Climbing Over Waterfalls: The wild and invigorating process of collaboration

On the final day of our lab experience in Jordan, participants, C-Hub + IDare staff, and I tromped up cascading waterfalls in Wadi Mujib. It was our final experience together - a capstone in embodied research, and most memorably, a really fun field trip. Wadi Mujib is a canyon with a river flowing through it that empties out into the Dead Sea. The water is sacred, and the site has been developed into a well-run tourist operation, yet one still feels wild exploring the twists and turns of the canyon and the crystal blue-green water that flows down over red rocks.

Participants celebrating under the waterfall at Wadi Mujib
Participants celebrating under the waterfall at Wadi Mujib. Photo by Isabel Beavers.

For many of the participants on our trip, it was the first time they had experienced this sort of outdoor adventure. It was my first time at Wadi Mujib as well, making it novel for us all. There are moments during the kilometers-long ascent up to the waterfall that are peaceful; you can float, belly up, gazing at the towering red rocks above you, reflections of the water shimmering like a mirage.

Raghad and Ala make their way up the canyon
Raghad and Ala make their way up the canyon. Photo by Isabel Beavers.

There are also moments that are treacherous; fighting your way up the crashing weight of a waterfall over slippery rocks when a strange hand appears from above, pulling you over the ledge. You climb up, exasperated. In the end, all thirteen of us made it all the way up to the waterfall and back down. It was wild, but invigorating.

Nawal after finishing the climb
Nawal after finishing the climb. Photo by Isabel Beavers.
Ahmad Ameen discusses work in the Re-Rooting exhibition at Darat al Funun
Ahmad Ameen discusses work in the ‘Re-Rooting’ exhibition at Darat al Funun. Photo by Isabel Beavers.

This might be a great way to describe the entire experience of Creative Impact Lab Amman: wild yet invigorating. Our workshop was full of research: we visited Darat al Funun, a contemporary art center in Amman, to see the exhibition Re-rooting. This exhibition was certainly wild, with live plant works, installations including jars of water, and tumbling orange crates.

Hussein Alazaaat's piece Jordanian Food Stickers
Hussein Alazaaat, ‘Jordanian Food Stickers’, 2022. Photo by Isabel Beavers

The exhibition was poignant and central to our research on water sustainability in Jordan. In Re-rooting “the constellation of works presented attempts to untangle the complex histories that make up the current crisis of economy and ecology, not only in an effort to denunciate them but also to showcase hacks, diversions, and solutions. They look at forms of self-determination and autonomy performed by local communities as a rejection of normalized exploitative and colonial models.” This exhibition became central in our thinking around the issues present in the region that relate to water sustainability: it is all rooted in the land, in autonomy over the land, and agency in one’s own future. 

Eman Haram's piece Mother of Oranges, Jaffa
Eman Haram, Mother of Oranges, Jaffa, 2022. Photo by Isabel Beavers

Our learnings from an activity with CEWAS Middle East were equally as inspiring for participant projects. Aline Bussman led us through a workshop on the water system in Jordan. We were able to understand the complex web of inputs and outputs, and the lens of cultural + social perspectives of water, that make sustainability so challenging. It is not neat, it is not straightforward. The aquifers that supply Jordan with water are being emptied, and unlike surface water, aquifers cannot be refilled. Leaky transportation pipes and public perceptions against recycled water all present challenges to creating more sustainable processes for water consumption in the area. 

Participants talk through the water system in Jordan and its challenges in a workshop led by Aline Bussman of CEWAS Middle East
Participants talk through the water system in Jordan and its challenges in a workshop led by Aline Bussman (CEWAS Middle East). Photo by Mohammad Saradeeh.

Through their projects, participants turned their inspirations into projection mapping + sculptural artworks using video, sound, and sculpture. The projects reflected metaphorically on our condition in relation to water: Nasser + Abdullah’s project ‘Love Drops’ likening the human race to a fish out of water, flopping in panic. They also ruminated on our intrinsic linkages: Seem and Sanya’s Fishbowl, and Salam and Maha’s Sea Waves Speak reflect on the ways in which humans and fish are tied in our wellbeing. Afnan’s SoS considers the relationships between the human body and health, and the environmental body and health. Some even took more direct inspiration from Re-Rooting: Hiba’s project The Orange Tree comments personally on the Palestinian struggle to reclaim the Jaffa tree production, using the symbolic orange and home-grown orange plants as a moment of personal activism.

