Dezeen Magazine

Lighting system mounted onto wall with reflection in polished wood floor

VCUarts Qatar presents nine installations informed by linguistics

Dezeen School Shows: students and faculty members from VCUarts Qatar have created a series of installations called Language-as-Machine that explore the concept of language.

The installations are currently on show at VCUarts Qatar's campus in Doha, and examine language-based communication across historical time periods, mediums and cultures.

The pieces were made using a spectrum of different methods, from using contemporary mediums like LED lighting, computer programs, 3D printing and digital technology to employing more traditional materials like sand, wood and fabric.

VCUarts Qatar

Institution: VCUarts Qatar
Collaborators: xLab: Levi Hammett, Hind Al Saad, Mohammad Suleiman, Haithem El-Hammali.
With Basma Hamdy, Fatima Abbas, Fatima Al Dosari, Giovanni Innella, Hala Amer, Joshua Rodenberg, Lana Abou Selo, Martin Juras, Maryam Al-Homaid, Michael Hersrud, Rab McClure, Roudah Al Sheeb, Saga Elkabbash, Sara Al-Afifi, Sara Khalid, Selma Fejzullaj and Shima Aeinehdar
The Gallery at VCUarts Qatar: Meera Badran
Exhibition design:
Hind Al Saad, Meera Badran, and Levi Hammett.
Production assistance:
Joshua Bell, Lana Abou Selo, Rogsh Garcia, Humyra Najdam, Jood Elbeshti and Hagar Allam

School statement:

"Ever-evolving, language stores the history of our collective past, holds our memories, allows us to articulate our thought and preserves a foundation of knowledge that allows us to collaboratively build toward the future.

"Language is a signal from the past.

"What might have happened if language had evolved differently? What graphic encodings could be speculated, given a different set of historical and contextual circumstances?

"What were the forces that propagated some language encodings, while consuming others? What insights can be uncovered as we navigate the historical paths and landmarks that chart the current shapes of our language?

"Language is a map.

"This exhibition presents a collection of creative research and artistic expression that explores language as a machine.

"A machine that compresses, records and transmits a collective cultural knowledge. A machine of many operators servicing many objectives. A machine that labours, degrades and is repaired and upgraded.

"A machine that calculates and predicts. A machine that remembers and forgets.

"Language is a machine.

"Language-as-Machine was organised by The Gallery at VCUarts Qatar, commissioning xLab, a research lab at the university, to produce and exhibit their research and practice."

Table covered in sand with symbols drawn into the sand

Future Memories by Giovanni Innella, Hala Amer and Saga Elkabbash

"Future Memories is a writing device that uses sand as a recording medium and a metal sphere as a writing tool.

"This installation refers to the habit of writing sentences on beaches, where words are engraved on the sandy surface yet quickly disappear thanks to the sea or weather.

"Event prediction is the capability to estimate the possibility that some event may occur in the future – however, often these predictions are delivered as numeric chances that an event will occur again.

"Future Memories transforms that somewhat cold and impersonal information into personal and intimate sentences that describe mundane or exceptional events and their emotional impact on our daily lives.

"Slowly delivered on sand by a seemingly invisible force, the forecasts make it look like our lives have already been lived, while we simply wait for things to happen."

Designers and collaborators: Giovanni Innella, Hala Amer and Saga Elkabbash
Materials: sand, metal, aluminium and acrylic

Horizontal, long panel mounted on wall showing sparkly text

Sacred Silence by Basma Hamdy, Selma Fejzullaj, Shima Aeinehdar and Levi Hammett

"Sacred Silence explores the letter 'nun' (ن) as a seed that grows into 'kun' (be) and the trilateral root 'sakan' (home/live) and finally manifests into 'sukoon' (stillness/bliss/quiet).

"The letter nun is the 14th letter of the Arabic alphabet, marking the midpoint of the 28 letters.

"Nun, in its isolated form, opens Surat-al-Qalam in the Quran, making it one of Islam's most spiritually significant letters.

"It is reversible in spelling and symmetrical in shape and its circular bowl signifies the upper and lower worlds – the earth and cosmos.

"It also represents a vessel or an ark with the diacritic dot signifying the seed of immortality.

"In Sacred Silence, the concepts of reflection and reversibility are explored to signify the dance between an internal spirituality and an external stillness.

"The piece is composed of hundreds of LED bulbs that evoke the fractal multiplicity and repetition of nature, encompassing a spectrum from seeds to stars."

Designers and collaborators: Basma Hamdy, Selma Fejzullaj, Shima Aeinehdar and Levi Hammett
Materials: LED matrix and acrylic

Assembly of three screens mounted on dark wall

Self(Encoded) by Martin Juras, Hind Al Saad and Levi Hammett

"Self(Encoded) allows the viewer to enter a recursive conversation with a machine.

"Your facial features feed the loop with new data, reflected back as a fragmented array of frames, revealing how the machine processes incoming information through different layers of encoding.

"In the same way our brain filters what we see and only remembers what it deems important, the machine compresses visual information, disregarding data redundancy in a dogmatic pursuit of efficiency.

"Self(Encoded) exposes the data used by machines, showing layers of resolution and levels of recognition in pixel form."

Designers and collaborators: Martin Juras, Hind Al Saad and Levi Hammett
Materials: machine vision camera, screens and bespoke software

Photograph showing piles of casette tapes on table covered in stickers

Youth of the Future by Michael Hersrud, Roudah Al Sheeb, and Fatima Al Dosari

"This mixtape consists of 50 opening song tracks from cartoons and anime originating in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

"The songs – mostly from French, English and Japanese programming – have been dubbed into Arabic with musical influences from the region.

