Ruins, mysterious machines, plants, skulls, cranes and modernist constructions; Basim Magdy (b. 1977, Egypt) subjects us to a view of the world that is keenly observed and surreal in equal measure. His paintings, photographs, installations and films reveal a dreamlike universe that is out of kilter. KM21 proudly presents Magdy's first exhibition in the Netherlands.
Every medium has its own specific function, beauty and unique way of conveying ideas. The thing that Basim Magdy loves about film, for example, is that you “can think in moments”. A film consists of fleeting moments, images that disappear. Entirely different from painting, which involves creating an image from nothing. “Painting is pure fiction”, he says.
Magdy always manages to give his work a poetic layer, whether it be film, painting or photography. He does so by incorporating observations of the absurdities of daily life. “There is so much randomness in what happens in our lives. I try to highlight the absurdity of that by looking at things that may pass unnoticed in daily life. It’s just a matter of whether we pay attention to them.” He is also influenced by science fiction, comic strips, nature documentaries and the apocalyptic tone of Bible stories. With colour and humour, he blends fiction and historical references, present and future intermingling. He also always leaves room for the viewer’s imagination, their own personal experiences, emotions and logic. Magdy uses analogue techniques in his films and photographs, recording on 16 mm film for example. Since 2014 he has been using chemicals to manipulate his work. He reworks printed photographs, for example, with household substances like baking soda, Coca Cola, Sprite, vinegar and rubbing alcohol.
Absurdity of death
The anchor of An Alligator in the Clouds is Magdy's latest film FEARDEATHLOVEDEATH, about the absurdity of death and the impossibility of understanding it. Transition – the process of passing from one state to another – is the common thread in the exhibition. Magdy filmed the footage for FEARDEATHLOVEDEATH while travelling. “My films evolve as I go, so after I see the footage new ideas are introduced and it grows like a collage, where you keep layering and adding the soundtrack as a glue. I’m really fascinated by several narratives running alongside each other, so you never know where the past, present and future align. I also involved my two young daughters in the making of this film. There is a chapter about a little girl’s voice inspired by my daughter’s invented language that only had one word: ‘banana’.”
Another series that will feature in the exhibition consists of small and medium-sized photographic work comprising more than one image, and sometimes text, in an investigation of a hypothetical history: what might have happened. Magdy points out that history is either written by the people in power, or by people who can write. “There is an unknown infinite history of people we know nothing about. We have no idea about their lives because either they were not powerful or their story was not passed on through written language. So much has been lost because of that, and so many lives are lost not only physically but also in the memory, because memories fade.”
Magdy's work moves between light and dark, humour and seriousness, reality and fiction, as past, present and future become poetically entangled, beyond the bounds of time as we know it.
Basim Magdy (b. 1977, Egypt) lives and works in Basel. Recent solo exhibitions of his work have taken place at Röda Sten Konsthall, Gothenburg and MHKA, Antwerp. His work features in the collections of MoMA and Guggenheim in New York, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Sjarhah Art Foundation and other institutions