LAST GOOD DEED

By Sabine Schaschl

Basim Magdy (born 1977 in Assiut/Egypt, lives in Basel), whose artistic record includes numerous shows at galleries, exhibition spaces and museums in Egypt, the US, Spain and Switzerland, was invited by Kunsthaus Baselland to design a new façade project.

In his work, Magdy uses a variety of techniques and media, including drawing, painting, sculpture, video and installations. He often juxtaposes opposites in a mix that combines the mundane with fiction, ridiculous, slapstick-type elements with supposed normality, seriousness and humour. Many of his works are expressive of a thematic and conceptual reversal that gives them their specific character.

Under the title “Last Good Deed” (2009), Magdy developed a photographic scenario that takes up the theme of human mortality with a touch of black humour. Taking his inspiration from the location of Kunsthaus Baselland, which is situated in an urban-industrial fringe area subject to constant structural changes, the artist developed a motif that addresses the ephemeral and transitory character of human existence. In this scenario, a man is standing on a car, his face turned upwards to the sky. Stretching out a hand on a kind of extended artificial limb, he tries to tickle the sky. The text above the picture explains that the protagonist is aware of his mortality: “Knowing he could die the next day”, he responds in a strange manner – by trying to get in touch with heaven. His action is accompanied by questions about what happens after death and whether higher forces can be manipulated. Is there a superior power in heaven? What is the role of religion? May heaven be placated by tickling? What does heaven generally feel like? If the heavens are in a good mood, will this have a positive impact on the afterlife? Basim Magdy makes his figure ask these questions on our behalf, showing the man in the picture in a comical pose: he has taken off his right hand and stuck it on the tip of a yardstick which he uses as an extension of his arm. Stretching his body as much as possible, right up to his fingertips, he tries to reach up to the vault of heaven. Reality and fiction intermingle, as do the absurd, the possible and the impossible. The artist confronts the ambivalence inherent in his theme with irony and humour. As to its aesthetics, Magdy’s façade is clearly based on advertising photography. The discrepancy between the visual aesthetics and the thematic content is part and parcel of the artistic concept. Magdy stimulates thinking about the finite nature of human existence and, as a corollary, about the quality of our everyday life.

Sabine Schaschl is the director of Kunsthaus Baselland, Muttenz/Basel, Switzerland.