ARTFORUM / 500 WORDS
BASIM MAGDY - As told to Stephanie Bailey
Egyptian artist Basim Magdy employs film and photography to address the collective disappointment of failed projections. The artist speaks here about his first exhibition in the Czech Republic, “A Future of Mundane Miracles,” which is on view at Hunt Kastner Artworks from September 7 to October 19, 2013. Magdy is also participating in the 13th Istanbul Biennial, which opens on September 14, 2013, and runs until October 20, 2013.
IN MY WORK, I try to look for different ways of communicating my ideas, so a large part of my practice uses text, image, and sound to investigate different narrative structures. For “A Future of Mundane Miracles,” I am showing a new film titled Crystal Ball, which proposes that the future will be nothing but a reenactment of the present. Originally shot on Double Super 8 black-and-white film, it has a grainy image quality that refers to the passing of time, while unrelated footage that is woven together proposes a vision of an uneventful, disjointed tomorrow. Investigating the Color Spectrum of a Post-Apocalyptic Future Landscape, 2013, will also be shown—a slide projection of arid and volcanic landscapes that was shot on the Spanish island of Lanzarote. The different film stocks used to create the work were pickled in a variety of household chemicals, creating different degrees of loss of detail and a dominant color in each film stock used.
At the Thirteenth Istanbul Biennial, one work I will present is an ongoing photo and text series titled “Every Subtle Gesture,” which I started to work on in 2012. The work came from a personal collection of photographs that I have been taking since 1998, many of which I never intended to show. But almost six months after the revolution in Egypt—its utopian vision becoming a tangled web of confusion—it was impossible for me to work again or do anything apart from following the news. I turned back to this archive for inspiration and started interpreting a selection of these images with captions—poetic lines of text that originated from either my imagination, historical events, sheer absurdity, or a few poems I wrote between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one. In my mind, the entire series constructs a loose narrative based on a group of people who keep trying to succeed but continually fail.
At the core of this work is the lingering sense of an impending apocalypse. Some of the captions include pronouns like he, she, I, we, and they to anonymously refer to particular members of this society. A few of the other captions are more abstract and emotional, like SILENCE AND MISCOMMUNICATION HELD THEIR HEARTS TOGETHER, TIME MEANT NOTHING BUT THE SLOW DECAY OF MEANING, INTERNATIONAL WATERS ARE THE PROPERTY OF THE FREE AND ALMIGHTY, and EVERY LANDSCAPE IS A CEMETERY IN DISGUISE. As the series grows, I am becoming more and more aware of its structure: Though I’m constantly going through old photographs, I’m also using more recent images, and the more often the works are exhibited, the more images are added to the series, which come from a range of sources, be it disposable or digital cameras. These are then scanned and color-corrected before printing. I’m not so worried about the work aligning itself with a photographic tradition. I’m more concerned with creating a narrative that has no beginning or end.