By Regine Basha
“The rarest and most precious knowledge is not that which is imposed, but rather, that which is absorbed, inhaled almost, from the ephemeral substance of the world in which we are contained.”
The Charter of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Information.
“Well, I’m a romantic, so I always wanted them to exist. . . .”
“Lots of ins and outs, lots of what-have-yous…..”
The Dude. The Big Lebowski
We still don’t know if Bigfoot exists but perhaps one of the bigger mysteries is why so many people have wanted Sasquatch (or other ‘mega-fauna cryptids’) to exist and why this desire flares up when it does (he was big in the early 80s then seemed to disappear for a while – see “Me Write Book” by Graham Roumieu – Bigfoot’s attempt at a celebrity revival). Of course Bigfoot is more than just the mythical creature – it’s the shaky film clip and all that happened outside the frame of the television set at the time of ‘the sighting’. Waves of unlikely communities of believers have since formed on radio programs, internet groups, and gatherings, creating new forms of speculative signification that resemble myth, but are founded on a die-hard search for truth. Like other quasi-sciences, Cryptozoology is something between a field of knowledge and a serious hobby for zoologists, folklorists, paleontologists, anthropologists, science fiction writers, hunters, filmmakers, ranchers, artists and other enthusiasts– a veritable model for interdisciplinary research and collective wonderment. Somewhere out there a prominent psychologist or two has analyzed the Sasquatch phenomenon as a projection of our relating to a) a fear of the unknown, aliens or immigrants b) a desire for the abject c) a longing to be the wild man in the woods or the woman who runs with wolves d) the lure of the sexy beast or e) the longing for a friendly giant, the hero that will save us from ourselves….
Most prominent scientists still evade any serious discussion of the matter for various reasons – one of them being the lack of language they can officially use to even refer to it. Terms like ‘soft evidence’ (eyewitness accounts, hair, footprints, droppings) crop up as a way to just point to something that is there. As more and more terms are invented to account for what’s not ‘valid’, more validity is assigned to it. We are living that new order now. Bigfoot has been forgotten – it’s only the color and classification of the droppings that matter (and who owns dropping #5).
Now that the 80s are back, Magdy’s installation brings back the sexy beast as the basis for a future narrative of the Bigfoot search and the fetishistic obsession with ‘soft evidence’. From this science-meets-art-fiction vantage point, Magdy creates a detailed tableaux with found materials chronicling a botched hunt for Sasquatch, the evidence for which is festering away in a Skamper trailer at the Okay Mountain gallery. Generously covered in wood chips and trees, the gallery looks and smells like a remote corner of a forest hideout sometime in the not too distant future.
As with much of his drawings and installation work, Magdy’s absurd scenes intentionally emulate global power struggles, failed promises of progress, actions driven by blind belief and scenes from military operations – specifically through the lens of how these events are re-framed by the current news media. In Mud Pools and how we got ourselves to look for Bigfoot Heaven Bigfoot’s life story leads to an epic tale about the rise and fall of a civilization and the subsequent misreading of history that engenders an entire culture of blind belief. Appropriately, Roland Barthes once said that myth is a form of ‘language-robbery’.
Based in Cairo, Magdy’s gaze has been fixed on the global theatricality of news reporting (both American and Middle Eastern) and its obvious production as entertainment value. With a satirical eye and disturbing levity, Magdy pulls out of the white noise the naughty hybrid creatures, the pathetic heros, and the dangerous alter-egos for us to recognize as the imposters running the show. Though the mythical characters in his work remain intentionally ambiguous in regards to specific subjects or events, they create a parallel universe of meaning and relevance.
Regine Basha is a curator and writer currently based in Brooklyn, New York. She has recently curated shows at Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, The Aldrich Museum, Ballroom Marfa and Columbia University among others.