Installations allow artists, architects, and designers to express themselves with varying scales and forms in a spatial manner. They create the opportunity to experiment with material form, light, human interaction, and countless other factors. These, in turn, play a vital role in society in conveying a message, providing inspiration, or simply increasing awareness of different abstract or literal themes.

In a previous exhibition, Desert X, the international art exhibition featured 15 contextual installations. These installations were spread across the desert of Saudi Arabia and revolved around concepts of mirages and oases. Neville Wakefield, Reem Fadda, and Raneem Farsi and had curated this exhibition. The theme came from the Arabic word ‘Sarab’, which means ‘mirage. ’ Artists were told to explore the historical and cultural significance of the desert, its relevance in today’s world, and the relationship between the natural world and man-made interventions. 

Recently, Wadi AlFann, situated in the Valley of the Arts in the AIUIa desert of Saudi Arabia, has revealed news about upcoming installations. They have unveiled snippets of five installations, which will be permanent to be done by a selection of the world’s renowned and talented contemporary artists. Three of the five permanent installations are by international artists: US artists James Turell, Agnes Denes, and Michael Hozier, and two by Saudi artists: Manal AlDowayan and Ahmed Mater. These five installations are to be unveiled on the site by 2024 and will be followed by more work by other renowned artists. 

The site is a valley that sprawls across sixty-five square kilometres of desert and has a fascinating geography. It is an untouched landscape of sandstone canyons and volcanic planes. It offers an opportunity to create and experience art in dialogue with the landscape. These large-scale commissions will be overseen by Ywona Blaswick: the former director of the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

Wadi AlFann strives to become a new global destination for contemporary art and culture. It will hold installations spanning culture, Saudi Arabian heritage, and other creative explorations by 2035. The site master plan of the centre contains the international art exhibition of Desert X AUIUa. The artists exhibiting their work will respond to the dramatic topography and landscapes of the desert and the natural vistas and scenic terrains it holds.

Several factors have influenced the selection process, such as the artist’s ability to respond to the desert as a geological landscape and complex ecosystem, sensitivity to desert communities, use of local materials, openness to mentor local youth, and offering masterclasses. Wadi AlFann also works closely with an advisory panel, composed of internationally recognised arts and culture experts, who review and advise on proposed work,” said Nora Aldabal, the executive director of Arts and Creative Industries at the RCU.

1: Agnes Denes

Agnes Denes is an American- Hungarian artist and a pioneer of environmental art. Her work investigates science and philosophy, linguistics, poetry, and history, alongside art. As a leading figure in environmental art, she is well known for creating ‘Rice/ Tree/ Burial in 1968. This artwork was created in Sullivan County, New York. Her work often addresses socio-political concerns, apart from simply being aesthetic in appearance.

She will continue a series she has already been working on, consisting of monumental pyramids at the Wadi AlFann site, her ongoing series of monumental pyramids at this site. This version of her installations aspires to give a voice to the silent canyons they’ll nest within, telling a story of the past, present, and future of mankind. The artwork portrays the themes of civilisation, progress, and achievement, a narrative of mankind.

2: Ahmed Mater

Around a year ago, Ahmed Mater had a short audience with the prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. In this meeting, he laid out an ambitious proposal that is now becoming a reality. Mater suggested that Saudi Arabia can become a global arts hub, an epicentre where dialogue over contemporary art and design could thrive. 

One of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent and influential contemporary artists, Ahmed Mater, has done a large body of work in the Arab world and published work about his art and ideas. On the site, his installation: Ashab Al- Lal, will explore and create a mythic space through underground elements and mirrors. He aims to create a spiritual experience for the people, an experience that transports them to another mind space. He draws from the scientific and philosophical thinkers from the past, the Golden Age of Islam. Set against the breathtaking sandstone cliffs of the terrain: these artworks will draw from the topography, undulating backdrops, and stark geography, sitting amongst the monumental sandstone cliffs that form the surrounding landscape. 

It will consist of a series of narratives that invites people from local communities and a global audience to discover, unravel and decipher. The walkways and pavilions will be made using locally sourced materials and positioned in a manner that doesn’t hinder the movement of camels and other native species.

5 Permanent Large-Scale Installations announced by Valley of the Arts in Al-Ula in KSA - Sheet1
Ahmed Mater’s installation visualisation_ https://www.archdaily.com/993729/valley-of-the-arts-in-al-ula-in-ksa-announces-5-permanent-large-scale-installations-to-be-completed-by-2024#:~:text=Agnes%20Denes%2C%20Ahmed%20Mater%2C%20James,renowned%20artists%20to%20be%20announced.
5 Permanent Large-Scale Installations announced by Valley of the Arts in Al-Ula in KSA - Sheet2
Ahmed Mater’s installation visualisation_ https://www.archdaily.com/993729/valley-of-the-arts-in-al-ula-in-ksa-announces-5-permanent-large-scale-installations-to-be-completed-by-2024#:~:text=Agnes%20Denes%2C%20Ahmed%20Mater%2C%20James,renowned%20artists%20to%20be%20announced.

