The notion of “public space” is misleading; streets, squares, parks, and other seemingly ‘public’ spaces and buildings have always been ‘private’. Cairo poses a chaotic front giving the illusion of a sort of ‘freedom’ defined by its lack of organization. However, a control over the chaos is quickly evident as one discovers the paranoia regarding any large-scale public expression, even if through art. One can imagine that in a country where an archaic law against taking photographs of bridges is still in effect that large scale projections on city structures will not exactly be embraced.
Despite being en vogue for many years now, street art still has negative connotations attached to it. Naturally, the notion of ‘hacking’ public space elicits unease over a disruption of the status quo. But “street art” has progressed and is being embraced as a community-building tool with more and more artists turning to public intervention as a means to interrogate the relationship between collective identity and the built environment. It prides itself in addressing socially relevant themes through the questioning of space.
As an artist who uses projection as a medium I have become increasingly aware of the limitations of the ‘public’ realm. In an age where revealing truths is often viewed as unfavorable, the dissemination of text and images, even with an ephemeral medium like projection, proves to be highly problematic.
The “Streets of Cairo” project tackles a very difficult task. It asks artists to engage with Cairo not only as a subject matter but also as an interactive entity. Furthermore, it brings two radically different cultures to work together in a not-so-neutral environment. Despite these challenges however, the participants fully embraced the power that artistic collaboration has in bridging cultures.
Armsrock and I connected on an experiential level, a sort of understanding of what it is to deal with the public domain. The city plays a significant role in both of our work not only as a subject matter but also as a platform for public intervention. We address the city beyond a two-dimensional projection surface and contemplate the structures of everyday as dynamic and experiential possibilities. Our work attempts to promote a dialogue about the democratization of public space and art outside the institutional realm. We not only deal with challenges of using public space as a canvas but also with the technical issues of being mobile and resourceful with equipment that is not always easy to mobilize. Our work seemed to naturally integrate despite our different styles. We had a visual and conceptual language in common further bonded by our experience with the city as a projection space.
As such, and with a mutual respect for each other’s work and processes, our collaboration developed in a very natural way. We combined drawings, my cityscapes with his figural works, for animated explorations. None of our drawings depict a representation of Cairo per say, but rather instances of it, while still revealing a certain truth about the city’s characteristics. The cityscapes are trapped in a kind of timelessness, they are recognizable yet inexistent; the figures resemble something familiar yet with strange combinations that give them an otherworldly appearance. The animations were then projected using a mini-projector at a tiny scale. Dealing with the limitations of projecting in Cairo, we played with the idea of projecting on an almost microscopic level, inside cups and boxes, in crevices and holes, revealing a hidden world and tackling the challenges of projecting in the city.
Our collaboration was short-lived given the timeline of the workshop but opened a huge window for future collaboration. As we find more and more concepts of interest in common and a strong liking to the combination of our work, we hope to use the “Streets of Cairo” workshop as a platform for something much larger. In that respect, the workshop was particularly rewarding as we take our collective work beyond the “Streets of Cairo” and nurture a future collaboration and a bridging of perspectives.
“Streets of Cairo” is the title and literally also the venue of a number of workshops that included modern street artists in both performance, conceptual, and visual arts, cooking and music. For ten days in the beginning of June, 24 artists, chefs, food critiques, and composing DJs from both countries worked and performed together in public venues scattered around Cairo. The project was implemented by the Danish-Egyptian Dialogue Institute (DEDI) in cooperation with the following Egyptian art and culture organizations: Townhouse Gallery, Sawy Culturewheel, Art el-Lewa and Contemporary Image Collective (CIC).