Q&A with Basim Magdy

23 Jun 2015

Based on observations of reality, and containing a wide range of colours, effects and textures of kaleidoscopic like quality, Basim Magdy's work analyses contemporary representational regimes by staging experiences grounded in hybrid spatial, temporal and social co-ordinates.

The artist, born in 1977 in Assiut, Egypt, has created a multifaceted oeuvre in recent years encompassing film, photography, slide projections, installations, and works on paper. He is Deutsche Bank's Artist of the Year 2016, and will present his first institutional solo exhibition at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin in spring 2016. His work is currently on display at The Green Parrot in Barcelona.

We spoke to the artist about his latest project.  

Q: You are Deutsche Bank's Artist of the Year 2016, and will present your first institutional solo exhibition at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin in spring 2016. That’s a great honour: The award goes to a contemporary artist who has created an artistically, as well as socially relevant, oeuvre. How did you react when you got the news? And do you know what you will be showing?

It was obviously an amazing surprise, and as you said an incredible honor. The first book designated to my work will be published alongside the show at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin in the spring of 2016. The book will be a comprehensive volume with texts by several curators and writers and extensive work documentation. The show is also planned to travel to other countries afterwards. We're currently just starting to work on both the show and the book so it's too early to decide what will be in the show, but it will definitely respond to my interest in experimenting with different mediums, and will include some of my recent work with film, photography and drawing, and perhaps more.

Q: Your work is based on observations of reality. At the same time it contains a wide range of colours, effects and textures of kaleidoscopic like quality, similar to a hallucinogenic experience, or a dream. How do you see the relationship between reality and what appears to be a ‘non-place’ in your work?

I like to think of what I do as fiction, but I also believe that if fiction is to communicate ideas about the reality we live in successfully, it has to make sure it's not too abstract. I film and take pictures everywhere I travel, so to construct those "non-places" I try to make sure that, at least in most cases, the footage shows places that look familiar but are unrecognizable. It is also important for me that the work communicates with as many people of different backgrounds, experiences and accumulated knowledge as possible which is why I like to incorporate absurdity, confusion and, more recently, a lot of layering in the structure of the work. I've also been trying to make work that would hopefully instigate an emotional reaction. We all experience and understand emotions in a similar way, feelings like loss, happiness, sadness, hopefulness and hopelessness are things we all get more used to as we get older. I feel that the colorful effects, visual layering and the grainy look of film help me keep the work suspended in a state of equilibrium between the fiction that it is and the reality it represents. It is also one of the most enjoyable parts of making the work for me. 

Q: How do you achieve these colour and texture effects?

It depends on the medium. In my film based works I'm constantly trying to create new effects and new ways to document reality. I build kaleidoscopes and attach them to the lens, I use a lot of colorful filters, I open the camera while filming to create deliberate light leaks, I punch holes in the film, I shoot a lot of double or multiple exposures, an more and more recently I've been experimenting with this process I like to call "film pickling" where I expose different types of film stock to different household chemicals which change the color of the image and add a lot more effects. Throughout the years a lot of artists have experimented with this process, but because the variables are almost infinite, you're bound to produce something different every time. The process is mostly calculated but can still be pleasantly surprising. 

Q: What motivated the title of your current show at the Green Parrot ‘The Relentless Repetition of Reality’?

The title is borrowed from a line in my most recent film "The Everyday Ritual of Solitude Hatching Monkeys" which is one of two works in the exhibition at the Green Parrot. The film was co-commissioned by Art in General in New York and HOME in Manchester, UK and is currently being shown in "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things" at HOME as well. The other work in the Green Parrot show is a double slide projection called A 240 Second Analysis of Failure and Hopefulness (with Coke, vinegar and other teargas remedies). Both works deal with different cycles influenced by the passing of time that seem to repeat themselves equally in the lives of both individuals and societies. In the film, a man tries to come to terms with his involuntary solitude and the impossibility of telling when it would end as the days go by. The slide work, on the other hand, deals with the cycles of hopefulness and failure that whole generations seem to fall victim to in all societies. All lives are made up of many repetitions that overlap and intertwine to make things a bit more exciting.  

Q: What would you like your viewer to take away from your work? What quality of your work would you like to be most appealing to them?

If any aspect of the work makes a viewer feel something or relate to the work on a personal level that makes me happy. Also if someone wakes up the day after seeing my work and they're still thinking about it, I feel like there is nothing more to wish for.

Thank you! 


Basim Magdy: The Relentless Repetition of Reality
5 Jun 2015 – 18 Sep 2015
The Green Parrot

Follow Basim on Instagram @basim.magdy

More exhibitions in Barcelona