Project prototype Sea Waves Speak
Salam Rizik Marji Alkotaifan and Maha Atallah Moahmoud Alkalaileh, Sea Waves Speak, 2022. Photo by Mohammad Saradeeh.


Installation view of The Uncertainty of Rain
Installation view of ‘The Uncertainty of Rain’: L to R: Nawal Almasoud, ‘The Water Tank’; Hiba Kraiwish, ‘The Orange Tree’; Nasser Alabdallah and Abdullah Alnatour, ‘Love Drops’. Photo by Mohammad Saradeeh.

Maryam and Raghad’s project Valley of Color reflects on pollution and the impact it has on the integrity of revered water sources like Wadi Mujib. Nawal’s animation visualizes the errors in water transportation and leaky infrastructure.

Raghad Mohammad Mahmou al Malkawi and Maryam Ibrahim Hasan Hallas' piece Valley of Color
Raghad Mohammad Mahmou al Malkawi and Maryam Ibrahim Hasan Hallas, ‘Valley of Color’, 2022. Photo by Mohammad Saradeeh.
Project prototype SoS Save our Souls
Afnan Hammad, ‘SoS (Save our Souls)’, 2022. Photo by Mohammad Saradeeh.

The constellation of works is moving. It is forward thinking, yet also reflective on regional traditions and the unique history of the many people who call Jordan home. Creating these works, like our ascent up the Wadi Mujib, was wild. We encountered many technical challenges, and learned quite a few skills in a short period of time. At times, the language barrier was frustrating, but we found ways to communicate when translation was challenging.

Sanya, Nasser and Seem testing out MadMapper
Sanya, Nasser and Seem testing out MadMapper projection mapping software during our projection mapping demo in the C-Hub. Photo by Isabel Beavers.

Participants learned from each other, assisting one another with projection mapping, ideas for fabrication of their final projects, and hanging the exhibition. This sort of exchange makes learning together rich; when students become teachers, and the typical hierarchy of knowledge production shifts. We all learned from one another, through skill sharing, story telling, and creative production. We all helped each other climb up and over the waterfall.

Nasser Alabdullah and Abdullah Alnatour's piece Love Drops
Nasser Alabdullah and Abdullah Alnatour, ‘Love Drops’, 2022. Photo by Mohammad Saradeeh.
Test prototype of projection mapping on lasercut board
We created this projection mapping prototype by combining videos created by CIL Amman participants during our in-person workshop at the C-Hub. Photo by Isabel Beavers.

The spirit of our cohort and team at IDare and C-Hub allowed us to push forward through this wild process of collaborative creative production, and in the end create something invigorating. The projects were all exhibited together for the public and virtual guests. What is hidden behind them, is the strong bonds we all formed in moving through process:  in learning together, in having new experiences together, in our meals and Google Translate conversations, and quiet moments looking at art.

Two people view artwork at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts
Layth Almyjeb, C-Hub Manager, and Raghad Mohammad Mahmoud Al Malkawi at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts during an elective field trip. Photo by Isabel Beavers.

The participants presented their projects during an in-person final event at the C-Hub in Amman, Jordan. Shamsher Virk (ZERO1), SaraNoa Mark (guest artist + critic) and I joined in remotely. It was disheartening to experience the projects only virtually, but even at a distance, the pride both participants and our team at C-Hub took in the presentation of these ambitious works was palpable. The works are installed in a classroom modified to become a temporary gallery at the C-Hub, and project presentations took place in the makerspace adjacent to the artworks.

Sanya Qumuq presenting
Sanya Qumuq presenting her final project ‘Fishbowl’ (made in collaboration with Seem Alsayeh) during the CIL Amman Final Event at C-Hub. Photo by Mohammad Saradeeh.

Participants shared the concepts, materials, and process of their pieces, as well as future plans for expanding upon these ideas or their creative practice.