"Many of the tracks derive from the company Spacetoon, a pan-Arab free-to-air television channel specialising in children's programmes in the early 2000s.

"The broadcasted shows 'educated, nurtured and instilled values' for an entire generation of children growing up in the 1990s onwards, at times referring to them as 'the youth of the future'.

"The tracks on this mixtape were extracted from various online resources, including footage from vintage VHS tapes that were been reposted on YouTube by enthusiasts.

"This playful collection of songs has been curated by Roudah Alsheeb with assistance from Fatima Al Dosari, digitally composed and edited by Michael Hersrud and produced by Sonic Jeel."

Designers and collaborators: Michael Hersrud, Roudah Al Sheeb, and Fatima Al Dosari
Materials: cassette tapes, cases, and player, RISO printed inserts and both holographic and glow-in-the-dark stickers

Photograph showing eight posters attached to a gridded screen

Computed Language by Levi Hammett, Hind Al Saad and Sara Al-Afifi

"This collection of posters begins a research effort to survey language developments notable within the history of computing.

"The details of computational technology can be obscured by its innate complexity and domain specificity, leaving important innovations missed by those of us outside the particular fields of expertise.

"This collection features typefaces, technologies and individuals that mark timeline of computational development.

"Each poster celebrates the importance, impact or influence of its individual subject and is presented as an edition of 32 hand-printed pieces."

Designers and collaborators: Levi Hammett, Hind Al Saad and Sara Al-Afifi
Materials: Silkscreen on paper

Photograph showing

Rays of Essence: Arabic and its Alternative Reality by Hind Al Saad, Sara Khalid, Joshua Rodenberg and Fatima Abbas

"Whether spoken or in ink, Arabic letterforms embody intrinsic meanings.

"Each letter, as part of a word, has a nuance based on its contextual placement, creating a binding thread of connotations in every word.

"This project allows viewers to experience these inherent characteristics by twisting a series of knobs, allowing them to interact with the Arabic forms created by a projected laser through five sheer planes.

"One focused laser beam draws the oscillating letterform over and over again.

"It moves at the speed of light, propelling us to imagine an alternative reality for Arabic."

Designers and collaborators: Hind Al Saad, Sara Khalid, Joshua Rodenberg and Fatima Abbas
Materials: Laser, MIDI controller and sheer fabric

Photograph showing cluster of lights hung from ceiling

Virga by Rab McClure with MFA students and faculty

"Virga is the outcome of VCUarts Qatar's MFA in Design Field Study, 2022.

"It is a collection of glowing sculptural forms made from steam-bent wood, 3D-printed connectors, LED lights and tailored fabric.

"The bent wood components that lend each lamp its distinctive form were designed by students and faculty from the MFA in Design program and produced during an immersive workshop with Atelier La Juntana – a teaching and fabrication facility located on the north coast of Spain.

"The project was inspired by virga cloud formations, which are found in hot climates and characterised by trailing streaks of rain that evaporate before reaching the ground.

"The project invites free association, fosters reverie, and inspires imaginative speculation.

"The project's kinetic installation and interactive lighting were designed and made possible by xLab."

Designers and collaborators: Rab McClure with MFA students and faculty, mechanical and electrical design by Levi Hammett, Haithem El-Hammali and xLab
Materials: Steam-bent ash, PETG and cotton

Six wooden panels mounted on dark wall with lit up Arabic text on each

Electric Calligraphy by Fatima Abbas, Lana Abou Selo and Levi Hammett

"Electric Calligraphy is a series of anachronistic Arabic typeface designs that attempt to re-examine the evolutionary path of the Arabic script within inherited technological constraints.

"The piece aims to to uncover new pathways for development, adding new perspectives to the contemporary type design discourse.

"These grids explore what contemporary calligraphy might have been had it been more intimate with the electronic revolution – calligraphy that is guided by light and constructed with segments and modules.

"The Names of Allah are usually displayed in intricate calligraphy to reflect the beauty of their meanings.

"Displaying them with light brings forth a new way to honour the names while displaying them in contemporary times, showing how the Names of Allah can be displayed beautifully within technology, without having to mimic traditional calligraphy."

Designers and collaborators: Fatima Abbas, Lana Abou Selo and Levi Hammett
Materials: LED matrix, acrylic and wood

Lighting system mounted onto wall with reflection in polished wood floor

Becoming by Levi Hammett, Hind Al Saad, Mohammad Nabil Suleiman, Fatima Abbas and Sara Khalid

"Becoming is the latest light installation in a body of work imagining alternative typographic histories by constructing unconventional language display technologies.

"Here, freed from structural conventions pressed by the dominance of Latin scripts, the formal potential of the Arabic language is celebrated.

"Bright, bold, blinking verbs cycle through this hundred-segment display. The series of words takes us to the roots and connotations of the verb 'to be'.

"Arabic Sarf (Arabic Morphology and Etymology) is the internal assembly of a word by way of patterns of vowelisation and introduction of extra letters, which constitute a template.

"The template provides additional connotations 'the bolder the template, the heavier the meaning'.

"As the title suggests, 'Istif'aal' – which translates to 'becoming' – is a dynamic verb form of six Arabic letters, which means, literally and figuratively, moving from one state to the other."

Designers and collaborators: Levi Hammett, Hind Al Saad, Mohammad Nabil Suleiman, Fatima Abbas and Sara Khalid
Materials: LED tubes, aluminium, acrylic, PETG, bespoke electronics and software

To view more about VCUarts Qatar, visit its website.

The photography is by Raviv Cohen.

Partnership content

This school show is a partnership between Dezeen and VCUarts Qatar. Find out more about Dezeen partnership content here.