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Analysis of an Analysis: The Architecture of Hope in Basim Magdy’s World

Arnolfini Volunteer Michelle Heath reflects on themes of hope, destruction and reconstruction in the work of Basim Magdy.

Basim Magdy’s current exhibition at Arnolfini centres on themes of hope, destruction and reconstruction. One piece that is particularly compelling of all of these is his work entitled, ‘A 240 second analysis of failure and hopefulness’. The piece can be found in gallery two on the second floor of Arnolfini. Two slide projectors sit side by side and project a series of images that depict the construction and demolition process of a structure. Magdy has treated the slides with corrosive material such as cola and vinegar, which has altered the colour of many slides and left ‘scars’ on a number of the images. The slides progress in tandem while the order of the slides has been randomized. Viewers are left with an unclear idea of whether the images are conveying construction or demolition.

The inability to depict whether the slides are of the building going up or coming down plays with preconceived notions tied to construction (progress, betterment and advancement) and destruction (end, failure and decay). By disorientating viewers about the status of the building being built or demolished viewers are forced to focus more on the content of the slides.

The slides convey particular components of architecture. Images of construction materials in neat rows, men gathered on a worksite and machinery moving large masses all speak to the power of people and their ability to create and destroy such volumes. What was once some sort of impermeable structure began and ended as rebar and concrete which express the strength and fragility of construction materials and how a series of small parts work together to create such a massive thing. The decaying nature of the slides themselves acts as a subtle reminder of the fragility of objects. Just as the building may have failed, the slides fail to maintain the story.

The consistent humming from the slide projectors add to the idea of permanence and stability and the methodical, consistently timed change of the slides helps create a sense of stability while viewing the work. The hum is always there and the slides always change, in tandem, that consistency almost aids in a sense of hope. What the slides are unable to provide the space and the sounds fill the void.   

Without a clear sense of storyline, you are left to wonder the cause and effect, the potential success or failure and create your own storyline for these slides, your own hope. The ambiguity of Magdy’s work is what allows it to resonate with a large audience. It could be hopeful, or dark or cheeky and in many cases it’s all of those.

Written by Michelle Heath

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