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Mahmoud Khaled / Szabolcs KissPál: On Building Nations

19 August 2016 - 23 October 2016

The thematic double exhibition On Building Nations by Mahmoud Khaled and Szabolcs KissPál revisits the notion and complex mechanisms of the construction of national identities. Both artists come from complicated political contexts - Egypt and Hungary - where their work is highly influenced by social surroundings that are in flux and in turmoil. Their art creatively investigates past histories, engaging viewers in rethinking our current global conditions in which questions at the international level challenge the narratives of national constructs, radically changing the relation between the two. Both projects work to reshape and rebrand the white-cube setting of the Edith-Russ-Haus exhibition spaces, turning one into a memorial and the other into a museum-like environment that provides space for videos, photographs, and objects.

The New Commission for an Old State, a new site-specific exhibition by Mahmoud Khaled that bears formal and conceptual similarities with a memorial, provides the architectural frame for the complex narrative of the artist’s new body of work. Khaled’s research-based artistic strategy focuses on two iconic artifacts of the Egyptian context. The first is a gated summer resort in Alexandria called Maamoura, built by the state, shortly after Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power, to accommodate the new elite of the “rebranded” (post-1952) Egypt, a significant yet painfully understudied monument of modern architecture in that country. The second is a 1961 film by Youssef Chahine titled A Man in My Life, a remake of Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession from 1954. A Man in My Life, a relatively unknown work within Chahine’s filmography, started production in Maamoura a few months after it officially opened in 1959. The story revolves around the life of an imagined architect who is known for his remarkable modernist style and who is to have built one of Maamoura’s buildings, which is used as a backdrop in the opening scene of the film. This character is portrayed as a fighter for social justice who is given a prominent position to achieve this; nevertheless, due to past misdeeds, he considers himself a criminal for most of his life. Chahine’s film talks about love, violence, modernity, justice, heroism, and the architecture and political context of Egypt at that time. Khaled’s new body of work likewise metaphorically touches upon these themes, by utilizing building materials such as glass and marble (a widely used material in most of the state-owned and state-built architectural projects in Egypt from the past thirty years), mixed with photos, texts, screenshots, murals, and online found videos, all presented together within a staged memorial-like installation.
The topic of this exhibition is fueled by the artist’s continuous and urgent need to understand the relationship between his generation and the powers that have been ruling the country for the past sixty-four years. It is this very generation who also, to deadly results, recently tried (and is still trying) to produce its own version of the “New Egypt.”

Szabolcs  KissPál, Amourous Geography, Video, 2012, Standbild © (Szabolcs KissPál) VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2016

From Fake Mountains to Faith (Hungarian Trilogy) is a docu-fiction project by Szabolcs KissPál, the final two episodes of which have now been completed under commission from Edith-Russ-Haus. This project is in line with the artist’s previous works that investigate political communities not as inherited or essentialist but rather as complexly constructed entities. Through different media and representational techniques, KissPál revisits and manipulates a series of problematic and ever-changing symbols that attempt to create a homogenous and rather oppressive idea of the Hungarian nation. At the center of his investigations is the authoritarian “illiberal” Hungarian state policy: the project aims to analyze, describe, and translate into an international perspective the anatomy of the political and cultural philosophy that operates as its ideological basis.
KissPál’s exhibition comprises two docu-fiction videos (Amorous Geography, 2012, and The Rise of the Fallen Feather, 2016) and an installation that presents a fictitious museum setting (The Chasm Records, 2016). These works establish interconnections within a larger historical and cultural framework between the three major elements of the above-mentioned philosophy: the symbolism of the “ethnic landscape” and political geography, the romantic historiography of national myths of origin, and Turanism as a re-emerging form of political religion.

Amorous Geography, the first part of the Hungarian Trilogy, deals with one of the most persistent - though repressed - motifs of Hungarian historical memory: the national trauma caused by the Treaty of Trianon (1920). Together with the Holocaust of Hungarian Jews (1941–45), this event had a long-lasting effect on the development of Hungarian society, shaping its sociopolitical structures, defining its cultural positions, and fueling its sociocultural frustrations throughout the twentieth century and up to the present day.

The associative chain of historical references in The Rise of the Fallen Feather looks at how the symbolism of a totem bird - the mythological Turul - affected twentieth-century Hungarian history through an amnesiac, yet magical, collective memory from very early times, through the founding of the Turul Fellowship Association in 1919, and up to the present ideology of “blood and motherland.” The video follows the structure of the Turul’s iconography as something that steps out of historical time into the realm of political mysticism.

The Chasm Records takes the form of a museum display, presenting items from a fictitious archeological find. Through references to historical objects and relics dating from Hungary’s interwar period, the political formation of the nation is revealed - a process still being completed in contemporary Hungarian society. The narrative presentation of the archeological objects identifies the two main constitutive elements of national becoming: political religion as a tool, and the objective of exclusion from collective memory.

Mahmoud Khaled and Szabolcs KissPál were recipients of the Media Art Grants from the Foundation of Lower Saxony at the Edith-Russ-Haus 2015.

Funded by

Edith-Russ-Haus for Media Art, Katharinenstraße 23, D-26121 Oldenburg, Tel.: +49(0)441/235-3208, Fax.: +49(0)441/235-2161
Opening Hours: Tuesday - Friday 14:00 -18:00, Saturday - Sunday 11:00 - 18:00, Monday closed
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