A small, anonymous town dreams of hosting the Olympics, even as it becomes obvious that its efforts are misguided. The spectre of defeat may only be countered by maintaining a shared delusion, which keeps growing even as its residents continue to labour and make sacrifices. Basim Magdy’s moving image work layers film footage and text to produce a surrealistic visual essay, balancing the bleakness of contemporary conditions with sensitive humour. Magdy reflects on the fallible aspects of collective thought and action, on the cyclical processes of hope and ambition, failure and loss. His imaginative approach - at a global moment where the limits of collective political will have been recently experienced -veers away from predictable cynicism to evoke empathy and self-recognition. The used language is accessible and the tone literary, which becomes an unsurprising fact when Magdy reveals that his father wrote surrealistic short stories and that he grew up immersed in words and philosophy, even considering becoming a poet.
As he describes the work:
‘An anonymous little town struggles for international recognition as it becomes obvious failure is a monster too big to slaughter. Their mayor resorts to hypnosis in the shape of a circus. An ambiguous dream that defies interpretation leaves the circus owner baffled. He wakes up to put his clowns and their wives to work. The consequences of this series of events hit the elephant where it hurts. Fate becomes its enemy.’
Magdy’s film draws from life, capturing absurd details and everyday beauty, seeking the uncanny within man-made environments which were shot between Paris, New York, Brussels, Quebec, Basel, Madeira, Prague and Venice, among other locations. The scenes acquire a familiar aura due to the grainy, saturated tones of the 16mm film, a medium the artist favours.
Growing up in Egypt, Magdy associates these dense kind of images with cinema and television, specially instructional or educational programmes, and which he has explored in many of his film works. He felt an imperative to work with the medium of film before its disappearance, and experiments with its tonality and processes, pickling sections in vinegar to produce what he calls the ‘patterns of abstract painting’ across scenes.
While watching, the viewer is also reading, the two operations occurring in tandem and allowing the artist to introduce subtle, often amusing or ironic dissonances. The editing process for Magdy is akin to the composition of a musical score, where the relationship of sound, text and image are deliberately and finely tuned to create dramatic tension and produce a lush and immersive sensory experience, making even implausible events seem briefly possible. While the apocalypse might be just around the corner and all is in constant peril, the soothing tones of the Abba song S.O.S are heard in a fairground. Fiction for Magdy opens up a ‘vast and enigmatic space’ where he can use elements gleaned from reality and layer them with both the believable and the absurd, entering a slightly skewed, parallel reality.