Those unfamiliar with the conceptual depth and poetic breadth of Dr Gindi’s work will immediately recognize her intense focus on the kernel of the human condition, posing a field of inquiry that converges into one’s imagination knocking the beholders off their pivot - so strenuously that they might become lost along their common course. Dr Gindi’s sculptures become haunting yearnings as they mirror the dichotomy of anxiety and joy inextricably linked with man's errancy against the tattered corpus of time and space.
Dr Gindi has always sedulously examined how humans traverse the great macro-cosmos they are thrown into, ultimately straggling from birth to death – a journey that intimates narratives of ubiquitous anxiety and lucent joy - her work vibrates with an elemental, eerie longing for uttermost transcendence.
Existentialism squires Dr Gindi’s practice. There is a penchant for the paradoxical, reminiscent of Jean-Paul Sartre’s understanding of the human condition as something discrepant - with Sartre, she wonders if there could truly be any sense of meaning or purpose to life. But she also makes the case that the human condition permits joy, rather than just mandating anxiety.
Coupled with her reflections on the guiding conceptual thread in her work, we spoke with Dr Gindi about the nature of her upcoming exhibition ‘Transcending the Human Condition’ at Mémoire de l'Avenir in Paris. The exhibition is a reminder that Dr Gindi is - among many things - an extraordinarily adroit sculptor.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to me today, Dr Gindi. I am quite interested in your views on the human condition as you are a skeptical artist. To start with, and before we address your imminent show in Paris, could you let us know your thoughts on what the human condition really entails? Where do we come from and where are we going? And what abysses do we have to vanquish to reach infinite joy?
Whilst trying to convey the unknown I am – desperately and forcefully - sculpting at the frayed end of everything. Well, life can be both destructive and constructive as we are subject to the flux of existence; we are thrown into this world, under the shadow of ambiguity. But there is always a chance to mold meaning onto life, in spite of long episodes of muddled silence. I started to read the existentialists from an early age and I am sill enthusiastic about the thoughts they developed about the asthenia of the human condition. The optimistic devotion of Idealism, Romanticism and Enlightenment, where human beings’ destiny was ensured by the will of Divinity or by the force of Reason, has completely vanished – no transcendent justification for our paltry existence has been left - we find ourselves abandoned and miserable, with no over-arching trajectory. The human condition is a straight up mess.
Though we seek some all-embracing purpose for our lives, we have to accept that there is no masterplan in place that tells us the right thing to do. Starting with Kierkegaard, the existentialists proclaimed that humans are both contingent and free. We are born into a world that we did not effectuate, into corporal vestures that we did not select, into societies we need to share with others; and finally, and surely, we are destined to perish one day. Nonetheless, we can choose how to respond to the constraints around us. As Jean-Paul Sartre famously put it, we are condemned to be free, we are responsible for everything we do. Similarly, Hannah Arendt approaches such indeterminacy as not just the capacity to live in an unfettered imaginary world, but also as means to overcome anxiety and to reach a state of joy - which she identifies as through the interaction with other humans who are similarly thrown into life. You see, I try also to consider the nature of the human condition as a key philosophical problem.
You have presented a strong philosophical argument to encourage man to live within his human condition. Let’s move on to your artistic endeavors. What is it that motivates you to think philosophically about the arts, and your own work in particular?
I need to gently push back the title philosopher – I am a sculptor. Or a kind of boundary person, standing between the visible and the invisible - until I become a zephyr that has percolated the transitional air. But, for sure, the more I sculpt the more I am taken to philosophy. I learned to cherish Albert Camus’ The Plague and The Myth of Sisyphus, perhaps as we are living in a world with many plagues and many crestfallen pursuits in everything we do. Life feels like it is done to us, and so we are condemned to roll an immense boulder up to the top of a mountain, only to have it roll back down to the bottom every time. Sisyphus has to retrieve the boulder and push it up the mountain again and again. An absurd venture full of anxiety and fear. But we must imagine Sisyphus to be a joyful person, as Camus explains. Sisyphus makes the best out of the circumstances, he creates purpose. His dark is suffused with glow.
Though as ardently attracted to philosophical thought as those of the existentialists and their views of the human condition, my sculptural practice shall resist much of scholarly jargon – I prefer poetic serpentines to return to the airy heaviness of the case. For sure, philosophy and art are both creative positions, they are compositions that become what they are in the process of their making, with an outcome that is never haphazard even though its final shape is never preconceived. Or to apply and alienate Camus’ juxtaposing argument: I am thrown into the world having seemingly no innate purpose. But I can choose to create my own meaning as I feel that three-dimensional objects in themselves are incomplete. My sculptures are thus simultaneously created with my hands and with my head. In the absence of objective truth, I attend to my subjective consciousness. And I enjoy what I do.
Let’s dive back into existentialism. Dialectical conjunctions are present throughout your work, you refer to existential anxiety and existential joy. How do both vestiges of the human condition manifest themselves in your sculptures?
