D-CAF 2013: ‘Face the Vitrine’ Poses a New Type of Gaze in Downtown Cairo
Prior to going to check out the latest visual art exhibition to open at D-CAF, ‘Face the Vitrine’, we thought we had better find out what indeed we would be confronting. A quick online search confirmed ‘vitrine’ as ‘a glass-panelled cabinet or case for displaying articles and curios’. Since the exhibition takes place through a window of a storefront, we smugly thought we had that bit sussed; but as for the curios, we were kept guessing. Standing in front of the piece, we realised that we were, in fact, those curios, as ‘Face the Vitrine’ puts the viewer on the stand and causes them to re-examine their cosseted position as observer.
Most of the people who see ‘Face the Vitrine’ will not have intended to sample a slice of post-modernist contemporary art as they make their way about Downtown. However, the piece is unavoidable; taking up the entire window of an empty shop, it literally glares at passersby. The image of a man is projected onto a white screen on the glass of the shop front and motion sensors allow the figure’s eyes to follow any unwitting subject who walks by. The experience is unnerving, and many of the people who caught his eye were forced to stop, take a few steps back, and a few forward again, testing his eyesight, and trying to trick his mechanical gaze.
The minds behind this piece are Egyptian artists Ganzeer and Yasmin Elayat, both of whom are at the forefront of this country’s contemporary art scene and continue to push the boundaries of artistic expression both inside and outside of Egypt’s borders. This collaboration sees the pair tackle issues of public vs. private, and attempts to unsettle viewer’s perceptions of identity and subjectivity.
The face’s tilted lids reveal just enough eyeball to pin passing pedestrians with his sultry glare, but his look also tells us, with drained nonchalance: you are being watched. There’s an existentialist twang to the idea, as his piercing look reflects our curiosity for art and desire to judge, turning our querying eye back at us for forced self-examination: how do we react to being observed?
This exhibition sends a shiver down the spine, even in the balmy Cairo night air, as the glare of this shady individual disrupts the familiar routine of Downtown. ‘Face the Vitrine’ comes to Cairo in the middle of a multi-city tour and never spends more than a month in each spot, so we recommend keeping a special eye out for it if you’re out in Downtown over the next week.