MUTATIONS IN BLUE, WHITE AND RED brings together examples from different series of works by El-Sayegh, which together form an artistic practice rooted in assemblage and the political, social, and economic complexities of humanity. Featured in the exhibition are a number of mixed-media paintings from El-Sayegh’s Net-Grid and White Grounds series, along with examples of her Windows series, which is comprised of intricate blue ink drawings executed on large-scale canvases. Also on view is a selection of the artist’s table works, vitrine-like sculptures containing small latex objects, images, and found ephemera, as well as works from her Piece Paintings series, which are exhibited here for the first time. El-Sayegh has also created an installation where she has applied layers of The Financial Times to the walls and floor of one of the galleries, offering a different surface for the work. The Financial Times, chosen both for its signification of global finance and the flesh-pink tone of its pages, reflects El-Sayegh’s interest in the complex interactions (and often confrontations) between the body and the political landscape.
El-Sayegh’s process often begins with periods of focused research of written material, scientific and biological diagrams, and pop cultural imagery. Adapting elements of psychoanalysis to a formal aesthetic that merges minimalism, pop, and figuration, she occupies a quasi-paranoiac worldview as a creative response to societal alienation. From this shifting standpoint, El-Sayegh invokes a complex investigation of the body as signifier in the context of shared cultural trauma, linguistic entropy, and the endless mutability of meaning itself. “My practice is preoccupied with part-whole relations,” explains the artist, “and with ‘procedural thinking’ that allows for observable growth and decay.” With intricate graphic webs of abstracted imagery suggesting unchecked growth, El-Sayegh’s crystalline blue ink Windows works are perhaps her clearest allusion to autonomous organic patterning, but the interest spans her entire oeuvre.
El-Sayegh’s interest in the functioning of systems—whether biological, linguistic or indeed political—is connected to her exploration of the relationship between figure and ground in painterly terms and to her questioning of how we derive meaning from this “ground,” which can refer to both a metaphorical and a physical understanding of space. This ongoing project links together seemingly disparate series of works in a more sustained investigative process. The White Grounds series, for example, alludes to the fallacy of a neutral space, by inverting the structure of image making from which layers of meaning can emerge. For El-Sayegh, the exploration of “grounds” also has a political resonance, in terms of the physical ground bodies are permitted to occupy, and the condition of groundlessness as evocative of statelessness. However, her investigation is not triangulated toward making a specific statement; rather her interest lies in creating methods that invite the viewer to consider the very processes of constructing meaning. The organization of her work into series reflects the observational stance El-Sayegh adopts, establishing a set of rules for each work that are allowed to play out again and again, with the artist and viewers bearing witness to the results.
Though El-Sayegh’s processes are deeply invested in systems, she simultaneously questions and rejects the systematic, particularly in relation to the construction of meaning. Layered compositions deliberately obfuscate, with fragments of newsprint and text embedded in the dense Net-Grid paintings and phrases or words hidden in the Windows’ compositions. El-Sayegh remains mindful of the potential for systems of categorization to tip over into prejudice or violence, the regulation and management of human beings under certain regimes, and the pathologization of difference. Indebted to the anti-taxonomical and the nonsensical, El-Sayegh creates her work as spaces where the dominant modes of creating meaning can be broken down and new forms of meaning can materialize.