PROJECT KAUST International Art Program
DEVELOPMENT King Abdullah University of Science & Technology
LOCATION Yacht Club Exterior, KAUST Town Centre, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
ARTIST Dennis Nona
ARTWORK Two Brothers
ENGINEERS Robert Bird Group Engineers
LIGHTING Norman Disney & Young
ART MANAGEMENT Urban Art Projects
YEAR 2009

Torres Strait Islanders’ navigational skills and stellar knowledge were exceptional and paralleled those of the ancient Islamic world’s mariners and astronomers. They are described as having one foot on land and one in the sea. Both Torres Strait Island and Arabian cultures boast a seafaring tradition that encompassed both trading and fishing. The canoes and sails employed by the Torres Strait Islanders were not unlike those of the Arab dhow.

Dennis Nona developed “Two Brothers” based on a traditional legend from his home island of Badu. The 7-metre-long cast bronze canoe is supported by 6 paddles, raising it 5 metres above the ground. The patterning and position of two mother-of-pearl stars seen on the sides of the canoe’s hull reflect the strong wind (Sagerr) and soft wind (Nagai).

The placement of the artist’s canoe in the Sailing Club precinct is poetic. Nona’s evocative and spiritual work reminds us of a simpler existence and traditional ways of living.  Most importantly, Nona’s work reminds us of the importance of celebrating the ancient in relation to the contemporary and acknowledging the contribution of indigenous cultures to humanity.

Star Projector by Oliver van den Berg

PROJECT KAUST International Art Program
LOCATION King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
ARTIST Oliver van den Berg (Germany)
ARTWORK Star Projector
ENGINEERS Robert Bird Group Engineers
LIGHTING Norman Disney & Young
ART MANAGEMENT Urban Art Projects
YEAR 2009

Setting the tone for the ground floor of KAUST’s research lab, Oliver van den Berg has created “Star Projector”. Based upon an actual apparatus which was used for projecting an accurate image of the night sky in large planetariums, the 5.7m steel and aluminium structure has all of the appearance of futuristic technology without the function. Reduced to pure form, it stands to reflect something of the nature of the human beings who created it.

Oliver van den Berg’s work is an ambitious and wonderful folly. A romantic work, it speaks to the adventurer and dreamer inside each of us, and our capacity to suspend our disbelief and imagine the unimaginable. A ‘blind’ telescope, it operates as a metaphor for sight and seeing as believing in an age of hyper reality.

Star Projector speaks of humanity’s shared desire for knowledge and the unknowable, and acknowledges the legacy of Arabic scholars and scientists in the fields of astronomy and science.

Star Projector by Oliver van den Berg

PROJECT KAUST International Art Program
LOCATION King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
ARTIST Carsten Höller
ARTWORK Spheres
ENGINEERS Robert Bird Group Engineers
LIGHTING Norman Disney & Young
ART MANAGEMENT Urban Art Projects
YEAR 2009

One of 15 international artists selected for the KAUST International Art Program, Carsten Höller has presented a series of large scale Spheres in white brass. Three spheres, each 2.2m in diameter, are positioned in the north entry spine of the university campus. The spheres are based upon a human scale, designed to be entered through the large, round openings.

Carsten Höller first presented the Sphere project in Basel’s Museum for Contemporary Art in 1998. The spheres are informed by the legacy of 1940s scientist and philosopher Buckminster ‘Bucky’ Fuller, who sought to make the most efficient shape out of the least material. Fuller’s legacy is enduring: the sphere is at once the stuff of sci-fi fantasy as well as of the familiar, reminiscent of everyday objects such as soccer balls.

In the context of the KAUST campus, the Spheres speak of the importance of science and technology and the capacity to imagine and be innovative, a core mission of KAUST.


Complex mathematical modelling was required for the construction of Höller’s Spheres. UAP was recognised as Autodesk Inventor of the month in July 2009 for work on the KAUST International Art Program and similar public art projects.

PROJECT KAUST Art Program
LOCATION Campus Mosque, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
ARTIST Nja Mahdaoui
ENGINEERS Robert Bird Group Engineers
LIGHTING Norman Disney & Young
ART MANAGEMENT Urban Art Projects
YEAR 2009

The vast contribution of Islam to poetry and literature is almost immeasurable, its influence on Western culture far reaching and frequently cited.  One of 15 international artists selected as part of the KAUST International Art Program, Nja Mahdaoui’s work explores this rich literary tradition in ancient and contemporary Islamic culture through the aesthetic form of the letters and words. Mahdaoui’s abstraction of the calligraphy encourages the viewer to create his or her own poetry as it were. Sited on the sacred minaret and the surrounding mashrabiyyah screening for the KAUST mosque, Mahdaoui’s embedded work complements the spirituality of the site and its purpose.

