September 8, 2021
Cultures in Conversation at Expo 2020
It’s been a long summer for anyone who has been working on what we endearingly call CIC, formally known as Cultures in Conversation. In fact, we’ve had the honour of working on it for much longer. Cultures in Conversation received so much of our creative and programming attention because it is a once-in-a-lifetime project: there will never be another Expo 2020; the planet and its people are at a crucial inflection point on many fronts; and never has the need for breakthrough thinking, reimagined approaches, and genuinely change-driven voices been so acute.
So, what is Cultures in Conversation?
Commissioned from Alserkal by Expo2020, Cultures in Conversation consists of ten theme weeks of events and interventions that challenge the typical ‘talks’ format. Multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural, the programme unites people who are normally unlikely to even be in the same room—poets, diplomats, theorists, artists, environmental agents of change, academics. Part of Expo’s wider series entitled Programme for People and Planet (PPP),Cultures in Conversation is less about global leaders owning top-down conversation, and more an opportunity for diverse people from around the world to unite, take ownership of a programme, and re-think global issues that have become excruciatingly urgent.
Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, Founder of Alserkal, said: “At Alserkal we share Expo 2020’s commitment to sustainable innovation and providing a platform for global exchange. Expo 2020 Dubai is a historic moment uniting the world and drawing attention to today’s challenges while imagining ambitious solutions. Alserkal is proud to help shape thinking around these urgent issues."
Nadia Verjee, Chief of Staff, Programme for People and Planet, Expo 2020 Dubai, added: “An integral part of the Programme for People and Planet focuses on the power of cultural exchange. We believe that intercultural dialogue is key to breaking down boundaries between people, creating better informed individuals who see connections between people and cultures of the world, rather than divisions. As one of the most forward-thinking and established home-grown cultural initiatives in Dubai, Alserkal is perfectly placed to help us achieve this, and we can’t wait for visitors to take part in the Cultures in Conversation series.”
Cultures in Conversation, commissioned by Expo 2020 Dubai, programmed by Alserkal
Spend even a short time with the minds behind Programme for People and Planet and you’ll immediately feel their commitment to creating a social movement from the ground up. While we certainly saw this spirit in the inaugural Sharjah Architectural Triennial’s Rights for Future Generations (November 2019- February 2020), Expo 2020 seems intent on identifying and cultivating agents of change who will be become standard bearers of the event’s broader promise to ‘create a better tomorrow.’ The programming reinforces the marketing promise: it signposts avenues of thought and proposes concrete means of engagement.
A rigorous approach
Cultures in Conversation is emblematic of Alserkal Advisory’s approach to cultural production: it is rigorous, galvanises practitioners from across disciplines and cultures, and consistently challenges and diversifies conventional formats in the name of context- and audience-specificity. For Cultures in Conversation, immersive experiences, artist interventions, informal conversations, and performances are programming pillars. Participants include H.E. Omar Ghobash, Charles Landry, Lumumba Di-Aping, Nujoom Al-Ghanem, Mary Ellen Carroll, 3 137, and the Engage 101 collective, among others.
Vilma Jurkute, Executive Director of Alserkal comments: “At the heart of Alserkal and Alserkal Advisory we challenge conventional business practices and craft audience-specific public programmes that resonate with our communities while assessing our impact on society, the environment, and local economies. Through partnering with Expo 2020 to conceptualise Cultures in Conversation we have thoughtfully brought some of the world’s leading thinkers from multiple disciplines together to address and reimagine critical contemporary issues in a world of Anthropocene. Cultures in Conversation allows for a meta-narrative that offers reflection, awareness, and re-envisioned approaches, as a result engendering new forms of knowledge, activating social discourse, and shaping borderless communities on a collaborative Expo stage.”
Cultures in Conversation is Alserkal Advisory’s first project with Expo 2020 Dubai. We are proud to help shape meaningful conversations with minds who can make a difference.
