Any work of art in a public exhibition generally serve several purposes, one of which is to be aesthetically pleasing. Despite the look of a work being the catalyst of immersing the audience into the exhibit, the true beauty of the work is not truly understood unless we can contextualise both the work and the artist. Through gaining an understanding of the artists life experiences and their relationship with the world and their chosen materials, we are able to appreciate the work at a heightened level and ultimately assist ourselves in becoming individually better creative. At the Out of Hand: Materialising the Digital exhibition at the Museum of Applied Arts and Science in Sydney, there is an abundance of works that are both aesthetically interesting and cause us to question the interrelationship between the tangible, materialistic world and intangible digital world. In a exhibition comprised of many different means of materialising a digital idea such as 3D modelling and printing, sculptures and computer sketching among other things, each individual work although not originally intended to be displayed together, assist in allowing the audience to gain a greater understanding of the exhibits overall theme. Despite each work having their own upside, the one exhibit that I found particularly captivating is Faig Ahmeds duet of traditional rugs that had been digitalised; “Hal” and “Simurg.” Through a critical analysis of both Ahmeds works displayed in this exhibition and others, along with research of the history around his particular practice we are able to reverse-engineer his process and understand the ways his ideas came to fruition.
Born in Azerbajan, a place where tradition is of upmost importance, Ahmed’s work with rugs represents more than just defacing and changing familiar patterns that are a backbone of his culture. Through the manipulation of the rugs, Ahmed is able to question the tradition within his culture, and while not criticising it is able to offer his own insight into the importance of culture and whether or not change is a good thing. Ahmed encapsulates his motives in an interview, seeing rugs as “something very stable. Carpet is the result of ages. Even 2,500 years ago there were similar patterns, similar techniques to today. The centre and the borders are like a social structure, giving the idea of everything we know.” Through this statement we are able to understand the different viewpoints that creatives such as Ahmed have towards the world as opposed to their counterparts. Through altering a familiar object associated with comfort that is seen in practically every Azerbaijani home, Ahmed can offer his insight from the Eastern world and explain the differences to a more progressive Western world that tends to not be caught in such traditions.
Hal (left) and Simurg (right)
When walking into the exhibition, we are thrust into an environment that is beautiful but at the same time unsettling due to the somewhat algorithmic nature of the design of the space and the materialised works. Placed in a particular setting among works created via 3D printing among other means, Ahmeds work despite immersing itself in the premise of a digital-material hybrid, offers a strong contrast to its surrounding works due to the obvious blur between tangible and intangible. Hal encapsulates the relationship found in Ahmeds process, that between the material and digital world as a sturdy pattern stood to stand the test of time breaks down into a magnitude of individual coloured lines. The rug, made to appear as if it is melting unsettles the audience as we are drawn to the top of the rug first, and as our eyes venture down we expect to see a perfectly evenly designed rug, yet the end result is anything but. Ahmed causes us to question many things, as rugs in his culture tend to last many decades, yet this particular one when infused with a digital influence breaks down rapidly. It is through these intentional choices in the creation of a work that we are able to understand artists views towards technology and changing values in their own context and that of their target audience.
Despite being part of the same collection and exhibition, Simurg offers a different perspective and although both works share the commonality of a rug, this one incorporates a three dimensional aspect as opposed to that of a rug melting. Bound with a fake shadow and an object extruding from the work, we are able to compare this work to something that wouldn’t seem out of place in a 3D modelling program. As this work is surrounded by objects made through 3D printing, Simurg is not out of place at all despite the main feature being a recognisable one as old as time.
In order to fully appreciate a work we must be able to not only appreciate the visual look of them, but also the relationship that an artist has with their chosen material. Ahmed’s work both displayed in this exhibition, and many of his other similar works showcase an excellent blend of traditional carpet materials that have been picked apart to represent a digital pixelated world. Just as the two works on display Hal and Simurg offer a juxtapositions due to their differing visuals, the entire premise of his work in itself is much the same, involving a pastiche of different methods that compliment one another. Ahmed states “I make my sketches on computer and then transfer them to special engineering paper dot by dot. After that I pass my sketches to a carpet maker who weaves the carpet using the ancient techniques of the region. All threads are woolen or silken and are dyed with natural colors. The process of weaving is the same as it was 300 years ago.” Through this process we are able to see the ways that technology has advanced in the recent decades and centuries, to be able to essentially computer generate a design and offload the work to another party as opposed to the traditional ways of weaving the rug individually.