“The use of fragments of letters or symbols in my work is due to my instinctive rejection of the transfiguration of the value of characters,” explains the artist, ” In calligraphy the written letters acquire a symbolic status which they maintain until they vehicle a significance. But as soon as the letter loses its contours, the reader is bound to resort to his imagination in order to reach the meaning of the word.

“My view is to freely exit the graphic structure of the Arab letters or the verb syntax and the structure of the style. It is because I believe that the final objective is a work of art which materials are meaning loaded symbols. I have tried to extract the original signification power of these materials in order to achieve an aesthetic of form. I hope the reader does not remain confined to the visual content but that he rather journeys through a prose in process.”


Visualisation of the KAUST Mosque by night.


The screens cast intricate patterns in the Mosque’s interior.

Jodie Cox leads UAP’s Curatorial Team bringing over 10 years of arts experience, curating and managing major international art and design commissions for the public realm. Jodie has extensive experience working with collaborative teams in the development of targeted art and design strategies for masterplanned cities, commercial developments, and communal spaces. Jodie has an in-depth knowledge of international artists and awareness of international trends in art and design. She has a comprehensive understanding of best practice commissioning models and processes.

As manager of the Curatorial Team, Jodie is responsible for artwork strategy development including cultural research, conceptual direction and curatorial framework, artist/designer selection and liaison, and project planning. She has contributed to UAP’s curatorial methodology, which has underpinned successful artwork strategies including Palm Jebel Ali, Dubai, the KAUST International Art Program, Saudi Arabia and Shanghai World Expo 2010.

Jodie talks about her passions and curatorial approach to international projects.

What do you enjoy about curating artworks for the public realm?

For me the enjoyment lies in the creation of opportunities for both artists and the wider community.

The opportunity for the artists is to connect with the broader community. Artistic practice can be a solo, even isolating experience.  By creating artworks for the public realm, artists are drawn into a larger project, can collaborate with a wide range of design professionals and can engage a much wider audience.

The opportunity for the community is that they can engage with art in their daily lives – through functional spaces, transitional spaces, leisure spaces that become cultural spaces through the inclusion and integration of art. Successful integrated artworks add life and texture to the public realm, and to the experience of living in or visiting a place.

What’s particular about curating artworks for international public spaces, such as in the Middle East?

Sensitivity to local culture is incredibly important to the process.  It’s important to approach a new space with an open mind to avoid bringing in pre-conceived ideas from my own culture and background of creating public art for Australian audiences.

The first step is an intensive research process. It involves reading, making connections with local contacts and site visits to experience first-hand the physical and cultural environment. Of course, we don’t expect to be able to immediately see all there is to know about a culture, so collaboration with local galleries and local design teams is crucial.

Listening to, and collaborating with, landscape architects and curators with long term experiences in a given region gives valuable insight to inform our curatorial process. This consultative approach continues until that process is complete.

Tell us about your approach to the KAUST International Art Program.

KAUST is a great example of a collaborative UAP project – from collaboration at the start of the project with landscape architects HOK, collaboration with curators Renai Grace and Alison Kubler through to collaboration with a range of international artists that we worked with for the first time.  The curatorial focus was to create a truly international collection/program of works for the project which brought together diverse practices from various regions around the globe.  For an Australian based company it was a very exciting time working with highly acclaimed in-region artists such as Nja Madhaoui while also collaborating with significant international artists such as Carsten Höller.

How did you go about choosing and briefing the artists?

For KAUST, Renai Grace and UAP Principal Dan Tobin developed a curatorial rationale that linked closely with King Abdullah’s vision for the university – to create an international research university that exemplified the Islamic world’s contribution to world knowledge while strengthening connections between the Middle East and the rest of the world.

The artwork program mimicked that vision physically on the campus by drawing talented artists from all over the world to contribute the public space.  Artists were briefed to respond to the vision of the university and were provided with regional, cultural and environment information about Saudi Arabia as to inform their concept development process.

This is the really exciting stage of a project: each artist brings their own interests and way of working, and each is inspired about various aspects of the project. Then the artwork concepts begin to emerge.

Donna Marcus, for example, referenced the Delphinus constellation from ancient Middle Eastern astronomy to create an artwork for the Seacourt Link pedestrian zone; while Jason Bruges became enthralled by the work of Arab scholar Ibn al-Haytham, and notions of the changing tides in his concept development for the pier.

The resulting works on the site take many varied forms, respond to diverse aspects of the place yet they emerge a cohesive whole that aligns with the vision of the university.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work? Any art/design indulgences?

I love visiting galleries, events and exhibitions to keep in touch with the local art and design community, and reading, of course.

For art my must read is the ‘e-flux newsletter’ from Art Agenda and must visit is GOMA (Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art).

For design my must visit is The Coolhunter and must read is InDesign Magazine.

My annual unwind is the Woodford Folk Festival – love it!

Der öffentliche Traum

12 March, 2010

UAP in Audi’s A1 magazine, February 2010