Raghad Mohammad Mahmoud Al Malkawi prepares to present
Raghad Mohammad Mahmoud Al Malkawi prepares to present during the CIL Amman final event. Her project was titled ‘Valley of Color’. Photo by Mohammad Saradeeh.
Salam Rizik Marji Alkotaifan before presenting
Salam Rizik Marji Alkotaifan before presenting. Photo by Mohammad Saradeeh.
Guests applaud participant presentations during the final event
Guests applaud participant presentations during the final event. Photo by Mohammad Saradeeh.

Guests to the C-Hub were able to share in this final and critical step of the artist's journey: public presentation. It is clear that the ideas and experiences we had together will live on, and many participants have been planning ways to continue and expand upon their projects. Hiba hopes to host her work in conjunction with a local symphony, Seem and Sanya hope to apply to an art exhibition with the piece. Raghad hopes to make a new work considering concepts around water sustainability. It is my personal hope that the collaborative relationships borne of this exchange will also live on, and that this was the beginning of something wild and invigorating, rather than a predictable end. The spirit of this exchange is what we can hope for in the face of global climate resilience: determination, follow-through, and invigorating collaboration.

Two people holding each other with the other arm outstretched in front of a waterfall in the Wadi Mujib canyon
Peace out! Photo by Isabel Beavers.


Feature image credit: Fishbowl, Sanya Qumuq and Seem Alsayeh. Photograph by Mohammad Saradeeh.

From researching underwater adventures in the Red Sea, to learning about the historic sites in the Wadi Rum, the research and preparation phase of the Creative Impact Lab Amman has been exciting and enlightening. The topic for the Lab is sustainability, and given my own recent work on ocean health, I feel compelled to explore water as a cultural and ecological resource in Jordan. Like parts of California (where I currently live), Jordan is stressed for water, while facing additional challenges from the climate crisis and population growth. Aquifers that supply Jordanians with clean water are running dry, impacting both the daily available water for urban dwellers, and the ability for agriculturalists in rural areas to maintain sustainable livelihoods.

I want to raise this as a topic of discussion with the workshop participants and learn about their own relationships to water. How do they feel about the climate crisis in Jordan? In what ways does water show up in their lives — in cultural and historic art and references, in pop culture, in their daily conversations with friends and family? How do they envision the future of water? We will explore these questions through a two-week intensive hosted by IDare for Sustainable Development in the capital city, Amman.

Photogrammetry model of an underwater sponge colony
Still from Submerged Meadow, featuring a photogrammetry model of an underwater sponge colony. Image Courtesy of Isabel Beavers.

Water is both a collective and highly personal resource, so I want our multimedia project to explore methods of collective resilience and collaboration. In my past work facilitating collaborative groups with Mountain Time Arts in Bozeman, Montana, and in my home city of Los Angeles, I have found that the challenges of collaboration bring huge rewards. I hope that as a team we can all learn to work together and generate new ideas and dialogues through the process of co-creating — a skill set that is essential for climate adaptation.

Blue and orange gradients projected onto 10 egg-shaped hanging sculptures
Submerged Meadow at the Seattle Aquarium (2022). Photo by Chris Scarborough.

In reviewing the applications for the Lab, I am excited to see how many participants are passionate about sustainability and water issues in Jordan, while also being excited to incorporate art and technology for creating responses to ecological issues. Our team will include architects, designers, teachers, artists, water experts and more. My hope is that we will all learn from one another, and our collective installation will emerge from the structures of collaboration.

Three collaborators posing for a group photo in front of the dance set with projection coloring them
Collaborative team for The Aquarium (2022). L to R: Joan P. Fricke, Isabel Beavers, Rachael Lovinger. Photo by Rush Varela.

For our collaborative project, we will develop a multimedia installation using sculpture, video, sound, and projection mapping. We will weave influences into the work that are pulled from local art galleries and museums, as well as the participants' own cultural inspirations, research and knowledge. This exchange of ideas, skills, time, meals, and creative production becomes a meaningful part of the process of making. While some of the details regarding the final form of the multimedia installation are to be determined, I am excited to continue creating a structure for our collaboration.

Warm colors are projected onto over a dozen hanging sculptures
Submerged Meadow process shot (2021). Courtesy of Isabel Beavers.


Feature image credit: The Aquarium at Heidi Duckler Dance, 2022. Photo by Rush Varela.

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