Two Ghosts Discuss Invisibility in Front of a Mirror

A solo show by Basim Magdy with Magdy El-Gohary

[4 December 2018 - 24 January 2019]

Gypsum Gallery is pleased to present Two Ghosts Discuss Invisibility in Front of a Mirror, Basim Magdy’s second solo show at the gallery, marking our 5th year anniversary. The show will include photographs, films, works on paper and a new series of image and text based work. The artist is also introducing rarely seen artworks by his father Magdy El-Gohary, whose drawings, short stories and pictorial choices have had a compelling influence on the artist’s own work. Both artists share an interest in narrative and its variations and a deep urge to explore meaning in collective aspirations and the human trajectory of progress. Basim Magdy’s vocabulary which is permeated with a perplexity at a future that seems to bring both tragedy and fortune, is also an attempt to map out a sardonic account of our history.

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Basim Magdy’s work is specific for a visual language that denotes its temperament: an iridescent, unhurried flow of images that act as a futurist’s outlook on the contemporary. The artist chemically alters his images with a lab technique he calls “pickling”, where films are cured using household solutions and exposed to light leaks, producing color and material effects that lay an absurdity over his subjects. The artist highlights a similar physicality to his soundscapes where he combines field recordings and found samples to create the multiple layers that track his films. Obsessed with the forthcoming and combining 16 mm film with GIF animations, his moving images and outtakes are technically and conceptually a play on time and the convergence of many technological and philosophical instants.

In his film No Shooting Stars, Basim Magdy takes the ocean as his protagonist, “an entity with many voices”. His interest in our anthropocentric relationship to the sea and its inhabitants is relayed in poetic confessions from disfigured mermaids to stone monsters and rocks protecting our artefacts of past existences. The ocean is character and stage, where all things hidden manifest in internet cables running deep under high security prisons. The suffering body is still in enough power to sustain a collective voice for the inanimate and the voiceless. The film is an exploration of the range of human projections onto this prodigious terrain from mythology and its extensions of fear to our technological calamities: an economic and historical understanding of the ocean throughout time.

Another featured film is The Everyday Ritual of Solitude Hatching Monkeys, a work that was inspired by Magdy El-Gohary’s short stories where an anonymous employee reads a line in a poem as a prophecy of his death. It warns him of the sea, the ominous presence that runs him into isolation and a complete unawareness of time. A phone conversation that occurs between him and a stranger relays a sense of disillusionment with reality. The dialogue questions what they believe is the meaning of a worthy life in the context of their estranged world.

Every Subtle Gesture is a series of photographs the artist has been developing over a number of years. The captions at a first glance seem to be amounting to a narrative but end up reading like a puzzle of non-linear aphorisms. The work creates a relationship between images and text that allows for a constant change of meaning every time the work is reconfigured, telling a different tale with each shuffle. Warnings of cyborg takeovers and existential anxiety is captioning images of the sea, airport concrete and other familiar landscapes in a constant state of anticipation.

In the new series Someone Tried to Lock Up Time, Basim Magdy combines recognized objects of history with a poetic mysticism that invokes both alienation and a feeling of familiar complicity. The text acts like a measure of time, be it a philosophical exploration of duration and how to capture it or a seemingly random correlation of past events. The images carry out the same action of free association: a Fayyum portrait that dates back to Roman Egypt, a cyborg bird and an ocean surfer are all parts of the same narrative. Interested in time and processes of selective historicization, Basim Magdy asks what will be made of us when we are looked at from the future and what artefacts remain to tell our stories?

The show features Magdy El-Gohary, an artist and botanic illustrator whose youth came at a time of a grand sweep of national projects, engineered to bring the future and its promised prosperity closer. His drawings illustrate in electromagnetic color a range of human and technological activity. Some of the sketches on show are specifically from a trip that El-Gohary had taken to the location of the High Dam, which was under construction at the time. Antennas, dozers and cranes populate a potentially fruitful barren landscape. Surrealist elements in El-Gohary’s work emphasize the alienation of these fields of progress and they become a stage, like the sea, to the formation of human relationships in moments of futile hope.

The exhibition brings together Basim Magdy’s work in reference to his father’s as a primary source of inspiration. It draws a course of associations from an ancient optimism to a despondent wariness of a laid out future that has always promised too much.

Basim Magdy (b. 1977, Assiut) is an artist based in Basel, Switzerland and Cairo. His work appeared recently in solo and group exhibitions at MoMA The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Athens Biennial; Beaufort Triennial, Belgium; South London Gallery; University Galleries at Illinois State University; MAAT Museum, Lisbon; Gothenburg Biennial; Arnolfini, Bristol; Castello di Rivoli, Torino; MCA Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Turin; New Museum Triennial, New York; MAXXI National Museum of the 21st Century Arts, Rome; Jeu de Paume, Paris; CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art, Bordeaux; Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Berlin; Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-On-Hudson, New York; Whitechapel Gallery, London; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw; La Biennale de Montreal, Montreal; MEDIACITY Seoul Biennial; 13th Istanbul Biennial; Sharjah Biennial 11 and 13; Les Ateliers de Rennes – Biennale dʼart contemporain 2010 and 2018, France; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; The High Line, New York, La Triennale: Intense Proximity, Palais de Tokyo, Paris. He was shortlisted for the Future Generation Art Prize, Kiev (2012) and won the Abraaj Art Prize, Dubai and the New:Vision Award, CPH:DOX Film Festival, Copenhagen (2014) and the Experimental Award at the Curtas Vila do Conde – International Film Festival, Portugal (2015). He was selected Deutsche Bank’s 2016 Artist of the Year (2016). His films were the subject of special screening programs at Tate Modern, International Film Festival Rotterdam, ICA London among many others. His work is in major collections including those of MoMA, Museum of Modern Art New York, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Guggenheim Museum, New York, MCA Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, MAXXI Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Rome, Castello di Rivoli, Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Turin, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France, Deutsche Bank Collection, Berlin/Frankfurt and Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah.

Magdy El-Gohary (b. 1942, Abnoub) is an artist, writer and botanical illustrator based in Cairo. His paintings, drawings and botanical illustrations appeared in solo and group exhibitions at The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburg, USA; Hunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, New Jersey, Cairo Atelier, Cairo; Assiut Culture Palace and Minia Culture Palace. In 1985, 1986 and 1998 he was artist-in-residence at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburg and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London. In 1975 he was visiting botanical illustrator at the Faculty of Science, Amman University. His botanical illustrations were included in books published by The American University in Cairo Press; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Kuwait University; Cairo University Herbarium; Reference Publications, Algonac, Michigan, USA; The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburg, USA; Dar Al-Maaref, Cairo, Egypt among others. His work is in the public collections of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie-Mellon University, USA; Faculty of Science, Amman University, Jordan and several other private collections.