ASSEMBLING AND NAVIGATING THE NARRATIVES OF CITYSCAPES
Laying down the cultural footprints of a city or reflecting its social, and ethical perspectives – public art in its entirety serves as a form, or medium of public ‘speech’ in establishing and understanding the city’s and society’s culture as ways of building its history. The notion is emphatic in its capacity to resound and reflect the views and opinions of the space. Trickling down through ancestors or building its own, public art and installations stand as monuments and significant sculptures that narrate the stories of before or its evolution. The concept of public art exists in its motive to not only reflect he city’s culture but to subsequently influence and inspire those of the future, as they evolve and yet retain the cultural roots. In these intents and objectives, ARTRA’s partnership with Port City Colombo builds and inspires through the Design Competition the future of Port City. We converse with Ismael Abedin, who plays a major role in the design competition, guiding and mentoring the artists throughout the process while simultaneously organizing and aiding the jury. In our conversation we understand the infrastructure of this movement and the process of its implementation.
Ismael Abedin Ingelmo started his artistic career in early high school in Art School of Salamanca, then he moved to Barcelona to Study at IED European Design Institute where he participated in interior & industrial design projects. He obtained his education at the SVA (School of Visual Arts) in New York where he developed model making and photography skills. Ismael worked as photographer for events in NY. He is also the Founder of Colive.Me, resorts in Sri Lanka and Bali. And he is owner of DXMID design firm in Shanghai, Barcelona and starting in Colombo as . He has been published in books such 100 Design portfolio, Beyond Black books, Fifteen of Fifty, ISCES Scientific journal, 50 years and more. In 2009, Ismael worked as an Interior designer & planner in areas of hospitality, hotels, office, hospitals, and residential projects. In 2010 he established in Shanghai where he got his UNEP, IESD-Tongji Masters degree on Engineering & Sustainability and did his research in sustainable tourism and design in UN-Habitat in Myanmar, where he acquired sensitivity towards the importance of the relationship between sustainability, tourism development and design. In China he completed successful design projects for esteemed brands. Ismael participated in several design events as design member jury, keynote speaker, round tables and more. In 2017, he went to Barcelona- Switzerland to work as a coaching tutor for Challenge- Based Innovation (CBI), an experimental training programme that aims to bridge the gap between science and society by addressing relevant challenges. Ismael is currently lecturing at AOD Sri Lanka the interior design program, as well as working on the panel of Port City Colombo’s Design Competition.
Q | Can you share in detail your role in the competition and how you help the students navigate the process of building and installing sculptures in burgeoning cities?
A | My role has been firstly, to help organize the competition – in aspects such as website creation, guidelines creation, strategy, contacting universities, helping the jury – for both the sculpture and wall competition. Once the jury votes, my role has been to both mentor and manage the mentoring sessions with juries/students. The first thing that I told the finalists to do is imagine how their sculptures/wall will look like in 2040, once Port city is completed. That helped them look at it long term. After that, during the first weeks we reviewed the feasibility of the shapes in terms of ergonomics and security (especially for kids) as well as to study more about the contextual site of the sculpture/wall and its significance in the new city. After those sessions, we went more technical and let them explore about the materials, its expression, durability, aging and corrosion over time, and they explored possibilities before reaching their final materiality proposal. Then, we explore inherent characteristics of each of their proposals to define them more in detail, by that time as well they’ve met Azara Jaleel, Founder &Editor-in-Chief of ARTRA, and they re-evaluated their ‘idea’ in relation with Sri Lankan history and future, that helped them have a better ‘speech’. Finally I organized the final jury sessions and presentations and assess in the feasibility committee from engineering/cost/operations point of view.
Q | What is your opinion on the role of public art in cityscapes in terms of function and purpose?
A | The same function that a ‘chilly’ does in a meal, to spice up the monotonous ‘flavour of the cityscape’ and inspire people to think differently and dream.
Q | What do you believe will be the biggest challenge in installing these conceptual sculptures and interactive walls into the city?
A | They are students and therefore they have very limited experience, many of their proposals are difficult to make from an engineering point of view. The challenge is to make the sculptures/wall robust enough to resist any meteorological condition and as well keeping their essence – usually the engineering part destroys the beauty of some elements, so my role is to interact minimally on the main shape but not compromise security.
Q | How do you intend to source the right materials for the construction of these installations without compromising on the symbolically significant motifs?
A | Port city is open to bring high end technology into the country such as digital fabrication, 3Dprinting, parametrics, etc. Port city is a brand new city, therefore its materials should reflect the aim of the city. That will be very useful for the winners because they will be learning new technologies and bringing them to Sri Lanka.
Q | In your opinion, how do you think these sculptures/interactive wall will instil cultural, social and ethical significances into new cities and urban development?
A | In the same way that it happened with the Eiffel tower, Louvre museum, Guggenheim Bilbao, etc. Firstly the general public won't fully accept it and maybe some people will react against it or say ‘this is not Sri Lanka’, but that will be a trigger to push people to think more about the art in the city, and slowly they will be adding it as part of them – especially once it gets more international recognition. Youngsters will do it much faster than adults of course.
Art installations have the depth and potential to shape the narrative of a nation. The Eiffel Tower now stands as a significantly symbolic representation of Paris, and in extension, France. The architecture behind it, its cultural nuances and narrative encapsulating all that France is. Ismael Abedin, through his extensive and erudite experience and understanding navigates through these objectives as he steers the future of Port City Colombo’s narrative. His mentorship, practice, and leadership in the Design Competition becomes a contributing force is shaping the history of this new urbanscape. Through each technicality and construction, Ismael ensures the growth of the new cityscape without compromising on symbolically significant notions and highlights the culturally significant motifs at each stride of the triumphant process.