Future Aleppo: Interview by Olivia Mannix with Creative Producer Alex Pearson

Future Aleppo is an exhibition that is inspired by the idea of fifteen-year-old Mohammed Kteish, who was born in Aleppo. Produced by Alex Pearson and Marshmallow Laser Feast, the piece displays Mohammed’s paper model of Aleppo, portraying his ideals for the city. This model can also be toured in virtual reality, with narration about his story from Kteish himself.

I spoke to Alex Pearson, who is one of the people that has enabled Mohammed’s dream to become reality.

As one of the creators of Future Aleppo, what was your role in the project?

My role was effectively the creative producer - I wanted to take what Mohammed was doing and kind of build something out of it. My background was initially in film and I switched because I thought it was quite passive. Mohammed is an inspiration, and I wanted to get people involved. I believe my role was to create a structure and give him a platform.

What did you particularly like about Mohammed’s idea?

It was the notion of agency, Mohammed is addressing the Syrian conflict with creativity. We are made to feel like we don’t have a role in the world and that the real power comes from inside Westminster or amongst all these powerful global figures. To me it was just so incredible that Mohammed thought ‘to hell with that, my response to that is that I’m going to make it better’. By collecting materials and building on a warzone rooftop, he was putting himself in power.

What was your original plan for the making of Future Aleppo?

The plan originally was to create workshops. Virtual reality was used reluctantly because I think it can be quite a solitary experience. We also discussed augmented reality, and this was really for the family to escape the horrors of the war themselves. However, the main goals have been to get Mohammed into Architecture school, helping his family and also highlighting what has happened in Syria.

How long did the whole process take?

Not a lot happened in the first year, effectively I just burnt through all of my savings trying to develop things, and in the end, before I got the FACT and Sheffield Doc Fest commission, we were running on empty. One of the quickest aspects of this project has been the production of virtual reality – it’s pretty fast to be honest.

What was your favourite part of working on Future Aleppo?

It definitely has to be working with Mohammed and his family. Even when it’s been really rough for me in terms of the money for funding, or just the general things that happen in life, it’s been really nice to be a part of the extended family. I don’t see him as a subject and he doesn’t see me as a producer. We are very close - the family call me ‘Abu dna hamar’ which translates to ‘Father red beard’, obviously due to my very ginger beard. But I think that’s really cool, I mean when we speak on Skype, the first ten minutes is spent going around the family saying hello. It’s been a very welcoming experience.

What message did you want to deliver through the work?

To encourage people to think like him. We might not have control of the greater world but actually you can create a smaller version of it and it’s so simple to do. A piece of paper can be found by anyone, and with the right amount of imagination it can be a hospital, or it can be a school. All we are really doing is facilitating the idea that these buildings have a deeper meaning beyond just being physical structures.

Future Aleppo is available to view for free at FACT,  9 November 2017 - 7 January 2018, daily, 11am until 6pm.