No Shooting Stars
Basim Magdy at the Arnolfini in Bristol

Following the premiere in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin and guest appearances in Rome and Chicago, Basim Magdy’s “The Stars Were Aligned for a Century of New Beginnings” is now on view at the Arnolfini in Bristol. One of the exhibition’s main points of focus are the 2016 “Artist of the Year’s” filmic works.
For psychoanalyst C.G. Jung, water is a symbol of the unconscious. Like an ocean, it “sends powerful waves with almost certain regularity into our conscious.” Basim Magdy’s new film No Shooting Stars (2016) submerges itself in the hidden, mysterious world of the sea, where life originally began. And his film is as fluid and elusive as the underwater world: images of beaches, islands, and the surf—as well as mountain meadows and a building’s demolition—interweave with the poetic narrative of a mysterious being which reveals only that it lives in the ocean. It could be a mermaid, or perhaps an old sea turtle or sea monster.

The film’s “watery” character fits well not only with the Arnolfini, which is situated in a former warehouse in the historical harbor district of Bristol; it’s also a perfect metaphor for Magdy’s visual and poetic thinking, which resembles a flowing current of consciousness, which in the digital age reflects the ongoing circulation of images and information and the uncertain borders between reality and virtuality. If you subscribe to the fact that there is no past and no future here, no causality, nothing but openness, you might feel like you’re in free fall at first. Yet the paradox is that it’s precisely this letting go that enables us to arrive right where we are—in the present.

The Stars Were Aligned for a Century of New Beginnings
is the title of Magdy’s exhibition. In the spring of 2016, it was on view for the first time at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. Subsequently, it traveled on to the MAXXI in Rome and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA). The exhibition title of the 2016 “Artist of the Year” sounds optimistic, almost euphoric. In fact, however, the opposite is the case: it’s an ironic play on a humanity that repeats its mistakes undauntedly and, after every new catastrophe, continues to believe that despite it all, everything will go on as before.

Society, as Magdy depicts it in his film The Dent (2014), is hopelessly caught up in grandiose projects with irrational hopes. Brimming with absurdist humor, he talks about the inhabitants of a small town embroiled in a hopeless undertaking: they want to stage the Olympic games. From the wobbly soundtrack of the film, the melody of the Abba song SOS emerges, like a cry for help from a faraway, and yet very near world. On the other hand, 13 Essential Rules for Understanding the World comes across as a parody of an instructional film in which talking tulips announce unpleasant truths about the state our planet is in.

Looking at the 1977-born Egyptian artist’s psychedelically colored paper works, the apocalypse seems to have already occurred. And the time that follows it is surreal. Politicians have lost their power, gigantic octopi rule over humanity and force them to sign declarations of capitulation for their collective failure. Explorers wander through abandoned futuristic buildings; skulls, crystals, and extraterrestrial spaceships appear in the sky.

“For me, making a work about a possible post-apocalyptic future is only a way of rationally looking at everything around me,” says Magdy. “It also relates deeply to the concept of the passing of time, which I am constantly trying to decipher through my work. The only possible outcome for this interest is to wish I had a crystal ball or a time machine to step into the future and bring back a record of it to the present time.”

In this sense, his dreamlike works can be viewed as critical commentary on the present. What Magdy, one of the most important contemporary artists from the Middle East, calls for is radical. In his art cosmos, all of the futuristic visions, all the conjurations of history from which we can learn collectively represent outdated thinking. Indeed, we no longer live in the age of great narratives that tell us how everything is embedded in an overriding context. We live in the age of digital information. Everything is geared to the moment, in which there is no longer a past or a future, but only a continual present and simultaneity. We have to bid adieu to the idea of being able to control the world and imbue it with meaning. Like all living things, we are at the mercy of this permanent present, of chance and arbitrariness, without a master plan. By the same token, this frees us from oppressive ideologies and religious fanaticism. Magdy’s fleeting narratives ask us to think laterally, to accept contradictions and open ourselves to the here and now without dogmas.

Basim Magdy:
The Stars Were Aligned For a Century of New Beginnings

14.04. – 06.08.2017
Arnolfini, Bristol