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Darb 17 18: 'Maspero'
Maspero, Egypt’s state TV building is no stranger to ridicule; for generations, its giant plump cluster of offices has been associated with an ailing government that gambles on partial media.
During the eighteen days that toppled former president Mubarak, protesters criticized the notorious establishment, often right at its doorstep. And as the fight for free press continues across Egypt’s squares, artists featured at Darb 17 18’s recent exhibit pay tribute to the last 50 years of forceful, faulty state indoctrination.
The first piece, titled Man Made, explores the notion of one’s outlook being obscured by an external force. Moataz Nasr Eldin juxtaposes an image of a young man blinkered with an eye patch with an image of a horse looking straight and steady, with its blinker tied around his eyes. The message is clear; Egyptian state media, like a blinker, has long tightened our visions, ensuring that we do not see the other side of any story.
Engy Ali’s Sanzaru portrays the absence of state media from the childhood of many Egyptians.
'I don’t remember what was usually on Wednesday night, and I don’t remember who I watched Friday shows with,' she says about her digital collage that duplicates an image of three chimps that can’t hear, see or smell.
Set against an abstract geometric background, the stifling of one’s senses is both powerful and comic, perhaps due to the chronic ineptness embodied in Maspero’s catalogue of broadcasts.
On the adjacent wall stands Adham Bakry’s Blueprint, a stark, sky-high mural stencilling the TV headquarters next to what looks like a map of its interior, in way of inviting someone to hijack the building, put an end to its unearned grandiose status and lift the shadow that it casted on Egyptians for decades.
In a series of sketches drawn on cardboard, Ali Abdel Mohsen, who is also the curator of the show, toys with the common belief that Maspero has long been regarded as the government’s mouthpiece, depicting both its anchors and the subjects invited on air as large megaphones.
While Khaled Hafez’s love-hate relationship with state media, capsulated in a video installation, ends silently with him watching news on mute with his two children, May El Hossamy’s affair is one with a concrete end: a grave titled Maspero 1960-2011. For both artists, the lies propagated by the Egyptian media are falling on deaf ears, but the question is when the rest of Egyptians will catch up.
The Contemporary Image Collective’s current exhibition is a confusing, chaotic and ultimately cutting review of the relationship between what we see and what is real.
The artists included in the exhibition are a diverse group from international backgrounds who have been brought together by CIC in Cairo and London’s Tate Modern. Over the New Year, London got a chance to see the exhibition and this month it’s opened in Cairo.
The gallery is filled with nine video installations, all playing simultaneously; some are silent, some have headphones, some blare through the gallery, mingling with other soundtracks. Kasia Redzisz and Aleya Hamza have curated an exhibition that asks viewers to re-evaluate the faith we put in the legitimacy and reliability of information we receive. The inventive and entertaining ways in which this is done make it a very effective art show, which has implications for the modern human experience.
In most of the pieces, there is neither context nor a cohesive message contained within it; instead, the disjointed construction of the films and unreliable narratives in them remind viewers to be guarded against mistaking impressions for truths.
The films make use of interview footage, Youtube clips, archived images, film clips, plain text,\ and sound to obscure the meaning conveyed in the image. The first piece we saw, Powerchord Skateboard (2006), is a highly personal work by Cairo-based artist, Sherif El Azma, which set the tone for the exhibition. With two screens in the corner of a room and two sets of headphones, viewers watch the film made of disjointed images, sounds and videos that seem out of sync with each other. The images then appear to tell a story, yet there is enough ambiguity in the editing to allow viewers to make their own associations from the chronology of the clips.
A Middle Aged Woman (2009), by Ján Mančuška, explores the same premise through a text which changes in its meaning depending on which words are highlighted and which are faded out. Although the entire work comes from a single, original paragraph the meanings created through various compositions are diverse and illustrate the fact that one source may have multiple readings, depending on which elements of it are considered.
Laumann’s work stretches this central idea to its limit through an exposition of a conspiracy theory that names the work, Morrissey Foretelling the Death of Diana (2006). In this film, a sage and collected voice details are erratic yet seemingly interlinked, leading to the theory’s controversial conclusion: viewers are encouraged to believe the version of an event offered through images and facts. This revelation is unnerving, but the show’s insistence upon validated truth is captivating and inspiring.
The implications of this experience are more practical than could be expected from such a bizarre and disjointed collection; in this age of incessant streams of information, which come at us through the internet in an immediate and unfiltered format, the practice of scrutiny against what we see and hear is all the more necessary. This exhibition simply asks us to displace our sense of certainty and facilitate our critical abilities for a more robust interrogation of truth.