Full Cultures in Conversation programme:
9 October | Climate and Biodiversity Week
Climate change in the classroom, living room, street and beyond
We live at the epicentre of an ecological catastrophe with unimaginable consequences. Yet, there has to emerge a global organic consciousness and a genuine global political will and consensus to advance the agenda for a true transformative pathway and architecture, in the service of humanity and the entire human family. Our task is to highlight the urgency for the need to acknowledge the inseparability of biodiversity and climate change, and the existence of a body of knowledge that can pave the way to avoid devastation and calamities across the world. Our dialogue is aimed at underlining the existence of this nascent and marginalised organic consciousness, its moral vitality, its political-economic essence, and the necessity for climate justice, equality, and equity worldwide.
Participants: Ambassador Lumumba Di-Aping, Wilf Speller, Lara Rudar, Alla Semenovskaya, Elena Valera
23 October | Space Week
Never Be Lost: Learn to Read the Stars
This programme considers the cultural imagination of the celestial and how important systems of knowledge have been passed down through literature, memory, and oral narratives, continuing to hold meaning as we imagine space futures.
Participants: Nujoom Alghanem, Duane Hamacher, Mashhoor Ahmad Al Wardat, Rangi Mātāmua
6 November | Urban and Rural Development
What Makes a City: Dimensions of culture and possibility of community
The invisible ties that bind urban communities together become visible in the construction and use of shared public spaces. This event will explore how these spaces are used, claimed, co-opted and transformed, and how citizens contribute to building a city.
Participants: Charles Landry, Bard Studio, Civil Architecture, Stephen Hobbs
20 November | Tolerance and Inclusivity
Town Hall with H.E. Omar Saif Ghobash
This programme takes on the form of a town hall and invites regional voices from the worlds of culture and politics to engage and respond to audiences from the world over. As the world grapples with unprecedented polarisation, how do we collectively resist cultural othering? Moreover, how do we go beyond rhetoric to create plurality and action as a community?
18 December | Knowledge and Learning
The Everywhere Classroom
The Everywhere Classroom is an immersive multi-experience performance centred around learning via play. Audience members choose from a handful of possible “subjects” upon arrival, school bells mark starts and ends, punctuating timeline and the exercises within each subject. The audience participates in exercises prompted by the performers, together they “add to the story” and thus change its outcomes.
Theatrical and didactic, this performance will make “the classroom” the protagonist, and invites the audience to choose, react to, and explore its subjects. Every audience member leaves with their own story of the experience.
Participants: Engage 101 (Munira Al Sayegh and Gaith Abdulla)
15 January | Travel and Connectivity
A Cloud is Nobody’s
Conceptual Artist Mary Ellen Carroll will be in conversation with AI ethicist Renee Cummings to discuss the ethical imagination (EI®), travel, and AI. Combining new systems of exchange and value, the ubiquity of the blockchain and its application for collective decision making as well as sovereign-less currencies also expands the notion of travel. This can be seen in VR and AR and more recently and importantly in the space of mixed reality (MR). MR proffers a place where the virtual and the real interact to create locations where it is possible to travel in time and space, while remaining in the same place. Carroll and Cummings will engage in these topics with a media presentation that exemplifies the innovation and its uses and the ethical questions that are world considerations that begin in the cultural realm and amplify into other sectors.
22 January | Global Goals
The wider the vision, the narrower the phrase
Through a commissioned performance, we ask: how can culture interpret the Global Goals for citizens of the world that are at Expo? We invite cultural practitioners to radically challenge the conversation and allow for artistic interpretations of these inspirational objectives.
27 January | Health & Wellness
Slowing down as an antidote
This programme invites curators and cultural practitioners to engage in an informal conversation, which will investigate urgent questions surrounding notions of care, collectivity, and solidarity.
26 February | Food, Agriculture & Livelihoods
Bringing a playful approach to the intrinsic link between food and culture, this programme invites local, regional, and international artists, chefs, researchers, scientists, and curators to share their stories.
26 March | Water
The Silencing of Water
Cultural connections and knowledge were forged through maritime trade over centuries, shaping our cultural identities and belief systems. In this event we explore what can be learnt from the respect that our ancestors had for the elixir of life and how the past connects with the water crises and water conflicts we face today
*Alserkal Advisory is an independent multi-disciplinary practice of thinkers, researchers, and specialists covering diverse fields and multiple geographies, embracing a mindful approach to reimagining cultural destinations and crafting audience-specific public programmes.