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Creating Art for International Destinations: Three Stories of Collaboration

Written by Joseph O'Connell

Founder, President & Artistic Director at Creative Machines

Creative Machines: piole Kabuto

One of our first international sculptures was piole Kabuto, created for the rooftop of a luxury mall in historic Himeji Japan. The concept started on a bar coaster with myself, Daisuke and Nakamura discussing the history of Himeji Castle, the Kuwagata beetle, and how the warlord of the castle could look out to see how well his warriors were fighting. I recalled how the night before, I had seen teens playing in beams of light that threw their shadows on the wall of the mall. My companions poured out history and culture. Like a mad cognitive bartender, I sketched different combinations of history, architectural details and modes of interaction. Together we came up with the Kabuto – the samurai helmet to cap off the building.

Scroll through the slideshow for more photos:

Our sculpture, piole Kabuto, was built of overlapping scales and references Kabuto samurai helmets and the Kuwagata beetle that inspired those helmets. The form also creates a place for visitors to sit within the piece—a level of interactivity that is unusual in Japan but which has been warmly welcomed. At night, our point source lighting projects the silhouettes of visitors sitting and playing around the sculpture onto the high white wall behind the sculpture, creating a shadow theatre visible from Himeji Castle. Piole Kabuto serves as a reflection of the local history and culture but captured through a contemporary aesthetic lens.

Creative Machines: Crescent

We received two sculpture commissions in the UAE, and these turned out to be unexpected collaborations also. For Crescent, I worked with Ashwaq Abdulla, a prominent Emerati artist based in Abu Dhabi.

When I visited her in Abu Dhabi, we sat and sketched as we chatted. It was wonderful to find that we see the world in the same way and admire many of the same artists. I took our sketches back to my studio and we continued the correspondence electronically. At one point I sent Ashwaq a model of a sculpture, she drew on it, and we did a video chat about how her poem could play out across the surface of the sculpture.

It was truly a unique and inspiring experience, working with Ashwaq in this way. She developed the design for the calligraphy which is laser-cut into and wrapped around the sculpture. The calligraphic design is Ashwaq’s interpretation of a poem by Sheik Zayed, the founder of the UAE. It was a unique and exciting collaboration, bringing together our different mediums of expression to create something truly special.

Creative Machines: As Above, So Below

The third international collaboration was As Above So Below and the unwitting collaborator was a Qatari taxi driver. At first, I was not sure what I could bring to a world where art and architecture have deep roots in Islam. But, sometimes we imagine that cultural history has not contained substantial mixing and dialogue between people. Islamic regimes have a tradition of commissioning outside artists to interpret their patterns, motifs and use of light. In preparation for this commission, I visited Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Qatar, Egypt and both urban and rural Saudi Arabia.

In the last photo, I am standing next to King Tut. When King Tut travels outside Egypt, he goes with a large entourage and a huge armored enclosure but when he relaxes at his home in Cairo, you can stand right next to him.

I spoke to government officials and museum curators but also took long cab rides to locations with no street addresses. I devoured the Qatari Museum of Islam Art. I lived with a family in Cairo for ten days and smoked a Hookah with artists who participated in the Tunisian Revolution as students.

Still, there was one pivotal moment that became the inspiration for the piece. I had been mulling Islamic art history and chatting with a Pakistani cab driver in Qatar. He suggested looking to mathematics and science for inspiration but I was reluctant. With a long draw on his cigarette he said to me “In the West you hesitate to incorporate science and math in art because you have passed through industrialization and the Romantic reaction. In your mind math and science are tainted by their association with commerce. But in Islam we do not have that history and we do not feel the same disdain for mathematics. In fact we look to it for inspiration.” That statement gave me permission to create patterns simultaneously mathematical and decorative.

The artpiece that resulted was a series of stars that project patterns of light.

This alludes to a tradition of Islamic lamp holders and screens that use tiny cutouts to filter light. For the cutouts I drew a pattern that resembles a typical floral arabesque, but I created the ‘vines’ by using conic sections - the sort of elliptical and parabolic pathways that stars and planets travel in space under the influence of gravity and momentum. These are also the pathways taken by many elementary particles after high energy collisions.

Upon close inspection, the vines are celestial pathways and the flowers turn out to be stars. The title As Above, So Below suggests that the same laws of nature apply on the scale of the universe as well as on earth, and there is an aesthetic similarity between the motions of heavenly bodies and the growth of plant forms here.

The use of vibrant colors and intricate details further enhances the idea of the interconnectedness of all things and the beauty of the universe. As Above, So Below is a powerful and thought-provoking piece that encourages viewers to contemplate the interconnectedness of the universe and the beauty present in all things.

Creating art for international destinations is an exciting opportunity for artists to collaborate with others and to share their art with a global audience. The three stories I share in this article are part of my personal experience but they highlight the different ways in which artists can collaborate and create meaningful, impactful work. Collaborating with other artists can lead to new perspectives, inspiration, and creativity and bring people together with a sense of shared humanity. I look forward to sharing more stories of collaboration in the future.

published on January 14, 2023

© Creative Machines


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