Subversion at Cornerhouse
14 May 2012
Where did the idea for Subversion originate?
The spark for Subversion clicked in my head in 2009. I had just come back from a frustrating summer in Egypt trying to find some material in a number of different deteriorating film archives, and when I returned to the UK everyone was buzzing about a show in London that had lots of so-called Middle Eastern (and Arab) artists in it. This triggered all sorts of emotions within me and many of the artists with whom I was working, both from within and from outside of the Arab world. At that point I felt, and I still feel much the same way now, that Western institutions were still talking about artists from particular parts of the world using the same rhetoric that originated from post-colonial writers in the 1990s. In a sense, we had never moved beyond outdated modes of identity politics. Instead, I wanted to talk about what it means to be an individual in a post-internet, post social media human condition. To discuss issues of multiplicity and hybridity in relation to the so called Arab world.
What is your personal highlight of the exhibition?
I don't know if I could pick a highlight. I worked for over two years on the exhibition, and every single piece within the exhibition was carefully thought through for how it related to the rest of the works. I do however have a very personal affinity for Marwa Arsanios' I've Heard Stories Part 1, which is a darkly comic video and archive that explores a mysterious murder in the infamous Carlton hotel in downtown Beirut. In fact, I will be showing the film on 10 of July as part of the forthcoming Arab Film Festival at FACT.
Can you tell us more about the unusual layout of the show and its significance?
The exhibition was conceived in the vein of a three-act play, and each installation was meant to make the viewer feel implicit within the action that took place in the artworks. So for instance, for the UK premiere of Wafaa Bilal's Virtual Jihadi - a first person shooter game hacked by the artist; we worked with a production designer called Kev Thornton. Kev created a makeshift internet café, inspired by images from Hebron to Gaza and Baghdad to create an environment that evoked the retro graphics of the video game that people were invited to play. This works forms part of a film set style installation that also includes Tarzan and Arab's retro style cinema, which houses their award-winning Gazawood project.
At FACT, you recently worked with Mike Stubbs and Shady El Noshokaty to present the work of the late Egyptian artist Ahmed Basiony. Did this exhibition form part of your research for Subversion?
Of course! One of my aims with Subversion, as with much of my curatorial work, is to consider new media art practices in a context that extends beyond the traditional North American and Western European axis. Basiony's work forms part of this historical trajectory, and indeed, anyone that knew Basiony's work well, would argue that his work propagated openness towards a collaborative media practice. Anyone interested in this exhibition, will find much to look forward to in Subversion.