Between Art, Space, and the Digital
About Dora Hichri by Reem Aljeally. Published on 3 July 2022.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious – it is the source of all true art and science”, Albert Einstein
Those words are the perfect way to start this article, as I will not be speaking about where Dora Hichri went to school or what she has been doing in her years on earth. I will be revealing the process behind – what I think is – a great work of art and how it – literally – came to light.
DORA HICHRI: BETWEEN ART, SPACE, AND THE DIGITAL
To begin and try to speak about Dora Hichri and her art, I needed a moment or two to grasp the shifts in thinking and process following her work. I have known Dora for a little more than a month and had only few conversations with her, but her work has been loud enough to give me an insight of how this artist goes by her interests.
At such a young age being a researcher and teacher in aesthetics and visual art, Dora’s dynamic lifestyle and career allow her to utilize technology in different ways to produce digital images. “My students inspire me”, Dora mentioned when I asked her what she does when she feels stuck in a project or an artwork process. As an artist myself, I am very much familiar with the feeling of being stuck and sensing that you’re an outsider to your own creation. Often driven by enthusiasm when it comes to new projects and new experiments, half way through we tend to hit a wall that stops us for a while. But I have always believed that rising back up is as strong as ever and this big breakthrough is where Dora is about to be heading.
Dora’s interest in public and urban spaces emerged after working with prisoners in 2017 in a large video installation titled “Beban – بِيبان”. In the artwork the prisoners spoke about their emotions and feelings during their captivity period. Her genuine interest in the human state has driven her to this project and led her to explore the interactive aspects of an artistic project through dealing with time, space, and feelings.
This impulse to interactive design grew with Dora and encouraged her to be part of YOUNG MASTERS PROGRAM 2022 by INTERFERENCE Light Art Project – Tunis. As an artist who is often used to working alone, having to speak with me about her ideas and process in addition to including an accomplice to be her right hand in the project, has been quite challenging yet inspiring to Dora. “This project is big, I felt overwhelmed. The most interesting part about it to me is the sharing.”
FROM MESO TO MICRO
My knowledge of science is quite limited but I have always wondered if plants could feel? If they perceive pain or fear? Apparently , no they do not. Well not in this particular sense but studies show that they can project sensations. Plants can feel a touch as light as a caterpillar’s footsteps, some have responsive reactions to touch and others send out electrical signals from leaf to leaf when it is being eaten by caterpillars or aphids. Not signaling pain, yet depicting sensations.1sources: peta.org / britannica.com
Similar to Dora – and probably most people – my first thought after hearing the word “PHOTOSYNTHESIS” – this year’s subject for INTERFERENCE YMP 22 – was an image of a green leaf. The idea of working directly with leaves, came to Dora from her wanderings in the medina of Sousse located by the Mediterranean Sea bordering the east of Tunisia where the artist currently resides. As a heavily scientifically related topic, the concept was challenging to the artist at first until she picked up some leaves and headed to her father’s laboratory. “I took the leaves and told him I have to go to your lab”, Dora said.
In one of my conversations with Dora about her process with her project research, she told me about the astonishing microscopic images of the olive tree leaves she came across. The images showed that the leaf has a part called “stomata” that resembles pores in human skin and another part named “trichome” that acts as vegetable hair protecting the “stomata”. Under changing circumstances, another image of the same leaf had a completely different appearance and an obvious change of texture caused by what the research revealed as stress! I know, wow.
COASTAL BREEDS OF SOUSSE AND EMITTING HUES
Bougainvilleas – الجهنمية , Jasmines – الياسمين , and Succulents – النباتات الريّانةِ as the most common plants to be found in the Medina of Sousse, were the subject of study for Dora Hichri’s project. Those lively flowers are reminiscent to the artist of the time she lived and grew up in her grandfather’s house in Sousse. Dora’s past and current works are constantly affected by her surroundings in an experimental manner. Combining both observation and research, she develops works that are intersectional yet individual in their visual outcomes.
“When I do an artistic project, I always leave a personal piece of me in it.”, Dora Hichri.
Although Dora and I both speak Arabic, yet our understanding and versions of the same language vary similarly to those extremely zoomed in details of leaves hold. With their vibrant greens, they revealed the wondrous patterns that they carry. And in a conjunction of science and art, Dora has taken those images and added another dimension with the manipulation of colors and hues. That, in a manner, is derived from previous works exploring the elements of the digital image. In “Composite RGB” – derived from the computed color system RGB (Red, Green, Blue) – she created a reactive device that reveals through the movement of the spectator the layers of colors forming a digital image.
“In a digitally managed world, our body is constantly being solicited by the sensory overload of the world due to light, colors, contrasts, shapes and patterns, being overwhelmed by flows, stimuli and visual overloads that affect and reshape it.”, Dora Hichri on “COMPOSITE RGB” – IFT DIGITAL NOVEMBER – 2021. Exhibition: UNITS in Elbirou
ORGANIC/ DIGITAL PHOTOSYNTHESIS
Digital worlds, technology and light are no strange mediums to the practice of Dora Hichri. The only new element to this artwork here is the living pulse of the plants selected by Dora as her focus. Through this, she explores the similarities of her digital creation and the natural process of photosynthesis specifically by the Succulent plants. She compares light sources, the concept of receiving energy, diffusing atoms, and how both processes can also take place in dark areas.
Similar to her work in “Composite RGB” in the sense of audience interaction, colors, and digital sensitivity, Dora’s inspirations for this project included the work of Miguel Chevalier “Extra Natural” – 2018. In this work, the artist projected to a couple of large windows in Grand palais (France), vivid visuals of giant plants forming a “big virtual garden” as the artist describes it. The generative work is an interactive experience that responds to the movement and audios of the audience.
Experimenting with analog and digital microscopes, the projections created by Dora on petri-dishes simulate windows from a plane, a ship, or a submarine. The 3d circular shape of the petri-dish reveals a new illuminated world, where plants’ particles move in harmony with invisible music. As if staring from above, the projections seem like fields of greenery, a flowery field, or a bushy one, another could be a crop, or whatever your imagination could lead you to. Each of these leaves speak of a world of its own, it’s like they scream to the viewer “We are not only different from the outside. We hold universes within us. We sense.”
DIFFUSING COLORED PARTICLES
In her nostalgic approach, Dora Hichri committed to the first set of plants she chose from the medina of Sousse. Then slowly embraced other types expanding her experiments as she went out to the streets again to pick up different plants. In this testing, she explores the textures and particles of Apricots – المشمش , Rose Petals – بتلات الورد , Pollens – حبوب اللقاح , and Stems – عنق النبات.
Yet again, the lenses of the microscope open up new universes to be revealed to Dora – and to myself – of what those plants carry beyond the surface. Adding on to the vibrant colors of the flowers, Dora used a Methylene blue staining experiment on some of them. Methylene blue stain is a simple stain where a single dye is used to emphasize particular structures in the sample, shape (the size and arrangement of bacteria) (source: microbiologie-clinique.com). The blue dye filled in one of the microscopic images and created what looked – to me – like a planet from a magical galaxy.
FROM MICRO TO MACRO
I imagine a dark room, where the circular microscopic images of the plants parts are transformed into a projection filling a space larger than a human. And I say – imagine – because I am yet to see this work of art with my own eyes, surprising right? I can see the tiny microscopic images transform into something bigger, more sensational and dominating. It is outstanding to me how Dora Hichri was able to reveal this magnitude out of merley micro cells and particles. The light penetrates the petri-dishes, reflects or breaks to land on different parts of the room creating glares that compliment the main projection. They move in harmony, drawing us into this new life Dora has exposed to our eyes.