An Arab Cyborg Reflects on January 6, 2021 in a New Art Installation only at Gallery QI

On Thursday, November 4, the Qualcomm Institute (QI) reflects on the events leading up to and taking place during the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol through a never-before-seen, interactive art installation. Capital Glitch: Arab Cyborg Turns to D.C. by artist and Arab cyborg VJ Um Amel is a digital art exhibition of large-scale, cultural analytics of social media collected on January 6 from Parler and Twitter social media platforms. 

The installation premieres in-person at 5 p.m. PST at the Calit2 Auditorium and Gallery QI in Atkinson Hall, UC San Diego. The event will be accompanied by a livestream.

Capital Glitch: Arab Cyborg Turns to D.C. is a three-act installation consisting of interactive mosaics, glitch metal prints and a mixed-reality immersive experience. Gallery participants can populate Capital Glitch’s 30-foot mosaics by choosing among topics analyzed in the images, using their phones as game controllers. They navigate an archive of images and memes sourced from Parler rendered into “day” and “night” mosaics of the U.S. Capitol Building. The “day” version of the Capitol derives from a set of Parler social media and the “night” version from a set of Twitter data posted on January 6, 2021. Three dye-sublimation on metal prints from the Arab revolutions of 2011 hang in the liminal space between the wall of mosaics and the gallery experience. While “Birds,” “Cairo Graffiti” and “Tapestry” are artistically a pre-history, they are also thematically related to this new body of work. 

Outside the gallery, viewers will see consequences of U.S. foreign policy. Similar forces play out in the domestic sphere within the gallery’s interior. Using mixed-reality smart glasses, participants gesture inside holograms to interact with an archive of videos that populate a map around the U.S. Capitol building and words that connect the dots among users within online conversations. The immersive installation is staged in a landscape of textured representations of the disenchanted yet synchronized global voices created by the Arabic-speaking cyborg.

Offering glitches, mosaics, and mixed realities, VJ Um Amel reveals a secret world of code in an abstract, algorithmic aesthetic, blown up and situated in and out of time. The singularity of each image stands for an infinite number of visual memories, some recorded, most not. The use of the mosaic mode of “assemblage” is intended to capture this notion of the infinite, reiterative algorithmic form of any single visual expression. The assembled images are not literal representations of this body of text; they are a stand-in, a metonym for it. Thus, the aesthetics of the work VJ Um Amel is proposing also trace back to choices made while creating the archive—understanding not only the text within the archive, but that the archive itself is a text, is also imperative. 

Capital Glitch is a production by Laila Shereen Sakr, Assistant Professor of Media Theory & Practice at UC Santa Barbara, performing as VJ Um Amel. As Um Amel, she theorizes technology and the body through multimodal creative research. At UC Santa Barbara, Sakr co-founded Wireframe, a new digital media studio that supports critical game design and digital arts practice. She has shown in solo and group exhibitions and performances at galleries and museums including the San Francisco MoMA, National Gallery of Art in Jordan, Camera Austria, Cultura Digital in Brazil, Kirchner Cultural Centre in Argentina, Tahrir Cultural Center in Cairo, Fridge Art Gallery in Washington, DC, and 100 Copies in Egypt, among other venues. She is currently finishing her book on Arabic Glitch: Technoculture, Data Bodies, and Archives. Collaborators: Josh Bevan, Developer (UCSB, 2020); DJ Duncan, Research Assistant (UCSB, 2023); MD R. Rahman, Data Analyst (CUNY, 2021); Handell Vigneiro, Data Analyst (CUNY, 2021).

The premiere of Capital Glitch will feature an artist presentation and panel discussion with UC San Diego faculty Jordan Crandall and Ricardo Dominguez, Assistant Professor Ronak Etemadpour of the City College of New York and digital culture theorist Lev Manovich. The panel will be moderated by Professor Amy Alexander of the Visual Arts Department at UC San Diego.

RSVPs for opening night of Capital Glitch are requested through galleryqi@ucsd.edu.

All in-person events at Gallery QI follow current UC San Diego recommendations on campus safety, including requirements for personal protective equipment while attending indoor events. You can review campus safety protocols on the UC San Diego Return to Learn website.

Capital Glitch will be on display daily Monday-Friday, from noon to 5 p.m. through Friday, December 3. 

QI Gallery events are free and open to the public.