Exploring both seduction and repulsion, and the grey area of mixed feelings, Adham Faramawy admits it’s the uncertainty and complicity that draws him towards a commercialized language of imagery. His work ‘Sparkling Life, Pure Water, Healthy World’ is currently on show in the So Natural! group exhibition at Bari’s Like a Little Disaster, running from March 11 to April 1, and it’s an extension of his ongoing practice concerned with image proliferation, the body and how he as an artist responds to it.
In conjunction with the show, also featuring Gioia Di Girolamo, Andreas Ervik, Maria Gondek, Julie Grosche, Hannah Regel, David Stjernholm and Struan Teague, Faramawy chatted over email to discuss his interest in the physical online space, the potentials of sensuality and the process behind his intimate works.
** Can you tell us about your relationship to the (in)organic?
Adham Faramawy: The inorganic? I mean, I like rolling in mud a lot, like, a lot. I’ve been getting muddy with friends a fair bit on camera lately. I’ve been thinking about what it is to touch people and if there are substances that heighten that sense of touch, of contact. I’ve been doing a bit of contact improv too and looking at Alexander Technique and a bit of somatics.
I make work in a lot of media, often in multiple media at once. The material that constitutes a work and the material conditions a work represents or describes might be at odds with each other. It’s a bit like I’ll seem to offer certain choices and conditions and with the same gesture; I’ll undermine them and create something unstable and at odds with itself.
AF: I like this question. Yes. I like the idea that everywhere and everything has the potential to be experiential, to be part of a sensual space, something you can touch and feel.
My work is about bodies. I love charting the sensual, feeling the weight, the smell, and the taste of something. Mainly, I’m interested in how things feel to the touch and how you can describe that to the eye. I always wonder when I use a new technology: ‘how does this affect how I think about my body and what does it do for the person I’m trying to communicate with? What does it mean to represent something, or to translate an idea from one material into another?’
** ‘Sparkling Life, Pure Water, Healthy World’ sounds like an advertisment for the wellness industry, and with a lot of your work there’s this friction between seduction and a commercial transparency. There’s a humorous simplicity that I think could easily read as cynical, but for some reason, it doesn’t, which is refreshing. What’s your relationship with these kind of images?
AF: ‘Sparkling Life…’ is part of a series of works I made in an attempt to explore the effects of mediated images and the prevalence of computer generated imagery in advertising on my own embodiment. I wanted to explore how my reproduction of the strategies of commercial image-making in the gallery context could shape the viewing experience, make demands on or implicate the viewer, shifting and toying with ideas of the gaze, or to quote Sartre, yet again, ‘the look’.
I get that there are potential conflicts that arise from my producing works that are critical of, or at least ambivalent about commercial images by inhabiting the spaces designed for their display. I have really mixed feelings, and my work is about charting and using that uncertainty and understanding complicity within a system of images that I didn’t design, but that has a massive effect on how I make my way through the world. I am seduced by these images, certainly as much as I’m repulsed by some of the ideas and ideologies they’re embedded with. I just don’t want to be passive in my consumption of images, I want to say something back and have an effect on them inasmuch as they affect me.
** The work feels (in a good way) really un-laboured, light. Do you direct the situation and know what you plan to make beforehand, or do the elements come together as the project unfolds?
AF: My work takes a lot of planning to get all the elements to interact with each other in the right place at the right time. Sometimes I think of my work as a series of (often invisible) material contingencies. It’s like I need to know where every power socket is in a room before I pour a ton of sand on a TV monitor. After the planning comes the negotiation. A lot of the work, including the digital post-production, really amounts to a request, setting a process in motion and finding ways to accept the accident you’ve caused; allowing the accident and shifting the context enough to allow for the accident to communicate in the way you’d like it to.
** Do you know the people intimately in your work, or do you work with strangers?
AF: I don’t often work with people I don’t know. I prefer to develop a relationship with people that perform in my moving image work. Partly it’s because I’m more comfortable that way. Partly it’s because some of the behaviours performed for the work require some sensitivity and a lack of professionalism. This isn’t to say that I’m not planning to work with people with certain training in the near future; it’s more to say that my way of working seems to engender certain forms of intimacy.
** Can you tell us about your interest in interference / disruption?
AF: There’s a certain quality of interference or disruption inherent in the insertion of a certain image into a particular context; I sometimes call it distortion, the act of reproducing certain image tropes and destabilizing them. I made two billboard works in London last year, one at London Bridge, and a building hoarding near Liverpool Street Station where I tried to do just that. I inserted images in advertising spaces that played with and criticized how, why and where we advertise. As much as I really sound like a child of the ‘Pictures Generation’ right now, inhabiting, reproducing and distorting commercial images are for me, an attempt at creating sites of resistance.
Ultimately, I want to make works that are reflexive and to some extent site-responsive, ambivalent to commercial contexts, but also I want to utilize these contexts, deforming their strategies. In essence, these works attempt to adopt the forms of advertising, playfully making misalignments in the performance of idealised or aspirational bodies and spaces, particularly in reference to the sites around the images. And, yes, sometimes that becomes messy and incoherent and gross. It turns out I’m not so afraid of that.**