An installation view of Functional Fictions exhibition at Fikra Campus, Sharjah Image Credit: Supplied

This year has seen exciting developments at Sharjah-based Fikra Design Studio as it transformed itself to the Fikra Campus which incorporates the emirate’s first design-led co-working space.

It has indeed been a huge step, evolving from a design studio to a multi-faceted organisation that aims to investigate and promote culture and identity of this region through the lens of design, alongside other overlapping disciplines, more thoroughly and independently.

It marks a major milestone as well as materialises one of the key objectives of Shaikh Salem Al Qassimi, founder and Principal of Fikra, when he undertook this journey as a design professional and educator, to promote research as well as experimental work.

In its present form, the Fikra Campus space comprises an award-winning graphic design studio (established in 2006), a design library, a co-working space, a café and an experimental gallery space.

According to Al Qassimi, “The idea of the space was built on the notion of serendipity and facilitating serendipitous encounters — allowing different people, experiences, disciplines and expertise to cross paths. The space helps entrepreneurs with their creative businesses by offering them a space, facilitating the process of starting up their businesses and registering it, and allowing them to be part of a Fikra’s year-long educational programme.”

The transition of Fikra has been an exciting one for Al Qassimi and his associates as well as all those who keenly follow the exciting developments in the local and regional design scene. “For the last 12 years, the design studio has been pushing the boundary of Arabic and bilingual graphic design through experimentation and promoting a research-approach that sheds light on our culture,” says Al Qassimi.

“Fikra’s future lies in its ability to continuously expand and evolve its experimental approach, its educational programmes, and professional services,” he says.

Creative space

Fikra Campus specifically acts as a creative space that provides a wide range of culturally-led collaborations and discipline-focused activities. “We want to ignite and elevate an intellectual and experimental discourse around design and its relationship with the whole world,” says Al Qassimi.

Committed to an ongoing experimentation and investigation, Al Qassimi says, “Fikra Campus looks at a thematic year-round programme and since its launch in early 2018 we have been debating and in ‘Knowledge: disruption and transformation’ from different angles.”

In January, Fikra Campus launched its first Design-in-Residence programme with two selected designers-in-residence — Adnan Arif from Sharjah, and Kevin Zweerink from Virginia, USA — undertaking their self-direct research and reveal their three-month investigation with an exhibition titled Functional Fictions.

The designers delved into design research and used their time in the residency to explore design as a platform for exploring future and parallel worlds.

Both designers explored the local urban landscape and drew out signals to develop fictional props as structures of participation for experiential engagement and to provoke discussions about how technology and society shape our worlds.

The two projects that comprise Functional Fictions are Interference Zones by Kevin Zweerink and Old Dubai Futures by Adnan Arif.

Zweerink’s Interference Zones investigates the shared area between neighbouring urban areas, as a distinct category of space, designated by the term ‘transurb’ a short form of ‘Transurban’.

Rooted in the modelling of the Dubai/Sharjah transurb, the project proposes a pseudo-scientific theory to cast the space as a zone of untapped potential for reflection on, and recombination of, patterns of urban living. This theory is explored and expressed through various modelling and visualisation strategies, a neural network trained to generate anecdotes from global transurbs and a series of workshop-performances placing human participants into conversation with the neural network within the tonsure in an attempt to manifest its unique energy.

According to Zweerink, these transurbs present incredible potential for reflection on the patterns of daily life in the neighbouring areas and how they intersect.

In Old Dubai Futures, Arif explores the rich multicultural, hyper-transient areas of Deira. Deemed the heart and soul of Dubai by many, it considers Deira as a lens to explore the inhabitants of the region and as an opportunity to speculate on the current discourse on automation through its impact on their way of life.

Built further on the premise that basic income may remain a dream for many, it considers whether through this algorithm-driven future, could we encode human salvation? Could there still be room an alternative narrative for self determination?

These questions are explored through a series of design fictions centred around a blockchain cooperative — blockchains are a method of storing and sharing data online which is secure, trustworthy and decentralised — that advocates for human compassion. Through this narrative construct, the project examines what manner of values may arise and their influence on our relationship with our fellow man.

Old Dubai Futures uses audio and visual testimony from a fictional future of Deira to ask questions on how we interact with our fellow man and how compassion can lead to potential answers that may steer us away from that future.

N. P. Krishna Kumar is a writer based in Dubai.

Functional Fictions is running at Fikra Campus in Sharjah until July 15.