The individual’s ability to patiently endure is subtly put to the test in Ayman Ramadan’s newest work, Until, on view at the Townhouse Gallery Factory Space from May 29 – June 15, 2011.
A looped video shows a barber from Cairo’s Boulaq neighborhood “threading” a young man’s face – a traditional, intricate process whereby the barber rapidly passes a thread over the skin, manipulating it to rip out each hair with delicate, dancelike gestures. The unflinching man bears the painful operation with a small smile, his increasingly tear-filled eyes the only sign of his distress.
This simple image of quiet resignation thematically links the video to a nearby installation of newspapers buried in the floor of the Factory Space, visible to the viewer beneath a glass plate. The collection of 30 newspapers from around the world (each edition having been published on the artist’s birthday) constitutes an archive of the chaotic mass of words that has defined the socio-political world of Ramadan’s generation. The installation poignantly speaks to the radical gap between lived experience and written history. By burying these news reports, Ramadan suggests that there is something artificial and inauthentic about their narratives – this is history as it was manufactured, not as he (or the viewer) actually lived it.
Conceived of prior to January 25, Until is a poignant testimony to the pre-revolutionary moment. In the video, a painful operation is enacted upon the subject, in the same way that certain historical narratives are enacted upon us by the higher powers that author them. And so, Ramadan asks, when will the man in the video no longer be able to endure the pain? When will we gain agency over the authorship of our own histories?
The viewer is left to decide if, with the revolution, these questions have been answered.