The process of traditionally weaving a rug, as mentioned before, is much more complex than just using a persons hands to create random patterns. In Azerbaijani and many other similar countries cultures, the rug represents much more than just a decoration, acting as a symbol of comfort and a welcoming symbol. The intricacies that were traditionally created within a rug via hand centuries ago are still prominent today but the symbolism of a rug in the Western world, the main audience for Ahmeds work allows room for criticism and insight due to differing contexts. In Ahmeds homeland, rugs are often not mass produced, instead they are delicately taken care of in each stage of the process; inception, design and production. These traditional methods offer contrasts to Ahmeds aim, as he outsources the weaving to somebody else, despite creating the design himself. Although commonplace in artworks created for exhibition, delegating work to somebody else begs the question of whether or not the work is of an acceptable level of authenticity. Despite many people in Eastern countries making a living off of the craft of carpet weaving, the style in which Ahmed and these people go about their work differs due to predominantly two reasons; the intended purpose of the work and the contextual influences.
The intended purpose of all of Ahmeds works, is to adorn walls as an art opposed to floors allowing the purpose of a rug to shift from something that is seen as an expectant commonality into something more subjectively beautiful and artistic. Although his work is ultimately ruining an aesthetically pleasing design, the ideas behind is work of merging the digital and physical world are what cause his work to be popular and sought after. Although his work is considered prestigious and artistic, it comes with a trade off as mentioned prior through his use of outsourcing. As he is creating the rugs for the sake of art as opposed to the traditional reasoning, a dilemma arises that allows us to question the different conexts between the Eastern and Western worlds. Selling his works for upwards of sometimes $15,000, it is easy to see why Ahmed would like to create works at a larger scale and consistently in order to make a living off it. Through altering a traditional design that would sell for much less in an Azerbajani market place, we are able to critically analyse Ahmeds work through a business lens and draw comparison points to those on similar entrepreneurial endeavours that have seen opportunities arise. When viewing Ahmeds techniques for work creation, we can view it through a McDonaldization approach and see the ways that his work has reached the level of popularity and the price tag attached to it. Through the four principles of McDonaldization; efficiency, predictability, calculability and non-human technology we are able to examine the influence the concepts of supply and demand have on an artists works. (Cleggg, 2015)
In any successful business, you will generally find that they are applying atleast two of these principles, and with Ahmed an artist who has built a brand for himself it is no different as he uses three of four, minus calculability. Efficiency is highlighted through the use outsourcing certain aspects of his work to other more skilled people in order to continue working on other projects, or different stages of the same one. Predictability is seen through the fact that all his works share a common theme and that although each work is different, if an Ahmed exhibition was announced every body attending it would know what to expect. Closely linked to the concept of efficiency is the use of non-human technology, which accounts for minimisation of human error. Despite being operated by a human, the use of a loom and using a computer to design his work Ahmed is able to minimise these errors, and if any do arise, due to this technology he is able to easily undo them. (Clegg, 2015) Although these concepts apply to almost any business and any artist that has made a name for themselves at a similar level to Ahmed, these comparison points are particularly interesting as his work thematically focuses on the premise of business, using technology to break tradition in order for a certain gain. Just as Ahmed explores the relationship between a material and digital world in his works, these axis represent the contextual differences concerning economics and business between the Eastern and Western worlds.
In conclusion, a person’s piece of art goes far beyond just the visual aspect of the work. In order to fully appreciate a work we must understand both the artists motives towards the work and the contextual influences that help shape the work. In Ahmeds work we are able to understand his work by analysing the importance of artefacts such as rugs in his culture and comparing the Eastern and Western worlds. Through the differences in contexts and being able to analyse the works of materialising the digital through both a critical and business lens, we are able to reverse engineer the work and understand the reasons as to why the works were created.
Faig Ahmed 2014, At the crossroads – a conversation with Faig Ahmed, online video, 1 December, Vimeo, https://vimeo.com/113289667
Faig Ahmed 2014, The nomination of Jameel Prize-3- Faig Ahmed, online video, 1 December, Vimeo, https://vimeo.com/113302419
Clegg, S Kornberger, M & Pitsis, T 2015, Managing and Organizations: An Introduction to Theory and Practice, 4th Edn, Sage, London.
UNESCO, Traditional art of Azerbaijani carpet weaving in the Republic of Azerbaijan 2010,, http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/RL/traditional-art-of-azerbaijani-carpet-weaving-in-the-republic-of-azerbaijan-00389
Carter, P 2004, Material Thinking: The Theory and Practice of Creative Research, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne
Johnston, L 2015, Digital Handmade: Craftsmanship and the New industrial Revolution, Thames & Hudson, London