- Life Style
Artist Shady el-Noshokaty’s latest exhibition is, to put it mildly, rather spooky. Entering Stammer at Darb 1718, one is met with a large video installation showing seated female students--and one lone male student--chanting repetitively in a classroom at the top of their voice: “My mind is like a VHS tape! … My mind is like a red mahogany piano! …”
“What da!?” was one of the gallery visitor’s first reactions.
Things get stranger still when you see the video playing on the adjacent wall: a close up of el-Noshokaty’s face shows him standing with a blackboard behind them. He speaks hesitantly, stammering, about rat species and behavior. Slowly blood begins to drip out of his left nostril. Behind him on the blackboard are drawings of rats mating.
“What da?!” indeed.
Yet this is no eerie tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s "A Clock Work Orange," nor is it abstract gobbledygook of the annoyingly pretentious sort. It does however require visitors to stick around and see these videos and the others from start to finish, if they ever hope to come to some understanding at least.
Even then, it’s hard to categorize the theme of Stammer, with the entire exhibition divided into seven different segments, and some works going back to 2007 involving other artists. At its heart though is an attempt to highlight the relationship between the mind and the body, and more subtly, the mind and itself.
The approach to such an undertaking is multifaceted, using multimedia, texts, drawings, acting, and installations, with an emphasis on videos–“a pure medium,” says el-Noshokaty.
For him, stammering itself is something that relates to his past. “By exploring the condition of stammering and researching the matter,” he says, “the topic then branched out to deal with broader issues,” ones that question the very origin of consciousness and the ways in which the body and mind, along with all their subtle layers, interact.
“Research is a key element to all my art,” says el-Noshokaty, with a highlighted research paper discussing the brain’s ability to identify creative ideas framed among the other artworks.
In a neighboring room, another large projection of el-Noshokaty’s face shows him repeatedly declaring, “I am not an Arabic artist … I am not a political artist … I am not an ethnic artist … I am not a feminist artist … I am not an urban city artist …” The list goes on.
“This is one of the more criticism-based aspects to this exhibition,” el-Noshokaty says. “It’s a reference to how over the past eight years or so the art market [in the West] has become driven by artists’ backgrounds rather than the actual creativity of their work.” El-Noshokaty feels that artists now allow the market to use their ethnicities or personal ideologies to market their work rather than relying on the quality of their work itself.
It is difficult to see how this ties in with the broader theme of Stammer, yet this is where the acting element comes in.
“During the videos you can see sudden changes in emotion and behavior,” he says, “and sometimes more subtle events, such as in one of the videos where I read out, ‘The mind is like a digital computer,’ and you can see a tear come down from one of my eyes.”
These reactions, including for instance the blood that trickles down his nose during his speech on rats--which he says is indirect commentary about human society--are all expressions of the different, and often contradictory, psychological and bodily reactions to the things he says or reads out loud.
Whether visitors will get any of that is another matter. There is a sense, however, that the entire exhibition itself is geared to almost push visitors into an altered state of mind that reflects the very issues being explored here.
Somehow, hearing the distant chants of students, el-Noshokaty’s repeated readings about the duality of body and mind, the proclamations of non-identity, all combined with seeing the violent lashings of chalk onto blackboards, the blood, the tears–somehow all these come together to raise awareness of just how bizarre and complex the inside worlds of human being really are. Just don’t ask me how.
Stammer will continue to run until 10 April at Darb 1718 Contemporary Art and Culture Center.