Since its first edition at Retune Festival (Berlin) in 2016, Digital Calligraffiti performances have been welcomed during Vorspiel CTM / Transmediale (Berlin), Chroniques Act II (Marseille) and Tincon (Berlin). Produced by Public Art Lab and From Here To Fame Publishing with a panel of artists from Calligraphy, Calligraffiti, New media field, Digital Calligraffiti is resolutely an hybrid project. In order to better understand its challenges and perspectives, we met Michael Ang aka Mang, Hamza Abu Ayyash and Drury Brennan, three of the artists who were the most involved over the different sessions.
• Future DiverCities: Where do you come from? What is your artistic background?
Hamza: I am Hamza Abu Ayyash, I am a Palestinian artist, living in Ramallah, I studied fine arts in An Najah University in Nablus in 2004, practicing many artistic fields, lately focusing on calligraffiti as a form of expression.
Mang: I’m originally from Canada, and I’ve been living and working as an artist in Berlin for the last four years. My background is in computer engineering as well as new media art. A lot of my work involves creating tools that enhance creative expression and facilitate interactions with each other and the environment.
Drury: I come from Los Angeles, California, USA, but I was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. My father worked as a manager of black R&B musicians in the Minnesota funk scene of the early 1980’s, so I spent a lot of time in the record store or in the studio. Later we moved to LA and I became a drummer and DJ- left music to pursue art- went to Chicago for photography, later ceramics- I started calligraphy 5 years ago and love it.
• Future DiverCities: What was your first impressions when Public Art Lab approached you for Digital Calligraffiti ? How was the collaboration with the lab organizers (From Here To Fame Publishing and Public Art Lab)?
Hamza: I was very happy to see how a classical medium like calligraphy can transform into a new shape to be scalable and could reach a much bigger audience. The organization of the whole project was smooth and highly professional with organizers of real expertise, PAL, with the knowledge of which and where public art should take place, and Here to Fame with a huge network of artists who helped bring the project to life.
Mang: I collaborated with Public Art Lab for my Light Catchers project and it’s always a pleasure to work with a team that is able to curate and produce engaging and socially relevant interactive artworks
Drury: It sounded exciting. Of course, I’m honored to be a part of the project. I think more attention to all the details would benefit the project a lot, but it’s still pretty awesome.
• Future DiverCities: Your skills complement each other in this project. How do you feel about the merging of the different art formats during the project?
Hamza: For me, I experienced more than one form of art, I felt the experience was theatrical that merged tech and art in one show in a beautiful way, and increased the potential fun and experience.
Mang: I collaborated with Public Art Lab for my Light Catchers project and it’s always a pleasure to work with a team that is able to curate and produce engaging and socially relevant interactive artworks.
Drury: It’s very cool.
• Future DiverCities: Can you tell us more about the Infl3ctor? How was it built?
Hamza: The whole idea was to create a surface that would record the human movement of a calligrapher, and digitizing it in order to be projected, recorded, and in a later phase transmitted to different locations worldwide, the basic model took us a night to see how it would work, and it was ready for the first session. Improvements are always being made to enhance the performance, quality, and mobility.
Mang: The Infl3ctor came from a simple idea – to enable a calligraphy artist to “tag” a building with light in real-time while drawing. The calligraphy artist writes on tracing paper and whatever they write in black is translated to white (by a camera) and projected onto the building or screen. The act of drawing on paper becomes the act of tagging the urban space with light. A lot of the human expression in calligraphy comes from subtle motions of the pen or brush, and the Infl3ctor lets all of this expression come through and even amplifies it by making the image so much larger. The initial prototype was built very quickly after the first meeting with the calligraphy artists and then refined and improved for the following presentations.
The calligraffiti can be projected in real-time, recorded to play later, and streamed across the Internet so that artists in different cities can collaborate to use the cities as a shared canvas.
• Future DiverCities: As Calligraffiti artist, what were your first feelings or impressions when you started to draw on the Infl3ctor?
