We live, as the science fiction writer William Gibson puts it, in a culture addicted to the future. No matter whether it looks like a hightech paradise or a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the future is always the setting for a new beginning. At first glance, the title of Magdy’s »Artist of the Year« 2016 exhibition at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle seems to fit into this scheme: »The Stars Were Aligned for a Century of New Beginnings. « But the exact opposite is the case. It is an ironic allusion to humanity, which untiringly makes the same mistakes. All of the nameless and bodiless protagonists of Magdy’s films and the survivors who explore futuristic buildings in his works on paper are forced to reenact their history again and again. The societies he portrays in his 2014 film trilogy »The Many Colors of the Sky Radiate Forgetfulness, « »The Everyday Ritual of Solitude Hatching Monkeys, « and »The Dent« are bankrupt, entangled in absurd rituals of preserving the past or megalomaniac projects. His installation »In the Grave of Intergalactic Utopia« (2006) in the studio of the KunstHalle is a swan song of dreams of reaching the stars and the space race in the postwar era. The journey ends with a slapstick-like crash landing.
The artist, who was born in Egypt in 1977 and now lives in Basel and Cairo, uses the future as an opportunity to take a critical look at the present. He has repeatedly emphasized that utopias do not work because they have nothing to do with the reality of the present in which they are developed. Full of absurd humor, Basim Magdy’s art confronts us with things we often repress: the uncertain, the uncontrollable.
Right at the beginning of the exhibition, »The Future of Your Head« (2008), a sculpture incorporating a two-way mirror with a message formed out of sparkling Christmas lights, suggests that we can leave behind our self-reflective, causal thinking and our anthropocentric worldview. Magdy’s overlapping double slide projection from 2012 titled »A240SecondAnalysis of Failure and Hopefulness (With Coke, Vinegar and Other Tear Gas Reme- dies)« looks like an experimental arrangement catering to more open thinking. The 160 slides that show the razing and reconstruction of a building complex were selected from rolls of film that were soaked in different common household substances, a process he compares to »pickling«. The chemical reaction not only dyes the material in faded cyan, pink, or green, among other colors. These substances also serve as a remedy for teargas. This could be an allusion to the ever-recurring cycle of collective hopes, actions, and defeats that are symptomatic of modern societies.
Magdy counters our striving for binding truth, a lasting state, with unpredictable experiments with chemical reactions, striking a balance between chance and control. The »pickling« stresses the process-oriented approach in his work. This also applies to the work commissioned for the exhibition, a new 64-part grid of text layered photographic works, for which he used this method. It illustrates the alchemical »development« of narration and themes, reaction and counter-reaction. At the same time, Magdy always reflects on the circulation of images and information and the fluid boundaries between reality and virtuality in the digital age. In his work, he radically questions the way in which we archive and pass on memories in order to shape our own future. As an alternative, Magdy looks for new more open structures in his art that liberate themselves from old hierarchies and ideologies. The way he combines text and images, his poetic manner of writing and the absurdity inherent in most of his works speak of a more unbiased, individual perspective on reality. This thinking is also manifested in the choreography of the exhibition, which dispenses with a chronological order or a hierarchy of certain media. Magdy’s fleeting narratives ask us to think laterally, to accept contradictions, and to open ourselves to the here and now without viewing reality dogmatically.
Artist of the Year
After Wangechi Mutu (2010), Yto Barrada (2011), Roman Ondák (2012), Imran Qureshi (2013), Victor Man (2014) and Koki Tanaka (2015), Basim Magdy is now Deutsche Bank’s seventh »Artist of the Year.« The award goes to contemporary artists who have created a substantial body of work, in which works on paper and photography play a role. The award focuses on artistic positions that deal with social themes in an individual way and take new formal paths. At the same time, the award honors impetus emanating from the new art centers of Africa, Asia, South America and Eastern Europe. It is not a purely financial award, but firmly embedded in Deutsche Bank’s art program. It supports new positions and promotes the acquisition of works for the corporate collection. The highlight is the »Artist of the Year« solo exhibition at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, which is accompanied by a major catalogue. Subsequently, the show travels on to other international venues. The artist is also invited to design a special edition for the KunstHalle. Artists are chosen within the framework of the Global Art Advisory Council, which is comprised of the renowned curators Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann and Victoria Noorthoorn.