional elements that we assembled to a sound environment that alternates between reverie and travel in the first act and also an immersion in nature in the second.”
The installation saw the light of day in the times of pandemic when the novel ways of forms and representation are finding ways to traverse the visual experience. Laying importance to the balance between the storytelling and visual emotions, Jacquot declares, “the pandemic has shaken up communication habits, but we are convinced that technology makes a good experience, only if it is used as a tool for a strong and chosen story and visual universe.” Jardin de lumière is an affirmation of the same, without cracking discrepancies between what bonjour Interactive Lab does and its ethos.