Tasmeem Doha 2015
Are you 3ajeeb? Strange in a strange way, cool in a cool way, and slightly weird in a slightly weird way.
Tasmeem 3ajeeb! presented an all-day public festival, where visitors were able to interact with workshop outcomes, viewed exhibitions, played games, watched performances and enjoyed being 3ajeeb!
In the beginning...
Tasmeem 3ajeeb! was born in September 2013 when the four co-chairs – Levi Hammett, Michael Hersrud, Richard Lombard and Simone Muscolino – came together to develop a proposal for the upcoming 2015 conference.
At the time, the energy inside VCUarts Qatar, and all around Doha, was bubbling with a strange and playful exuberance. Damien Hirst was outside – presenting an exhibition at Al Riwaq and unveiling a public art composed of a set of massive bronze babies across from Education City – while projects at the university were becoming more experimental with materials, innovative processes and visual content. This environment prompted them to dig deeper into the idea of ‘play’ as a catalyst for art and design.
As a starting point, they felt it would generate outcomes that were a bit out of the ordinary, a little unpredictable, while also encouraging collaboration and lively participation.
Tasmeem Doha is a biennial conference dedicated to art and design. In addition to the involvement of students and faculty at VCUarts Qatar, the event attracts designers, artists, academics and industry professionals from all over the world.
Richard Lombard advises designers and companies on material issues relevant to their businesses. He joined the MFA faculty at VCUarts Qatar in the role of Materials Curator from 2010 to 2016.
“3ajeeb!” cried the two Saudi border agents, doubled over in laughter on the side of the road. Above their heads, a gold balloon twisted slowly in the wind. A third agent stood next to my truck, less than amused…
Driving the Tasmeem Doha 2015 exhibition back from Design Days Dubai, every customs checkpoint en route to Doha was an unknown: what would the agents make of my cargo – the dolls, bamboo bikes, record players and robots?
The third agent had been the one to open the cover of my truck bed for inspection. It was into his unsuspecting face a metallic object flew, causing him to jump back in fear. His colleagues, seeing the object for what it was: a party balloon – not an explosive, nor threat of any kind – burst into laughter at their friend’s expense. The startled agent yanked the balloon’s string, and following along to its end, found himself staring into the sad eyes of a bandaged blue robot. As he did this, the balloon spun around to reveal the name of our 2015 Tasmeem Doha Festival – 3ajeeb!
Michael Hersrud is an Associate Professor in Graphic Design at VCUarts Qatar.
Sometime around 7pm on Day 2 of Tasmeem 3ajeeb!, I was still in the building helping out a few of the workshop leaders. All seemed quiet, I had discovered a unique-looking fixed gear bike in the Bamboo Bikes workshop space and could not resist the temptation to jump on and take a ride around the halls to check in on everything. The bike took some getting used to since you pedaled using the back wheel and I was a little worried about crashing, but I started to get the hang of it.
I quickly discovered that the building was anything but quiet – students, faculty and attendees were everywhere – working on their projects inside classrooms, dancing to music in the halls with painted faces, using their iPhones as mini-boom boxes. They were engaged in intense games of table tennis and mini-golf; they were painting, cutting, drawing, 3D printed and programming robots.
There was no homework, nothing was due, nothing was being graded and there was no reason to be at school since the conference day had ended hours ago; yet so many people were still here, working, playing, having fun.
Zipping through the Saffron Hall, the smell of popcorn still in the air, I felt possessed by the energy that was talking over the building. I gained speed heading into my final turn only to realize my crazy bike did not have brakes. I panicked (slightly), but was thankful we had lined the halls with majlis cushions. They provided a soft landing.
Simone Muscolino is an Associate Professor and Director of the Art Foundation program at VCUarts Qatar.
Late on Tuesday night in January, Levi and I were in the 3ajeeb! headquarters after a long afternoon in meetings. We still needed to figure out to how close the conference.
I had recently started following Casey Neistat on Snapchat, and we were talking about how good he was with this form of social media becoming increasingly. popular with our students. With his mix of energy, motivation and engagement, we agreed Casey would be the perfect fit. We also knew that he was not planning to travel, because he had a newborn baby at home. But we decided to give it a try.
We went to his website, looking for an email address, and on the contact page we found this note:
“Please keep it short; I only read the first couple of sentences anyway.”
So we dropped him this message:
Business class return flight + some $.
We love you.”
After a few hours, he got back to us:
Your email might have been too brief! Can you tell me more, share some specifics. Thanks a lot. Casey”
It was enough to start a conversation, reach an agreement and have a remarkable closing event. He is a good man.
Levi Hammett is an Associate Professor in Graphic Design at VCUarts Qatar.
By the second day the entire event was unfolding into a giant emergent system. The workshops had taken on lives of their own and every open space had expanded into individual worlds of intense activity.
I remember walking around the building, dodging cyclists riding through the hallways, stray ping pong balls ricocheting off the walls and random robots cruising across the floors.
What amazed me was that such a diverse group of people was behind all of this activity: professors, students, parents, kids, from such different cultural backgrounds.
But by the end of the fifth day, it felt as through everyone had become a family. Not a normal family by any means, but one that was definitely cool in a cool way, strange in a strange way, and slightly weird in a slightly weird way…
In Conversation with the
Interview by Nourbanu Al-Hejazi, MFA' 18
The concept of ‘play’ in art and design is not new; it can be found in the work of influential figures likes Charles and Ray Eames and Libuše Niklová who saw as much value in well-designed toys as they did in well-designed chairs.
From a more contemporary view, we looked to artists and designers imagining future scenarios like those showcased in the Museum of Modern Art’s 2011 Talk to Me exhibition.
In this exhibition, works imagined a world in which every object would need to project human emotion and relate to its owners in a personal way. An industry-minded perspective is offered by Tim Brown, CEO at IDEO, who says “playfulness helps us to get better creative solutions – helps us do our jobs better.”
Play has long been a focus of academic discourse; twentieth-century Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga believed that “play is older than culture” and deemed all play to be a kind of transcendent experience.
Contemporary researchers see play as a critical element in the development of the brain’s circuitry: by figuring out rules, parameters and possible outcomes, our brains get the best workout.
When we are engaged in a game, we are fully invested in what we are doing, completely absorbed. As a result, learning is not forced; it is needed, even craved, in order to achieve greater results. We hoped to embrace this focus, while promoting the wild, unexpected outcomes implied by our rallying cry – 3ajeeb!
The conference was, in some ways, also about shifting expectations. In the Gulf region, we are regularly exposed to the most polished, high-end deliverables – from artwork to architecture, Damien Hirst to Rem Koolhaas. In contrast, Tasmeem 3ajeeb! was an opportunity to embrace the messy, unpredictable starting points of the creative process – the happy accidents and strange connections essential to the practice of art and design. The goal of the event was to present playfulness as a methodology: an approach to learning, investigating and making.
Finally, from a global standpoint, the timing seemed right for this type of approach. Coverage of current events portrays an increasingly polarized world, in spite of our unprecedented digital connectedness.
We Tasmeem 3ajeeb!, we had the opportunity to forge positive, creative and diverse networks of people in real life and real time, through the sharing of ideas, experiences and skill sets. VCUarts Qatar’s unique identity as an American branch campus in the Middle East – a mash-up of fifty-plus nationalities and many different cultural and religious backgrounds – makes it the ideal backdrop for such an exchange.