“Blink, the moment of unequivocal, uncertain, unspecified and unrealistic judgement, is one which travels through a narrow wormhole to infinite space with no gravity. This moment might also teleport itself with magically accelerated speed from one point to another in one corner of our mind.”
This is how professor and visual artist Shady Elnoshokaty describes the theme linking the media projects of 21 undergraduates, selected from a new program in contemporary arts at the American University in Cairo, whose work is currently on show at Medrar in Garden City.
Elnoshokaty explains that the title BLINK is meant to represent the physiological effect of visual media, such as video, experimental animation and digital photography. He suggests that these art forms, unlike more traditional mediums, are not only stored in our visual memory, but can have a lasting “magical effect.”
BLINK 2 is the second version of an exhibition that opened at the Sharjah Art Gallery at AUC’s new campus on April 14. The works have been moved to Medrar to give them wider exposure, and the students the chance to “interact with the art scene in Cairo,” says Elnoshokaty.
He interprets the blink moment as one of possibility — for deeper reflection, critical thought or research.
Through a variety of mediums — performance, installation, audio, video processing and animation — the various pieces in BLINK 2 seek to challenge perceptions of everyday moments and experiences. Topics include time, memory, birth, death, the cycle of life, home, sleep and reproduction, as well as urbanization, technology and the liberation of the soul. Some are a little clichéd, lacking deeper reflection, but others use these moments of everyday interaction to spur further contemplation by the audience.
Five pieces in particular stand out from the 20 projects, which feel a little crammed into three small adjoining rooms around a central space. Visually, with several film pieces being shown in such close proximity, the exhibition is slightly overwhelming, but in some ways this adds to the theme of the exhibition.
Rawya Dajani’s short video piece depicts a striking image of a woman being suffocated by strangulation. The various frames read, “I do not want to die… but if I did… I never want to come back.” Like Elnoshokaty, Dajani sees the blink concept as “a chance for a new vision; a part of a second while closing your eyes that can take you to a different world.” She told Mada Masr that her piece depicts reality, but that she is attempting to take her audience on a trip to allow them to perceive things differently. Her piece is titled “Claustrum,” which she explains has two interrelated meanings: “enclosure” in Latin, and a thin sheet of neurons in the brain.
A montage of photographs by Zeina Madwar, “Machines Versus Humans,” shows people taking pictures of one another. Madwar says we flit between absence and presence as we are absorbed by our technological devices: “It is like you are here but at the same time you are elsewhere in other networks and ten other conversations.” Perhaps Madwar’s exploration of our relationship to technology could have been taken a little further. It made me wonder what happens when our memories are mediated by technology. We often remember moments through pictures we took and forget the details with the passing of time — what does this mean for mediated memory and the future of technology?
Two other photography projects that stand out among a number of video installations are Aya Ahmed al-Mofty’s “The Bed” and Malak Yacout Saleh’s “Sleep Work.” Both are well-made and look a little like commercial adverts. They examine similar concepts from different perspectives. Mofty’s images depict the bed as a haven, a place to relax and socialize, with cosy pyjamas, low lighting, books and company. In contrast, Saleh’s three photographs show individuals sleeping alone in a makeshift bed, made by pushing two chairs together in a library, with a book or scarf over their faces. “Sleep Work” depicts people sleeping in spaces not meant for the purpose, while “The Bed” shows them doing everything other than sleeping.
Saleh says her work is meant to be a critique of Egyptian society. “People go about life day by day, anticipating the end of the day so they can return to the comfort of their own homes,” she says. “Study and work are considered an obligation, yet another chore, one that ‘home’ provides a shelter from.”
Both projects feel like they scratch the surface of interesting topics, but lack depth. It is not clear if either artist considered class, work, income, gender and so on in their analysis. As far as I can see, all of the individuals are depicted in beautiful bedrooms, in Mofty’s case, or expensive clothes in Saleh’s, indicating their subjects are middle class. Is there a connection between a comfortable lifestyle and relationship to one’s bed and/or sleep? Are the same emotions present in a working-class family that might share sleeping quarters, for example?
Yasmina Kabbara’s video “Back Home” focuses on the female reproductive system and its functions. The piece begins with a digital model of the fallopian tubes and then zooms in to reveal a maze of red brick walls that are numbered. A woman walks through the maze, representing various stages of menstruation, sex and pregnancy. Unexpectedly, the artist uses this model to explore the notion of home. In a statement, she writes, “A life world becomes a collage of overlapping and ever transforming personal and collective geographies, a system of irregularly shaped nodal regions that correspond to homes of individuals or groups of individuals.”
The blink concept reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s 2005 book “Blink,” on the adaptive unconscious. In it, Gladwell explores immediate mental processes, snap judgements, prejudices and moments of intuition that arise from a brief encounter or experience.
The BLINK 2 exhibition is interesting, though whether or not the pieces really manage to inspire different readings of the subjects they tackle is questionable. The artists in BLINK 2 all tend to engage personal and psychological issues, often using human figuration and symbolism, and, like their professor, have a strong interest in visual media. This series of exhibitions of works from AUC’s new visual arts program is definitely one to look out for over the coming months, as many young artists will be showing their work to the wider public for the first time.
Blink, curated by Shady Elnoshokaty, is open until December 25, 4-9 pm except Fridays, at Medrar for Contemporary Art, 7 Gamal el-Din Abu el-Mahasin Street, Apartment 4, Garden City, Cairo.