This new event describes itself as “the Middle East’s first art, design and technology festival”. The organisers say ECHO “aims to foster a culture where art, design, science and technology interact to pave the way for a new realm of integrated technologies”, which is the kind of message we could all get behind – especially in Dubai, something of a laboratory for urban society and for the kind of creativity that doesn’t require a community of impoverished artists in garrets. The organisers put it more dramatically, saying the festival is “built on the idea that Dubai makes dreams happen”.
In practice ECHO is a display space for local and international artists/performers, an exhibition for anyone who can afford a stand, a three-day conference, workshops across a range of artistic and creative disciplines, and “a sound festival that combines the best musical talent with digital technology and an immersive visual experience”. The exhibition will be free to visit; the conference, workshops and sound festival carry an entrance fee.
The sound festival promises “the most technologically advanced sound arts with high standard visually immersive video mapping and exciting audio approaches … Dubai Design District will be filled with different kinds of interactive installations whipped with extraordinary sound techniques and visual effects”.
This looks good, or at least the names do. The performances include sets by a very hip group of producer/DJs who often feature ion the same bill and/or each others’ recordings – like deep techno star Luigi Tozzi (right), trippy mesmeric loops from SIT (Sideways Invisibility Theory, aka Cristi Cons and Vlad Caia), up-and-coming German producer Ion Ludwig, and already-there Claus Voigtmann from the UK. These gigs run from 9pm to 3am, and tickets are AED 220 per evening or AED 450 for a three-day pass.
Then there are half a dozen ‘installations’, effectively AV performances taken from some of the more interesting creative/digital studios and collaborations – mostly from Europe. We like anything that Bram Snijders does at the intersection between the real and the digital world (left), and he has a couple of installations at ECHO. Hashem Joucka (top) will also be worth hearing; he’s a construction technologist, designer and maker who uses digital fabrication, physical programming and smart materials to create functional art.
The workshops range from the very technical (video mapping with modul 8 and MadMapper) to performance development (“create a performance with interactive costumes and/or scenography”); these tend to carry a substantial fee, from AED 1,500 up for a full day’s work.
And the conference promises “distinguished researchers and thinkers from around the world” discussing the future of art and design; there are eight streams across the three days, with sessions ranging from creative education to generative design via green tech and wearables. That’s the full spectrum from what we wear to the future of humanity.
As an indication of the calibre of speakers, check out Anouk Wipprecht. She’s an artist, designer and technologist who recently launched a project called Sonifica with multi-media performance artist and amputee Viktoria Modesta. Sonifica merges art, technology and architecture to create 3D printed interactive sonic wearables, including this bustier with sensor-based ‘tusks’; these pieces are created to explore new realms of interfacing with sounds using the spaces around the body through architecture and interaction design, engendering new forms of expression. This is cutting-edge stuff.
Also worth a hearing: Koert van Mensvoort (right), the man behind the ‘Next Nature’ concept – the idea that our technological environment has become so complex, omnipresent and autonomous that it is best perceived as a nature of its own. Originally a game designer and then an industrial designer, he’s become an artist/technologist with a neat way of expounding his theories. We loved his In Vitro Meat Cookbook, exploring the potential impact of lab grown meat on our food culture; the NANO Supermarket is a traveling exhibition that presents speculative future technologies in the form of a supermarket; and his rayfish.com project posits a (fictional) shoe maker that creates customised sneakers made from genuine stingray skin (“our groundbreaking bio-customisation technique allows you to design your very own transgenic Rayfish … One fish, one shoe”).
One day of conference is AED 290, a three-day pass is AED 800.
From a commercial viewpoint, for sponsorships and exhibition stands, ECHO is pitched quite precisely at image-conscious brands with a tech association. Or as Lana Hawilo, MD of the organisers MICE International, put it: “Brands are looking to connect with businesses and consumers in more engaging, innovative ways that use all five of the senses, rather than limiting their reach to mobile devices and social feeds. We wanted to create a platform in the region to enable this, whilst also providing opportunities for local talent to be exposed to current and new trends, in a bid to launch innovators from the region.
“Our vision is to grow an ECHO community that creates dialogue, disrupts the status quo, and brings best practice to the region.”
ECHO runs 14-16 December at d3.