Dubai: Hala Ghatasheh is a storyteller who translates cultural experiences for the curious audience through a sophisticated amalgamation of architecture, digital arts and sounds. Based in Cologne, Germany, the multidisciplinary artist slash architect is the design lead for two of Expo 2020 Dubai’s country participants, the Jordan and Belgium Pavilions, under German creative agency facts and fiction.
“When it comes to storytelling, I know that Expo [2020 Dubai] is the place to share the incredible stories of cultures and nations and to bring people together in memorable experiences,” says Ghatasheh in an interview with Gulf News.
When it comes to storytelling, I know that Expo [2020 Dubai] is the place to share the incredible stories of cultures and nations and to bring people together in memorable experiences.
The Jordanian media artist found her degree in architecture to be the launchpad for her more experimental inclinations in various fields of creation. She began merging physical and digital worlds to enhance one’s architectural experience through her studies at the Bauhaus University Weimar.
“I believe in the beauty of interdisciplinary creations and shared experiences, and I thrive to facilitate this interaction in my work, weaving hybrid collaborations between architecture, digital arts, performance and sound to explore the endless possibilities of space.”
Blooming clouds of smoke pulsating to the rhythm of an artist’s music or a projection of undulating flowers against the backdrop of which a dancer takes centre stage – both bear hallmarks of Ghatasheh’s works, and a similarly dynamic installation by her can be found in the Jordan Pavilion at Expo.
On representing home country
Before Ghatasheh joined facts and fiction in 2019, she took her work to global and local platforms alike, featuring in major art exhibitions and festivals such as Genius Loci Weimar, Kunstfest Weimar, Amman Design Week 2017 and Berlin Design Week 2018.
Her exposure to talents in Amman, Jordan, contributed to the design process of the Jordanian pavilion, which brought on collaborations with local designers, architects, initiatives and innovators, as well as leading institutions in the fields of youth engagement and empowerment.
“Our aim is to promote and support the local Jordanian talents and to provide a platform of exchange and cross-border collaborations,” says Ghatasheh. “It was a special project for me personally, not just because it is the first time we are designing a pavilion for a Middle Eastern country, but because I get to represent my beloved home country, Jordan.”
It was a special project for me personally, not just because it is the first time we are designing a pavilion for a Middle Eastern country, but because I get to represent my beloved home country, Jordan.
Facts and fiction has been an early creative contributor to the World Expo pavilions ever since the Hannover Expo in 2000. At Expo 2020 Dubai, the agency is adding an Arab country to its pavilion portfolio for the first time.
“Composing this visitor experience has been an exciting mission, where we worked closely with the Jordan Investment Commission to source and feature Jordanian innovations and aspiring future visions, complemented by the country’s rich cultural heritage and fascinating nature.”
A unique symphony of Jordan
In designing the Jordan Pavilion, Ghatasheh says that it was not enough to just narrate the story of her home country but to activate the audience to live it. This conceptual framework is evidenced in the poetic media installation found at the heart of the Petra-inspired pavilion called ‘The Portal’.
Much like a time-warp portal, the dedicated space functions “as a symbolic gateway into the heart of Jordan.” Visitors will be immersed in Jordanian landscapes and legendary cultural treasures through Ghatasheh’s signature art style, where architecture meets media art to birth something new.
The large-scale panoramic projection of the ancient, rose-coloured city of Petra and other sights of cultural import will come to life through an interactive audio-visual element. “[Upon] entering the interaction zone, visitors can influence the music at several interaction points,” says Ghatasheh.
At these hot spots, by tapping traditional musical instruments such as the rabab – the violin’s ancestor – the pear-shaped oud and the end-blown flute ney, the audience can compose a unique symphony of Jordan. The resulting composition creates a playful poetic interaction, bringing the soundscape and vistas of the Arab country to Dubai in an art-house form.
Facts and fiction designs four pavilions
“All of our pavilions are characterised by an intensive thematic exploration of the respective country, which we translate into impressive experiences that are remembered,” she says.
Including the four country pavilions currently being handled by the agency, the other two being Monaco and Germany, Ghatasheh says that facts and fiction has been creatively responsible for ten pavilions in World Expo history, many of which have won Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) awards.
“Our pavilions have always been visitors’ first choice,” says Ghatasheh, citing that not many creatives hold such a track record.
Foregrounding sustainability, the agency approaches its projects with a motto of ‘achieving more with less’ – ensuring that little material, and environmentally friendly material, goes a long way without compromising on the quality delivered, especially since many elements will gain a new life after Expo.
Expo 2020: An enlightening challenge
“Being part of this experience has exposed us to new worlds of creation, culture, and innovation, and opened up new gates of intercultural exchange and cross-border collaborations.”
Ghatasheh says that it has been an honour for facts and fiction to be offering four different experiences at the upcoming World Expo and an enlightening challenge that allows her to explore the infinite potentials of interdisciplinary design.
“We certainly hope to resume this journey and further contribute to the great happenings of this flourishing region,” adds Ghatasheh. “The Expo has been an incredible journey and wrapping the projects up will surely leave an empty space for us.”
We certainly hope to resume this journey and further contribute to the great happenings of this flourishing region. [Expo 2020 Dubai] has been an incredible journey and wrapping the projects up will surely leave an empty space for us.
Though the artist expects a well-deserved break around the corner, she and the agency will continue to pummel through new projects involving exhibitions, museums and visitor experiences in Germany and elsewhere alongside Expo.
When asked if she would be in Dubai to see her art come to life, Ghatasheh assures that she “wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
- The writer is an intern with Gulf News.