RGB: Rendering the art creation mystery obsolete

Artist Rana Elnemr works at her studio projected in Townhouse
Downtown Cairo’s Townhouse Gallery invites audiences, virtually, into artists’ studios to witness art creation as it happens [Originally published in Ahram Online]

Art, or more specifically art creation, has always been quite obscure. We get to see the final product displayed in a gallery, in a book, a magazine or on a screen. However, as the audience we never get to see what actually happens “behind the scenes.”

In this experiment at the Townhouse Gallery, event curator Alexandra Stock, who works with film and photography as well as being assistant to the gallery director, shows us, the viewer, into the studios of 13 artists from the contemporary art scene.

The line up includes a wide range of diverse artists such as photographers, visual artists, writers, critics and scholars. Each day, two of the artists project a day of their work onto the Townhouse Gallery wall, inviting audiences to watch them work live. “Some artists agreed to participate right away, while others were a bit uncomfortable with the idea of being spied on,” Stock told Ahram Online. “That’s why we also have a camera in the gallery so it’s not one sided,” she added.

Interaction so far has been limited to some waving between the audience and artists. “We are discussing that the idea that people could start making signs and writing messages on them to the artists,” Stock said.

The title of the exhibition RGB comes from the “Red-Green-Blue” colour model that is predominantly utilised to display images in electronic systems such as TVs, computer screens and projections. “The RGB light [coming out of the projector] is the only thing that unites the audience, the space and the artist,” Stock explained.

When asked how the idea for this exhibition came to her, Stock explained: “There are a lot of visiting curators that come to Cairo for a short time and request to get to know local artists; I was running around for a few months organising studio visits of curators to the artists. It then occurred to me that the whole set up of curator, artist, studio and myself is such a unique position to be in that I actually wanted to share the experience to a certain extent with the audience.”

“We wanted to present this as a finished work. To ask the question: what does it mean to project something that’s work in progress in a context where you see finished work?” Stock added.

The first day of the exhibition featured visual artist Jasmina Metwaly and the gallery’s resident artist from Sweden, Ylva Ceder. The second day featured Ceder again accompanied by photographer and the Contemporary Image Collective’s (CIC) board member Rana El-Nemr. It was particularly interesting to watch a photographer in their studio, as you can only see her on her laptop since the actual process of photography mostly takes place outside of the studio.

Jasmina Metwaly was actually interviewing Vivian, whose fiancé died on 9 October in the course of Maspero’s bloody events. She was working on a short documentary film about Maspero, collecting information and testimonies on what happened. She didn’t plan to be interviewing Vivian during the same time the exhibition was taking place.

“Just having the audience watch an artist work on an art work is a cliché. I could just be in the studio drinking coffee or smoking a cigarette. It’s not just about watching something being created. It’s about watching someone be in that space in a real way,” Metwaly told Ahram Online “The content does not matter as much as the moment. Having two realities facing each other; one taking place at the studio and the other at the space; this is what makes it so powerful,” she added.

Visual artist Taha Balal who is yet to participate in the exhibition said, “I found it interesting: they myth of the artist working being broken. I like the idea of having an audience watching the production of art. However, my guess would be a lot of the audience members might be bored.”

“The exhibition does raise a lot of questions. What process takes place during a work’s creation? What of privacy? Would [the exhibition] affect the process?” Balal added.

“It’s not just a matter of showing the audience how art is produced. It’s also meant to inspire people,” Stock said.

“People may think you need something so out of the ordinary to produce art. The idea is really meant to generate a conversation around the production of art and ask: what does it mean to be an artist?”

The artists participating in alphabetical order are Taha Balal, Ylva Ceder, Clare Davies, Rana ElNemr, Ganzeer, Paul Geday, Khaled Hafez, Kareem Lotfy, Huda Lutfi, Jasmina Metwaly, Magdy Mostafa, Xenia Nikolsk and Hany Rashid.

The RGB Exhibition is ongoing till 5 November from 10am – 9pm at the:

Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art (first floor space), Hussein El-Memar Pasha Street, downtown Cairo

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