First Installation Test

A couple of weeks ago I did my “first” installation of my prototype. And I had a real mix of emotions.

 

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On one side I was proud that I have achieved what I achieved so far. I’m working with  totally unfamiliar grounds. Using Unity 3D and game engines are all new to me. And while I have worked before with other programming languages I never worked that technical as I’m trying to do now. So the fact that I had something up and running felt good.

I was also scared from the amount of work that still needs to be done. I’m running against a clock here. Part of me want to stay calm and collected and just power through this. But a small part of me is going crazy jumping up and down with a timer in hand.

The strongest emotion I had though was heaviness of the heart. It is hard to situate myself as a researcher against my research subject which is part of who I am. My empathetic connection goes beyond a viewer and a subject matter. The subject matter is my people. Their stories are my history and theirs too.

In my installation there is an old lady in a refugee camp who says “I have no country, I have no family, I have no identity”. She says that almost without any emotions. She states them as facts. And it just breaks my heart. Seeing her image projected on a large scale made it more impactful than when I was editing her footage on my laptop.

I wander though how who I am is informing my experience of the installation. Even though I created it. Seeing it up and running gave me a different feeling. When I experienced it I wasn’t much of the researcher as opposed to when I’m working on the design.

Does that imply that the projection of my prototype or my installation in fact creates an experiential spatial impact? Or does it clarify that difference between myself and my researcher self. The line will always be murky.

But these questions are important for me to understand my process of design. And it will help me gain better insights as how a designer activist can perform.

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My Three Minute Thesis

So I decided this year to give the Three Minute Thesis at my university a go. It was a really great experience.
For those of you unfamiliar with 3MT. Basically it is a competition for PhD students where they have to do an oral presentation explaining their research in 3 minutes maximum for a non specialized audience. You can learn more about its history and rationale here.

When I first sat to write my presentation, I wanted to quit. How could I organize my thoughts? How would I engage the audience with such a difficult subject? How can I make sense to none specialist audience? And.. And… And?!

But I did it. I was among the finalists but didn’t win the thing. However it was a good learning experience and I’m happy I did it.

I’m not sure if I will get a link for a video of my presentation. But for those who might be interested to know more about my PhD research here is the written version.

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I visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. some years ago. And I still remember how I felt and  what I experienced going from one space to another. I also remember a question that started burning inside my head since then.

You see, Horrific events have happened and continue to happen to people worldwide. People who don’t have the means or the capabilities to document and share their histories on such large scales. In particular I thought of the Palestinians. I am Palestinian. My father was born in Jerusalem in 1948. Palestinians since that year have been subjected to forced removal, massacres, occupation and apartheid policies. Yet their narratives have been mis- or under represented.

So the question was; How can Palestinians create spaces that allow people to understand their plight? But there are some considerations to be taken. It has to be low cost as a stateless nation and still under occupation financial resources are limited. And it must be adaptable and dynamic, because though the conflict has a long history, it hasn’t ended yet.

As a designer I’m interested in alternative uses of interactive and digital media as tools for design activism, a field relatively new in design.

And that is how my research question was formulated. I wanted to explore whether using digital and interactive media we can create spatial experiences that carry complex political narratives. To do so, I’m designing a prototype of an interactive installation that shares narratives about Palestine.

In my prototype I’m using low-cost technology like projections on walls and input devices gamers use and buy online for under $100. Using free software I’m building a virtual environment where people can “walk” through and explore. And most of the videos that I’m using; are created and shared online by various activist groups and Palestinians using their mobile phones and cameras.
Ultimately this interactive environment will create the spatial experience of living under occupation.

In my research, my focus is on the design process rather than the end product and thus my main evaluation methods are self-reflections and feedback from experts in the field.
Hopefully my design process can provide a guiding example for other political narratives, which have been contested, over-shadowed, neglected or silenced by better-resourced narratives.

Arundhati Roy, the Indian author and activist said “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” I hope that my research will help in raising the voice of those people. So what remains is the question are you willing to listen? Thank you.

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Along side the oration we are allowed one slide with no animation or transition. And my slide was this:

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So what do you think of my research? If you have any questions or would like to connect with me please do.

 

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Experimentation with animation

As part of my PhD research, I’m making a prototype for an interactive immersive installation. So for the first time in my life I’m experimenting with a game engine. I’m using Unity 3D which so far I’ve been enjoying.

So to make my environment I’m using Maya 2016. And the reason is I have used Maya many years ago and I was good at it. Yet somehow after all those years I’m finding it difficult and challenging to get back into it.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to animate Handala. Those of you familiar with the Palestinian Cause will surly recognize him. The main challenges in animating Handala is:

  1. He is a 2D character.
  2. We only know the back side of him.
  3.  I have to use Maya because the rest of my environment is 3D. Animating 2D in 3D software is not something new. In fact Maya is used to create South Park.
  4. Finding good and free tutorials on how to do this is limited.

So after much searching and experimenting this morning I finally managed to finish creating this walk cycle.

It is still glitchy and rough. But for the time-being it will do.

So next task. Build my environment. Architect hat back on.

 

New Logo For The Lab

I haven’t been very active working with my Lab. Yet I always identify myself professionally through it.
The old logo was playing with Arabic text after all the name is a mix of Arabic and English. Lab and Tajribi. Tajribi تجريبي meaning experimental.
I created the logo almost 5 years ago. And at that time I liked it.
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But one day last month an idea came upon me as I was going through the endless identity crisis that PhD students seem to have every now and then. And I opened my laptop and started working on what I thought is more fitting to where I want to go with my lab. And viola’ my new logo.

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I like it for now.
And as most PhD students are masters of procrastination. I’m in the process of renovating my whole website to reflect his shift in my visual identity.

But I’m hoping that the renovation is not only in how the website looks but on how it is structuring my professional identity. Which is still as fluid and in flux as it ever was. But a clearer umbrella is starting to form within me and hopefully within my lab.