Google Me / Duplicate Self-portrait, 2010
LD: In Google Me/Duplicate Self-Portrait, a video playback command bar splits each paused screenshot in half, suggesting a ‘split’ identity between you, the artist Mahmoud Khaled and Khaled Mahmoud, the dancer. The work demonstrates the location and displacement of identity in a networked age–one that is defined by finding oneself in others. Could you expand on both these senses of biformity and disparity? Does the piece also hint at something more directly political? The individual’s relation to the architecture of search systems?
MK: I have been interested in issues related to the Internet as a space with infinite possibilities for self-representation, and how the current networked age has changed our personal and professional lives and the way we think about ourselves. Also the fact that on the Internet there is always hope to get rid of your ready-made self, discover another self or find someone else who can change your life, through what I can the “mechanisms” of duality and disparity. I started to think about “dichotomy” and “juxtaposition” as key tactics in my practice and my way of thinking as I practically filter all my ideas through these two concepts, which redefines the work, the elements it is composed of, its internal relationships, meanings, aesthetic qualities and social and political connotations. I also have a stubborn belief that elements cannot survive, as they are, that they can only survive in pairs or in relation to other things. Basically like personal relationships, even if the counterpart is imaginary.
The point of departure of this piece was based on my accidental discovery of Khaled Mahmoud, a popular London-based oriental dancer born in Cairo, who I found after trying to ‘Google’ my own name in an attempt to discover the level of information, success and fame I reached on the net. After a while I realized that Khaled and I as artists through our practices and career are confronting issues related to gender identity and notions of cultural ‘authenticity’ in different fields; one of them being the oriental dance, which is located outside the boundaries typically claimed by contemporary art.
As soon as we think or talk about identities, things become political automatically–although I believe that every artwork has a political impact and that the art practice itself is a very political practice in the meantime so I have a problem in differentiating what is political and what is not in this context–but of course when we think about the profession of Khaled Mahmoud, the internationally successful dancer in a field that has been always dominated by women to please eyes of men, in a very orientalist sense we will obviously realize that all his work is about deconstructing many of our ideas about gender, sexuality and what is so called “the other’s culture” which are things that I consider crucial in my own work as a visual artist too.
LD: When confronted with the threat of a seemingly anonymous recording cameraman (you), what seems to be the father of a family in Safety Zoom, does not perform for the camera or pretend to ignore the device, but begins to film you back. The hunter becomes the hunted and so on. I wonder to what extent after this incident did the man do with his own recorded captures of you (he probably didn’t exhibit them) presuming he was even really recording. When does surveillance become exploitative? How can we better understand the dynamic between the filmer and the one who films back?
MK: I really have no idea about what did he do with the footage at all, and I am also not really sure if he was actually recording or not but I think the action or the act of photographing/documentating the situation was the most important thing for him, to show me that he “CAPTURED” me filming him and his family, and to show his family that he has a document for the situation so they can probably feel safe and forget about this strange incident, so I think his re-action was very performative to evocate the state of SECURITY, and that’s exactly what makes the situation interesting for me.
Surveillance is an exploitive act in all ways; it is all about power struggle which is the cause of any political act. And I think here the relation between the filmer and the one who films back as you call it, just happened by a complete accident as none of them intended to film the other in the first place, and I think this relation here is specifically stimulated by the tension of the situation, otherwise we wouldn’t find it important to talk about it and we would rather talked about what has been actually filmed instead.
Still from CAMARADERIE, 2009
LD: In CAMARADERIE, bodybuilding often seems to be a vehicle or entry point for males to begin to define and oversaturate themselves with an artificial dose of masculinity, to the point where homophobic tendencies are rendered as perfunctory–though the entire culture is defined by the always looking and touching of each’s nearly nude, particularly maintained appearances. From this point, how does CAMARADERIE go beyond a study of self-representation and fascination with a particular culture? Where does critique begin?
MK: After working and investigating the mechanisms of the professional international careers of male oriental dancers during my residency at Gasworks in London, I tried to discover other professions that confront issues related to gender, sexuality and national identity/cultural authenticity (basically the ideas that I am struggling with most of the time within my practice and my career). I came across the bodybuilding field through some found videos on YouTube showing some Egyptian professional bodybuilders in different situations in their exercises and their final training before posing in local and international championships, etc. and a number of other videos showing some young men living in the city of Cairo who are interested in this type of sport which quickly affects and changes the body shape of the practitioner. In fact my interest in these videos started with the idea of self-representation, then it went totally beyond this. When I started editing the materials and trying to find ways to put them together, I realized that there are many layers and meanings generated automatically in the working process which actually went with the work beyond the conceptual framework that I created for it in the beginning, which I think is something very much related to the fact that I was working in this piece with preexisting materials, fully charged with meanings and aesthetics that stimulated a lot of memories in my mind related to images of masculinity and nationalism in pop culture.
I think this piece did not try to take any critical position to any of the presented content and ideas in it but in it was more an attempt to deal with this content and construct a different narrative out of it. Maybe it was about criticizing my own memories and fantasies with these video materials but I am not sure about that and I prefer to leave it to the viewer.
Later on I tried to investigate another field which is bull fighting, during some trips in Spain in 2010 and I am still working in these materials now. Soon I will be starting a project that features a kind of portrait of the businessman character.
LD: Your identity plays a large and oftentimes integral role in your practice. At what point do you think addressing identity/race/ethnicity becomes antithetical and self-perpetuating?
MK: This is always a concern for me, and of course when you are addressing theses elements in your work you have to be aware of it all the time. But in fact I think most of my work is anti-identity or based on imagining the notion of being liberated from the idea of representing a certain identity.
Still from Safety Zoom, 2009