Hamza: It was amazing to see that any surface could be used to spread large scale calligraffiti in real time. I used it at the the first music EXPO in Palestine in April 2017, after experimenting with one of my friends who is a member in one of the bands and who suggested doing it live while they were playing. There was a moment when I felt a real connection through the language, calligraffiti, music and audience. It was beautiful.
Drury: I really liked it! I just want to do more and make it bigger, can the computer take my work and make them 3D? Or make them look like a dripping vaporwave collage? That would be amazing
• Future DiverCities: There has been a journey already, from the early stages at Retune Festival, to Digital Calligraffiti at Collegium Hungaricum, until Tincon. Was there any evolution or developments that you’ve noticed in your creative process before and during the performances?
Hamza: The very first model we used was very basic, it functioned as it was supposed to. Quality was an issue we developed later for the DC/CH, and the connection between Berlin and Marseille, that was the first real time projecting over distance.
Drury: I got a lot better with the margins of the Inflector screen.
• Future DiverCities: What are the difficulties you encountered during the different editions of Digital Calligraffiti? How did you overcome them?
Hamza: Patience and research, and experimenting,
Mang: Each presentation of Digital Calligraffiti required an improvement in the Infl3ctor in terms of improving the level of expressiveness possible, either by increasing the projection quality or adding the ability to collaborate over the network. The Berlin-Marseille live performance was a bit complicated because we had an Infl3ctor in each city. We had a team in each city with a calligrapher, media artist, and workshop facilitator in order to make a good networked performance.
Drury: I think each edition has had its unique setup and situation. I also think any difficulties I had is from me, everyone else has been quite wonderful!
• Future DiverCities: How was the collaboration with the participants and the audiences? What did participants tell you about their experience?
Hamza: The harmony was very good between participants, artists who used the tech were pleased with the results, and it engaged audience with the art performance.
Mang: Collaborating with the young refugees / newcomers in Berlin was one of the highlights of the project for me. Some of them were just learning Roman characters for the first time and it was fantastic to see them projecting their messages using calligraphy. They were excited to see that their messages were important and becoming a part of the city.
Drury: Everyone seemed to really like the whole setup. I think people want to have fun and feel good and maybe learn a little bit, and that’s certainly what happened!
• Future DiverCities: Did Digital Calligraffiti impact your artistic activities? If yes, how?
Hamza: It widened my view and made me rethink my performances and art projects. I’m planning on using it on a larger scale in the near future.
Mang: Digital Calligraffiti is one of my first collaborative projects that works with specific communities to increase their access to media art as a form of expression, and it’s a line of work I’d like to continue.
Drury: I just want to do more and make what we’re doing better, go to bigger venues, use the Infl3tor as a tool for live calligraphy displays, even political activism.
• Future DiverCities: What will you keep from this experience? What is your best memory of the lab?
Hamza: The networking, the professional planning and execution, and the lovely vibe, one of my best memories is becoming part of a team and a family that welcomes me every time I’m in Berlin.
Mang: The Infl3ctor tables are packed in flight cases and ready to travel at a moment’s notice. I expect they’ll get more use! The best memory for me was the end of the workshop at Collegium Hungaricum. The workshop participants projected their calligraffiti messages onto the facade of a building in the centre of Berlin and we recorded the messages to show later in the subway. There was a real feeling that we’d made something special together and that the project would carry on.
Drury: The party at the end of Collegium Hungaricum session was really fun. I will always love that one.
• Future DiverCities: What evokes the term of ‘Future DiverSocieties’’ to you?
Hamza: We all are one huge society with similar dreams and related needs, no matter how different we are.
Mang: It speaks to me of societies where the differences between people are not just tolerated but welcomed and even celebrated. Acts of positive expression in the public space are part of that, by creating a shared in-person experience between people of different backgrounds.
• Future DiverCities: What would be your wish for a future city to be more diverse?
Hamza: Acceptance and respect to each other
Mang: I would love to see more projects in public spaces that are open for people of different backgrounds to collaborate together. When people create something together, even for a moment, it helps create a shared connection.
Drury: Inclusion, and figuring out ways to bring education to people. Words are power and we have to find ways for newcomers to Europe and the world to fall back in love with poetry again. Then we can refocus. Future DiverCities is coming together but also listening deeply to each other.