Existentialists’ views on life have often been non-comforting and above all utterly negative. Because life does not have much of direction, the human condition is bound to incongruity. The lack of predetermined essence elicits existential anxiety, in form, in function. Sartre, in particular, holds that from the moment we are thrown into the world we are responsible for everything we do. Our lives are the reaction to the futile search for meaning that we all relentlessly attempt, especially as we have to endure others through their objectification and glare.
The fact that a large number of existential thinkers have not considered the possibility of moving beyond anxiety has led to the filing of existentialism as nihilistic philosophy. Still, a number of existentialists implicitly or explicitly propose joyful bearings to the frailty of the human condition. Camus, in particular, suggests that the experience of anxiety and joy can be bracketed, the circumstances of despair can be linked to the prospect of hope. Likewise, in my practice, I outline both antipodes of the human condition - existential anxiety and existential joy that are two sides of the same coin: we cannot have one without the other, like a sprinkle of maze.
Ostensibly, this view seems counterintuitive. But let me explain: we are not perfectly free to do anything we want, in an ontological sense. Nevertheless, I don’t see the world as an entirely irrational, meaningless sphere. I am rather convinced that the one who has gone through anxiety is enlightened to experience joy. You might consent to my conviction when looking at my sculptures, experiencing my sculptures.
How about experiencing your sculptures then. With Terrified! and some of the other sculptures exhibited in Paris you seem to allow the aberrations and tribulations of your protagonists to emerge. You even imply to respect your protagonists, for their frailty. Is existential anxiety a reaction to the disillusions by the battles they fight? And does life have no meaning other than what we bring to it?
I am indeed reflecting on my protagonists’ struggle with life, their unsaid burden of torment. Take for example one of my latest works I deliberately called Terrified! My protagonist feels mercilessly trapped; he is gazing deep into the craggy abyss of his bruised soul. The root of terror is the luxation of reality, a luxation devised to unmask the reality that has been there all along, an unseen fury of reality not possessed in full. And there is a sense of unrest that is palpable, his essence is filled with hollowed out mud. Hidden in petrified desire, he is daunted by the glow that buries his underground caves.
Terror becomes the essential feature of the limiting human condition, as anguish in the face of the zany freedom that we have. Terrified! might be a reminder of our perpetual endeavors being useless and nothingness.
Do I make you feel disillusioned? ... I hope so.
My reaction to Terrified! is quite visceral. How do you make dreadful characters so factual? And how does existential anxiety translate into bewilderment? Can terror lead to death?
Existential anxiety is an entryway into the undeniable as the human condition is flanked by destruction. Like in Self-Laceration Beyond Recognition, a sculpture that often agonizes the spectator, for its explicit illumination of frustration and pain - it is the combination of coerced living, to the constrained cleft of life. The sculpture shows a character who wrestles with himself, who finally butchers himself as he cannot find answers to the questions for which there is hardly a resolution. With his ragged hands, he amasses anguish into solidified magma. His open mouth an organ of torpor. Dying lobes of flesh.
There is so much of agony flashing around that the sculpture might be a dramatic thing to gaze at, for better and worse. I wanted to illustrate that we are hopeless. Destruction surrounds us, is beneath us, within us. Destruction is just there, in a very Sartre-ian sense. As we are entombed in existence, suffering, beyond recognizing ourselves.
I have to admit that we often experience painful bewilderment as we are ignorant about what direction to take. A non-nameable void is left.
What a stark work of art, and so shocking. Do you think there is a hopeful place that transcends anxiety? Is there something we are meant to live for, a beautiful place or idea we can actually materialize? Is there something like existential joy in space and time?
We can give our lives meaning, and finally experience joy - a moment of exaltation in which we are at one with the infinite universe. Like the Horticulturist: A gardener who has committed his life to the pureness and beauty of plants. Germinating his self, he becomes one with his objects of love. His yearning made him an alluring but bizarre creature. The flowers that grow on earth tell him how to be and how to let beings be. He is blooming just for us, forging an existence that carries a deep conviction of belonging, of giving, of co-creating.
I believe life is lived best when embracing our surroundings, accepting the world we are thrown into, and thus make it grow. The existentialists might agree, at least some of them: the human condition embodies ingredients capable of bringing about positivity, and joy – a state of being-in-the-world that most people seek to experience in their lives. Joy that is fundamentally oriented beyond the self and far from merely seeking pleasure.
Through all complexities and tragedies of life, existential joy is the forthright opposite of existential anxiety. The joy of reaching infinity equipoises the pain of being disconnected, isolated and lacerated from the world. Our human nature trembles, wholly aware of its endless curve.
You tend to be more descriptive than prescriptive, presumably conscious of others, but could you let us know how to live fully? How to create joy in a meaningless world …. most human beings still seem to sink into the mire of the nihilistic desert.
Let me answer your question by referring to Amour Fou or Living a Luminous Life. The sculpture is about an odd couple which is ensnared by their human condition in an increasingly turbulent dalliance with each other. A woman and a man are clinging together, they are dancing like in franticness. Their sensual entanglement continues, to this day, to be the center of life. But are they sequentially taking on morbid habits moving towards a never-ending twisting obsession? Or are they heading towards a luminous life, by inciting togetherness - seeking a joyous union with the other, and the world? Maybe both but I think passion can always prevail into some kind of downturn or burgeoning - love is both mystery and revelation in its proof of existential joy.
