Mental health awareness in UAE: AI-powered exhibition turns text into art

Chinese artist Samson Young develops a new tech-equipped installation, Reasonable Music


Sherouk Zakaria

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Samson Young's installation at Jameel Arts Centre. — Supplied photo
Samson Young's installation at Jameel Arts Centre. — Supplied photo

Published: Fri 6 May 2022, 9:00 PM

A Chinese artist has launched a temporary exhibition at Jameel Arts Centre to spread awareness about anxiety disorder, as the UAE marks mental health awareness month.

Multidisciplinary artist Samson Young developed the new tech-equipped installation, Reasonable Music, an interactive environment that connects sound with text and images using Artificial Intelligence.

Taking a technological approach to the philosophical ancient Chinese text of Daodejing, which dates to 4th century BCE, Young aims to inspire visitors towards self-expression and deep absorption of the surrounding environment.

“The Daoist thought responded to a turbulent era of war and violence. Using computational analyses of the Daodejing’s formal features, filtered through human intuition, it invites visitors to interact with their space in a new perspective,” said Darn Ross, head of collections at Jameel Arts Centre.


Inside the first room, a video shows a lone musician playing in a recording booth, performing a score composed by Young with glass harmonica, triangle, and detuned viola – instruments that were anciently perceived to cause mental illnesses. The calming music is played on a speaker hung on the roof above the head of the visitor, who watches a silhouette of the musician on a colourful screen placed ahead.

“The meditative artistic space forms new teachings for times of great anxiety,” noted Ross.


The main gallery features 3D-printed sculptures, connected in a closed-loop network, that respond to the changing light, sound and temperature levels.

Depending on how many people are in the room at any given time, algorithms will begin to generate text or sound differently.

At one point, when a visitor screams into a sculpture for 10 seconds, a telephone hanging on the wall starts ringing.

“This installation encourages people with anxiety to find a creative outlet through which they can express their emotions. The telephone ringing with a special music presents a form of award for self-expression,” explained Ross.

A colourful digital screen on the wall reacts to sound. If you clap loud enough, its digital display reveals a combination of four words in total: plenty, love, peace, and truth — the names given to the government ministries in George Orwell’s ‘1984’.

In the altar-like room, screens and speakers broadcast animated text and sound continuously generated from the English translation of Daodeijing.

“The sculptures are networked through AI, which not only reads the text, but isolates words from the text and reconfigures it on a screen,” said Ross.

She added: “The networked objects listen to each other, sense the space, communicating among themselves via embedded electronic components. Overload occasionally causes the components to reboot.”

Each transformation results in a step away from the original text’s teachings until only some resemblance of its distorted form remains.

Young used the digital distortion to deal with his own anxiety. In the process, he is inspiring viewers to break free of the prison of the mind, said Ross.

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