INTERVIEW WITH NEAL CARTER

December, 2005

NC: First off, let’s get the most important question out of the way. Have you had the opportunity to come across *Big Head again?

BM: A couple of months ago I saw a documentary on TV that interviewed few of the people who had seen Big Head at some point in their lives. It turned out most of them suffered from various mental disorders prior to their Big Head experiences, something that sparked a debate about the authenticity of such sightings. The one-time incidents affected their lives in different ways; some aged faster than normal, some experienced an unexplained increase in their abilities to lift heavy objects and some even believed their heads started growing slightly bigger after encountering Big Head. One man who had come across Big Head as a child did extensive research on those sightings. Eventually he narrowed down the area where he believed one or more Big Heads lived to a specific part of the Middle East that spans between the western part of Sinai and the Dead Sea. A year ago he finally saw Big Head for the second time. Three days later he went for a swim in the Red Sea and was never seen again. Some believe if you see Big Head twice you’re cursed and you die soon after. So, no, I haven’t come across Big Head again and in many ways I’m not eager to.

NC: You recently curated an exhibit called Threat Zone. Did it pan out the way in which you envisioned it? How is it being received? How does your creative process differ when curating an exhibit and creating a piece of art?

BM: Threat Zone was an attempt at exposing what we fear, not what we are directed to fear. In the end I was very happy with the whole experience. The TPS in San Antonio, where the show took place, is an amazing space that allowed me a lot of freedom. I felt like the idea of the show was a reaction to the media’s crowning of terror as the ultimate universal threat. I think the show was received quite well in Texas, it started a discourse about several issues. Curating a group show was in many ways similar to me realizing a personal project. It’s basically using the tools you have to try to communicate an idea. In this case the tools are other people’s work, which enriches the experience and adds new layers to the creative process. But what I enjoyed the most about this project was the exchange of ideas that took place between the participating artists and me before the show. It was an enlightening experience on many levels.

NC: Has your art school background in Egypt influenced any of your work? How so?

BM: No it hasn’t.

NC: Do you feel that the stereotypes of being an “Egyptian artist” and the culturally or politically specific work that the masses would mindlessly perceive you to be doing has been lifted at all?

BM: Stereotyping is a practice that is inherent in all cultures. It’s the easiest way to define and find an understanding of “the other”. In the art world, there is a long history of dominance by Western Art. This is changing now but the West still controls most of the funding resources, which affects the politics of representation of the rest of the world. I would say that the interest is shifting away from this region but there is still a noticeable interest in presenting artists from Egypt as representatives of a stereotyped culture that is perceived by some Western curators as Egyptian. I find it absurd that some curators can’t come up with a more creative title for a show than “Egyptian Art” and present a few works that are interested in selected stereotypical issues in a show designed for an alien audience, as representatives of art production in Egypt. This limits access to the diversity of work produced here.

NC: You have said your work is a reaction to the fact that you have never seen a war. Does this influence still hold true in your current work?

BM: I think it still does in many ways. My interests have evolved in the last two years but within the same context, which is the constructs of our comprehension of power and authority. I’m now also interested in more subtle representations of power like astronauts, ghosts, yetis or characters of my own creation like albino devils. I like to introduce new roles for them or have them exchange roles to question what is collectively expected of them. The work is made up of layers of confusion, so there is always a possibility of introducing new elements. Soldiers, astronauts, pirates, superheroes and albino devils can co-exist in any artificial environment that tries to simulate reality. Their means of co-existence is a matter of creativity of whoever controls that situation.

NC: An intended target or enemy in your work seems to be the media. Is this something that we should be afraid of? Do you feel as if your art is by any means counteracting this incredible power?

BM: I wouldn’t say that we should be afraid of the media but maybe be more aware of its strategies. Claiming to counteract the media’s power would be something of an uphill struggle, considering its wide accessibility and art’s limited accessibility comparatively. But I definitely try to expose its promotion of specific deluding ideas. On the other hand, the use of the media as an artistic tool to subvert the meanings and understandings created by the media itself is a powerful possibility.

NC: You talk about the absurdity in many of your images. Does this directly relate to the absurd measures in which mass media will go to implement fear on individuals in society? How so?

BM: The absurdity in my work is designed to propose a different understanding of power structures and expose the authoritative practices implemented by the media. That’s for me where confusion becomes the means of subversion. Most of the time, I approach absurdity with varied amounts of sarcasm and humor that pave the way for confusion. The media’s strategies for defining good and evil, and outlining a vision for its targeted audiences of what is to be feared, are systematic and organized. Surprisingly, the outcome is usually absurd. Such absurdity is rarely noticed on a collective scale due to the credibility that the media has acquired over the years as the ultimate source of information. I believe that questioning the image of authority, power and heroism that is presented by the media and deliberately creating confusion about the roles of its icons could lead to a better understanding of the idea that any mass media representation is an inaccurate and usually a biased interpretation of reality. In my animation Two Days to Apocalypse, Superman is on a quest to save the world but is eventually shot down by a frustrated duck hunter, leaving the world to face its dark fate without a hero. My strategy is always to propose an unexpected situation that is not just the opposite of what is expected.

NC: I feel like in your work, a lot of it is intended to be left up to the viewer. Do you feel most people truly grasp what you are trying to convey? Are there any misconceptions? Do you feel that your work is open to interpretation?

BM: I try to never leave the viewer clueless. Most of the time there are recognizable characters or ones that could look familiar to a lot of people. The important thing for me is never to impose a way of thinking or a strict personal conclusion but it’s also critical for the subject I deal with that the work doesn’t become completely abstract. The work is open to interpretation within the context of its subject. It is not my intention to make precise statements. It is very important for me to always leave space for the viewer’s intellect and reasoning. I think a lot of people get what the work is trying to communicate but I’m always trying to confuse existing concrete beliefs about power structures. So, I’m sure there are misconceptions but, when the work is intended to leave space for different understandings, this could be a healthy indication.

NC: What would be your ideal reaction of a viewer seeing your work for the first time?

BM: I don’t have one, but I’m always happy when that reaction starts with a smile. Whatever happens next is usually positive.

NC: If given the opportunity to work with any 3 artists, who would they be?

BM: Any 3 artists with a good sense of humor and an open mind, preferably ones with human bodies and E.T. heads. Full E.T. bodies are also welcome!

  • Big Head was a video produced at Wasla Workshop, 2003, documenting the artist’s first encounter with a human-like creature with a noticeably big head.
    www.wasla.org