The statement accompanying Townhouse Gallery
’s latest show, Interruption, promised to challenge preconceived notions about age and experience. The exhibition, which opened on Sunday 21 September is part of The Pick series, which in its current edition features works by Amna Badawy, Nouran Sherif & Muhammad Taymour, Reem El-Maghraby, Shadwa Ali and Tuqa El-Harouny, working around installation, sound art and photography.
“Interruption is the sixth iteration of Townhouse's biennial student and recent graduate exhibition, The Pick. Previous Picks have challenged the problems associated with shows that carry labels such as ‘emerging’ or ‘young’, which satisfy a fetish for and expectation of experimentation,” we read.
In the world of visual art, this is not a cutting-edge debate. Discussions about the risks of caging certain artwork as ‘emerging’ are rife. Artists, critics and curators the world over have long contested this label for potentially forcing artwork into a perpetual work in progress, towing its creators into mediocrity.
As the discussions press on, Townhouse, considered by many as the heart of contemporary art in downtown Cairo, has been lending its space to The Pick since 2000, boasting projects by a parade of students and recent graduates.
During the opening, Ahram Online spoke to the show’s curator Shehab Awad about his first experience as a solo curator.
On curating Interruption
Awad has been doing research for almost eight months, surveying works by young artists across Egypt and observing the trends of curating in preparation for this show.
“I found myself attracted to certain works that explore a specific state I was experiencing: a state of procrastination, a state where people are doing things without realising the reasons behind their actions,” he told Ahram Online on the sidelines of the opening.
“At the same time I was reading a lot about bacteria, and how when it attacks a certain body it releases certain particles, introducing unfamiliar behaviour to the body, making it act unconsciously. This eventually leads to the body’s destruction,” he continued.
Awad’s central message is the first thing the viewer sets eyes on upon entering the first floor gallery: Procrastination is a bacterium that thrives in conditions of high workloads. The statement, written in both English and Arabic, is plastered on the wall in a cold, bold font.
“I am not trying to generalise by saying that we are all living in a state of procrastination. I am just proposing that perhaps whatever we are going through is the result of a parasitic body that attacked us at a time when we were at risk, a time when we opened ourselves to hope,” Awad explained, insisting that this idea is not solely tied to the revolution.
While conceptualising this exhibition, Awad was particularly interested in how “external bangs” or periodic noises interact with and affect the natural course, in that case, of making art, which is a process each artist goes through.
On the early stages of curation, Awad said: “It was an organic process that had a lot to do with sound. All the projects that I was drawn to and the artists I was looking to collaborate with were working with sound.”
Four out of the five installations used sound as one of the mediums utilised. Unfortunately, however, the acoustics of the gallery coupled with a roaring crowd on opening night rendered the soundtrack inaudible.
“Most of the work you see was already produced [prior to this exhibition], but throughout the summer we were discussing how to showcase each piece as a direct exploration of the theme at hand,” Awad explained.
He added that after selecting the artists and the projects, he concentrated on shaping their ideas in light of the general concept of the exhibition. To him, each work needed to be highlighted on its own, regardless of the age or experience of the creator.
"It's a problematic label because it sets a certain potential that is expected of the artists in the coming ten years," he said about using ‘young’ or ‘emerging’ to describe the work displayed.
A recent graduate himself, Awad stressed the necessity to dissociate one’s consideration of the exhibited art from the age or job of its creator.
“All of what you see is a presentation of what these young artists are experiencing, and this is precisely what I wanted people to be exposed to. Even these young artists are experiencing similar feelings to older, more established artists; they are experiencing procrastination and they feel pressured,” he explained, pointing to outside factors that he believes hit you whether you are in your twenties or you are approaching 60.
“I hope that after this show people become more concerned with the work displayed and the idea behind it, instead of who made it and what they have studied. I also hope that people can relate to the work and look at it not as the work of an emerging artist, but as a work that explores the state we are all in.”
Installation by Shadwa Ali (Photo: Courtesy of Townhouse Gallery)