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New Cairo art space challenges the making of exhibitions and publications

The door to the flat is ajar, an enthusiastic murmur trickles out to the landing of the old Garden City building. The Nile Sunset Annex, Cairo’s newest art-space, is hosting its fourth official event.

Walking into the apartment-turned-part-time-gallery, one gets the sense that it is the three artist-curators (Egypt Independent reporter Jenifer Evans, Egypt Independent contributor Hady Kamar, and Taha Belal), two of whom also live in the apartment when it is not open for visitors, have at least already succeeded in intriguing a community of young, independent Cairene artists and their foreign associates.

For the current show “What Are You Doing, Drawing?” they kept loose restrictions on who they chose to invite to contribute artwork. They specifically invited non-artists as well as artists normally not working in the field, who would perhaps feel like outsiders in other art venues, to present their productions. As for the audience, it was quite diverse and it also included seasoned veterans of the local art community who might simply be invigorated by the change of scenery where you see some familiar faces, and the chance that some might be a little less familiar. Both groups seem to be though waiting to see what the new gallery has to offer, beyond being an amiable milieu for the like-minded and artistically inclined.

The Friday, 22 March, event was a build-up on the current group exhibition which first opened in late February: 16 drawings/illustrations, as well as sculptures, videos and mini-installations. The pieces ranged from pencil drawings and doodles on paper by Ayman, and simple text and video pieces by Take to the Sea collective (EI editor in chief Lina Attalah, EI contributor Laura Cugusi and Nida Ghouse), to the more outlandish: the detailed budget of the Contemporary Image Collective inverted and on a light-box by the institution’s former Finance and Operations Manager Mohammed Abdallah; and an e-mail from historian Khaled Fahmy.

In the Friday installment of “What Are You Doing, Drawing?” 17 musicians and artists were individually invited to produce a 60-second-maximum sonic reaction to one of the works on display. The diverse and amusing outcome was played on a vinyl record for the audience. The assignment lured different results, some more original than others. This reviewer especially enjoyed Kareem Osman’s aural interpretation of the CIC budget. The track has the sounds of a screeching printer, a nagging machine, interjected abruptly by refined classical music – an apt rendition of the financial administration of one of Egypt’s cultural hubs.

´╗┐The event was part of the Nile Sunset Annex’s publication series –– a term they use rather fluidly. While the diffuseness of what the curators believe might constitute a “drawing” allowed for novel and creative interpretations, thus opening up the space for diverse interventions, it is unclear if a similarly lenient understanding of what can be considered a  “publication” would actually be as fruitful.

The first publication was a text by Motaz Attalla intended to relate to a solo show by Faten El Disouky exhibited at the time. It was given out to the audience for free, and was convenientlydesigned to mirror the shape of the slide that made the core of Disouky’s installation. This time around, the publication was a sort of guide, articulating which sound piece accompanied which drawing, and the names of the artists. The list was screen-printed on the back of a record sleeve, each with a similar illustration on the front save for some color variations. Each sleeve was sold for LE10.

The publication would have been an amusing addition to the show, but since the list was not made clearly available elsewhere, it acted as a map, and was integral to navigating the space. We could say it is quite a crafty guide for an exhibition. But as a publication in and of itself, one could be more doubtful – if only because the exhibition would have been essentially inaccessible if such a guide was not somehow made available.

This was also the case because the list was only otherwise shared with visitors in one other printout, a single sheet which was taped on a balcony window. Unobtrusive, yes, but also rather invisible.

For some visitors, it was unclear –– given the lack of alternatives for guidance- how exactly the sleeve was a publication –– and not a practical necessity, albeit rather polished and cleverly marketed.

Nevertheless, the Nile Sunset Annex’s publication #3 will be keenly awaited.

The Nile Sunset Annex team clearly seeks innovation, interactive projects, and immersive art gatherings. They are friendly and welcoming, which works to create a wider space of participation for artists –– in this show inviting different profiles of artist (non-artists allowed) –– and therefore audience. Their marked originality lies in their dynamic idea of what it is that makes an exhibition.

“What Are You Doing, Drawing?” went from simply a drawing exhibition (whether the unconventional application of the term pleases all is not the point), to one that evolves with its artists and audience. Commissioning the sound projects created a viable second event using the same core work, invited a large network of collaborators, as well as allowing visitors to build a more sophisticated reading of the pieces.

That being said, the actual reading of the artworks was a rather formidable task, especially for those who had not seen them before. Because the tracks seemed to play in an arbitrary order, not necessarily reflecting the way they are laid out around the exhibition space, visitors struggled to make the association of which piece went with which track.

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