In Carving The Future (2022), Obaid Alsafi presents questions about the relationship between the desert and the civilization that emerged from it, looking to trace the links between Saudi Arabia’s past and present. Alsafi assembles a form of collective memory using artificial intelligence to build on large quantities of existing data – in this case, photos of the desert. Onto crystalline structures, Alsafi projects a video that moves between these images of undulating dunes and images of the city of Riyadh.
Locating the installation in the desert, Alsafi urges us to see the desert not as a void, but instead, a place of beginnings. The desert is where mirages commonly form, but equally somewhere abundant in sand, an integral material in the building of electronic chips. New technologies such as data mining form the basis of new forms of intelligence but can also be, as Alsafi shows, tools for creative expression. The artist considers the desert a repository of spiritual treasures; what dreams might come from these beginnings?
In a rapidly changing present, this work attempts to understand the Kingdom’s past and future, while also considering the nature of new technologies and their relation to and impact on the environment, society and human existence.