New Commission, 6th Floor Galleries, curated by Anne Barlow

Magdy’s exhibition comprises a newly commissioned film, The Everyday Ritual of Solitude Hatching Monkeys, 2014, a series of photographs, The Hollow Desire to Populate Imaginary Cities, 2014, and a text piece entitled Clowns, 2014.

Interested in the power of mass media, information systems, and scientific theories—and the relationship between what is real and fiction in such domains—Magdy uses a combination of images and words to construct narratives that can be humorous, reflective, or disquieting, but never linear. His work is at once suggestive of times past, present and future through the seamless interweaving of imagery—from historic ruins, to futuristic landscapes, to everyday scenes from a nondescript present. Alongside an implied desire to know what the future holds is a sharp critique of the notion that the passing of time is indicative of societal progress. Rather, his films suggest the constant push-pull of a striving for progress against cycles of repeated failure: the future becomes less about promise than a continuous re-enactment of the present.

As with many of his films, the sense of ‘place’ in The Everyday Ritual of Solitude Hatching Monkeys is undefined, having been shot in multiple locations. The central figure is a man who has been abandoned as others leave for the beach: a story that feels like a recurring bad dream where one can never reach one’s destination. The accompanying script, which appears in different colors that correspond to those of each scene, speaks of the man’s fear of the sea, feelings of emptiness, hope and failure, a yearning to know what future a prophecy might foretell, and an ominous reference to a line in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, which tells the story of Phlebas the Phoenician, who died, apparently by drowning. The script, inspired by the uncanny short stories of Magdy’s father, Magdy El-Gohary, rarely corresponds to the mesmerizing, luscious colors of the scenes and their content, creating a sense of displacement and disorientation. Despite the final rally to ‘start anew’, notions of renewal and regeneration seem to be refuted; as the man in the film asks: “Tell me, how do you deal with the relentless repetition of reality?”

Just as Magdy manipulates his films with household chemicals and layers frames within them to produce an incredible range of colors and effects, the photographs in The Hollow Desire to Populate Imaginary Cities come from different film stocks that have been exposed and treated in various ways. Seemingly mundane images from, for example, audiences watching a performing seal, to a car and a manufacturing plant, are rendered other-worldly through vivid color, pigmentation and deterioration.

The idea of the relationship of the individual to the masses is ever-present: from references to training monkeys and the man’s monologue amidst the ‘hundreds, millions’, to the photographs and the text piece Clowns that comment more overtly on systems of structure and power within society as a whole. While its sentiment could be applied to various times across history, Clowns also seems ultimately about the now: “After much contemplation and debate, the clowns that run this degenerating society agreed there was only one way to explain the status quo to the masses: they are clowns too, which leaves everybody without an audience.”

Basim Magdy was born in 1977 in Assiut, Egypt, and lives and works in Basel, Switzerland and Cairo, Egypt. His work appeared recently in exhibitions and screenings at La Biennale de Montreal, Montreal (2014), Art as a Verb, Monash University Museum of Art | MUMA, Melbourne, Australia (2014), MEDIACITY Seoul Biennial, Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul (2014); Passerelle Centre d’art contemporain, Brest, France (2014); Trafo House of Contemporary Art, Budapest (2014); CRAC Alsace, Altkirch, France (2014); 13th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul (2013); Tate Modern, London (2013); Centre Culturel Suisse, Paris (2013); Sharjah Biennial 11, Sharjah, UAE (2013); Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2013); Biennale Jogja XII, Yogyakarta, Indonesia (2013); The High Line, New York (2013); Askhal Alwan, Beirut (2013); Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2012); La Triennale: Intense Proximity, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012); Argos Art Center, Brussels (2011); Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2011); Institut Mathildenhohe, Darmstadt, Germany (2011); Mass MOCA, North Adams (2010) and Ateliers de Rennes – Biennale dʼart contemporain, Rennes, France (2010) among others. In 2012 he was shortlisted for the Future Generation Art Prize, Kiev and in 2014 he won the Abraaj Art Prize, Dubai.

This commission is produced by Art in General in collaboration with HOME, Manchester, UK.

Art in General gives special thanks to Letternoon and Squid Frames for their support of this exhibition.