With this sculpture I want to express that life can be fully lived despite its possible exposure to meaninglessness. The fact that life is futile is just an embedment, a circumstance - which could be dealt with while enjoying our short appearance on earth.
Let me also propose that honest love is possible. If we accept others as they are.
You are now sounding much more heart-warming and cathartic. And we agree, if I may add my personal opinion that there are dichotomies in our human condition, yet you limn both existential anxiety and existential joy in your sculptures. How to leave anxiety and to reach an infinite state of joy?
Well, you are asking the most important question, a dilemma Sartre and his circles were perpetually grappling with - without being able to propose a clear answer. To start with: anxiety and joy - I cannot easily detach those poles of the human condition.
We are heroes of our own lives whether we appreciate it or not. We shall perhaps first try to find the sublime in the banal, like the character in Sancta’s Broken Halo: a young girl is crowned by a halo. But why is it broken? The girl might have a Sisyphean experience behind her, beyond our knowledge. But now she is radiating bliss in a moment of rare, lucid joy. Still, we don’t know what is happening next.
The character is in limbo where introspection appears within reach, yet her identity is somehow blurry and distant. Be that as it may, by taking on responsibility, she might reach the infinite beyond the demurrals of her daily plight. In the face of hindmost rumination about what is real or not, Sancta faces alienation, feels anxiety. But, ad infinitum, she will become the master of her fate and live a serene existence, knowing of her deepening impression of the broken past.
She and all of us want to be fulfilled in our richly-layered selves. We need to simply find out how to exercise freedom, opening the way to what Camus referred to as existential joy. Thus, following the existentialists, we can embrace our own experiences of dread, and so transform our emotions of anxiety and create new meanings for us and the world. And we are freed from the harsh burden of deadweight, leaving behind captivity and custody to roam lightly through open realms.
Absolutely, and that openness, that infinity has been reflected in your sculptural practice. If I may come to the here and now: How would you describe the current state of the world in general, and the human condition in particular?
If my work speaks to the current mess in the world - ranging from pandemics, war, economic crisis and global warming - it also applies to the human condition in general. We might go back to the dark ages of the first half of the 20th century. Existentialism found a particular relevance during that time, during the two world wars – and it currently undergoes a revival as people are left with a sense that their views and values are meaningless - leading to despair, destruction and decay. A cast shadow falls on the light of the human condition. The present habitat we live in are repetitions, some of which go back to the genesis of humanity. What I see is the tragedy of mankind repeating itself, over and over again.
For me, sculpting is ultimately a perpetual attempt to contend with this deeply puzzling and uncertain world. I see my sculptures as metaphors for the transience of life, and ultimately the human condition. Well, I know it feels right now that we are in a world where there seems not much to celebrate. But I honestly think there is still a lot of good to reveal. The challenges are going to be faced, and I hope - as a species – humanity will work through them positively, joyfully.
Existential joy is part of the human condition, but we may not perceive it behind all of the anxiety in this contemporary moment. We have to decide every day that we want to live, and to engage. We shall no stop to wonder. And we can let joy crystalize.
Your first solo show in Paris opens in October, at Mémoire de l'Avenir - a non-profit organization whose mission is to use the arts as a means of improving society. Paris is the home of existentialism. Can you tell us more about your show and the potential link with the French school of existentialist thought? And what are your further projects and concerns?
I am very glad to have been invited by Mémoire de l'Avenir’s ingenious founder Margalit Berriet to stage the exhibition ‘Transcending the Human Condition’ at their gallery space, showing ten of my key works, some of which we have reflected on in this conversation. As you can imagine from the show’s title, we consciously and conceptionally intertwined the curatorial narrative with "la condition humaine", in a very French existentialist way – as humankind is finding itself being threatened by the experience of a permanent alienation and estrangement.
Bringing together artists and social scientists to transcend habitual references and ways of thinking, Mémoire de l'Avenir aims to facilitate imagination by transmitting a message of hope enriched by the manifoldness of humanity. With my show, I would like to prepare us through existential anxiety for existential joy. Through the medium of sculptures presented to the Parisian public, Margalit Berriet and I engage with the human condition as an ample form of choice. We are hoping that ‘Transcending the Human Condition’ will symbolically explore these choices. The fundamental issue, therefore, is how we can genuinely lead a purposeful life.
Beyond the upcoming exhibition, I am concerned and impelled by the challenges we are all facing right now. And the question what turning point we are at. Where are we going to? Do we have to face life-threatening conditions as we are thrown into this messy world or can we expand into infinity, a realm without bound, causing joy. Infinity has been a main theme in my work but is something I would like to further bring out in my upcoming projects. Wishing that we can hold infinity within us.
How obliging of you to end on this note, Dr Gindi. Thank you very much for this textural conversation.
It was very congenial, and thank you for inviting me. I am grateful for your sharp and important questions circulating around the human condition.