3: James Turrell

James Turell was a leading figure in the Light and Space movement of the 1960s. He converted an extinct volcano in Arizona into a well-curated land art installation. His installations and work around the world contain explorations with light and space, such as projection pieces, shallow space constructions, skyspaces, tunnel spaces etc. On the site, the artist will be creating a sensory experience through the play of light, colour, and perception. The idea is to generate a sequence of spaces in the overall floor space provided. While one meanders through these different spaces and passages, one experiences the very nature of light, the notion of seeing, and the elements of the sky and terrain peering through it. His artwork plays with the idea of light and curates a sensory experience of wordless thought for the viewers who pass through it.

4: Manal AlDowayan

Manal AlDowayan is a Saudi artist whose art revolves around various themes. Some of her well-known work explores the concepts of invisibility and collective memory and creates dialogues around the representation of women. Her installation at Wadi AlFann will be called  ‘The Oasis of Stories. ’ It draws inspiration from the mud walls used in construction at the Old Town of AIUIa. It invites the users to walk within its labyrinth of passages, losing themselves in an organic yet curated journey, with a strong analogy to the ancient spaces of Arabic settlements.

Manal’s sketch of “The Oasis of Stories”_ https://www.archdaily.com/993729/valley-of-the-arts-in-al-ula-in-ksa-announces-5-permanent-large-scale-installations-to-be-completed-by-2024#:~:text=Agnes%20Denes%2C%20Ahmed%20Mater%2C%20James,renowned%20artists%20to%20be%20announced.

5: Michael Heizer

Michael Heizer is renowned for his work with earthly elements such as rock, concrete, and steel and for producing large outdoor sculptures. At Wadi AlFann, Heizer will be creating incised engravings on sandstone rock. Creating tunnels and stairs, he seeks to create a strong connection with the surrounding topography and accentuate the characteristics of the Quweira rock present locally in the region. When viewed from a considerable distance, these massive works of art will appear differently to users.

5 Permanent Large-Scale Installations announced by Valley of the Arts in Al-Ula in KSA - Sheet4
Hozier’s installation inspired from Quweira rocks_ https://www.archdaily.com/993729/valley-of-the-arts-in-al-ula-in-ksa-announces-5-permanent-large-scale-installations-to-be-completed-by-2024#:~:text=Agnes%20Denes%2C%20Ahmed%20Mater%2C%20James,renowned%20artists%20to%20be%20announced.

Conclusion

The five permanent installations, each a unique artist’s take on art and architecture in the same environment, will create a kaleidoscope of experiences for all viewers experiencing these narratives. Each is a journey of discovery and wonder. Supported by other temporary installations and exhibits, Wadi AlFann will be a curated centre for arts, drawing in people across the globe.

References:

Cano, P. (2022) Valley of the arts in Alula, in KSA, announces 5 permanent large-scale installations, to be completed by 2024, ArchDaily. ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/993729/valley-of-the-arts-in-al-ula-in-ksa-announces-5-permanent-large-scale-installations-to-be-completed-by-2024 (Accessed: December 21, 2022).  

Petridou, C. (2022) Colossal installations at Alula’s arts valley: From Ahmed Mater to James Turrell + Michael Heizer, designboom. Available at: https://www.designboom.com/architecture/five-permanent-site-specific-installations-at-alula-wadi-alfann-saudi-arabia-12-12-2022/ (Accessed: December 21, 2022).   

Shaji, S. (2022) Alula’s Wadi Alfann will be home to 5 permanent installations by international and Saudi artists, Vogue Arabia. Available at: https://en.vogue.me/culture/alula-wadi-alfann-saudi-arabia-permanent-artworks/ (Accessed: December 22, 2022).

(no date) Agnes Denes. Available at: http://www.agnesdenesstudio.com/ (Accessed: December 22, 2022).

Tarmy, J. (2018) Saudi Arabia announces plans to become a Global Arts Hub, Skift. Available at: https://skift.com/2018/02/03/saudi-arabia-announces-plans-to-become-a-global-arts-hub/ (Accessed: December 22, 2022).

Author

Nikita is a final year student of interior architecture at Cept University. She’s passionate about sustainable materials and their use in making spaces that are sensitive to the user as well as the planet. Along with her design studies, she also enjoys writing about architecture, culture and vernacular building traditions.

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