The films of Basim Magdy depict curious and unlikely narratives through images wrapped in original sound. His unique storytelling is captured in the latest exhibition at University Galleries in Uptown Normal. “To Hypnotize Them With Forgetfulness” is currently up through Dec. 16.
Magdy’s early work was on paper, where he utilized collaging and paint. Then one day he brought a series of his paintings alive with experimental animation. Magdy realized that film gave him a new voice and a chance to explore something new and unpredictable. His films feature improbably narratives that are haunting and, at times, darkly humorous. Captioned storylines tell tales that have a dreamy quality.
“With film you have three layers: the image that moves, the narrative and the sound. Film got me quite interested in layering things, in how reality is layered and how I can respond to that in my work.”
Magdy’s interest in analog film lead him to experimenting and manipulating film to produce new colors, new images and to embrace randomness, failure and the fact that he cannot control everything during the creating process. Giving himself over to the randomness inspired Magdy.
“There’s always a measure of chance in analog photography. I magnify this. I take the film and I pickle it in acidic household chemicals. It’s very similar to pickling vegetables. It’s a very calculated process and it took me years to be able to control it. I think the most interesting part about it is it can’t be completely controlled. I can predict the color, I can predict effect, but I can’t predict how powerful it’s going to be or how it will affect the film itself as a material.”
“I became interested in film as something tangible, that I can touch with my own hands and manipulate and punch holes in it and see my fingerprints on it. And whatever I do on the film itself, once projected it becomes visible.”
“I embrace these elements of chance and failure and I enjoy working with them. I want to make films that respond to reality in a way that they look familiar, but they’re also different, because if they look too familiar, they just become images of reality. They’re fictional. I want them to be relatable but at the same time be believable as fiction.”
Magdy won’t be constrained as an artist. He pushes back against doing the same thing over and over or working with the usual material in the same way again and again. “It’s not exciting for me. I like to move between things. I really enjoy acquiring knowledge.”
Working with film is expensive, but ultimately satisfying for the artist. Digital won’t do for what he wants to achieve. Digital photography tries to mimic reality too much, said Magdy. “That’s something I don’t like. I work with fiction. I don’t want my images to be hyperreal. There‘s something about the shift in color in film from reality. The color balance, the contrast, the grain, the light leaks, the accidents – there's something about all this that makes it a lot more poetic and romantic somehow.”
“To Hypnotize Them With Forgetfulness” is currently up through Dec. 16 at the University Galleries in Uptown Normal.
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