Desire, Deceit, and Difficult Deliveries
“Desire, Deceit, and Difficult Deliveries,” a solo exhibition by Doa Aly, marks the Egyptian premier of “Metamorphoses: The Sequences.” These video adaptations of four tales from Ovid’s canonical poem—tales of violent, unrequited passions that come to tragic fruition—were the genesis of a body of drawings, sculpture and text collage.
“Metamorphoses: The Sequences” (2010-2013), on view in the Townhouse Factory Space, take as their premise the myths of “Echo and Narcissus,” “The Fountain of Salmacis,” “Byblis and Caunus,” and “Myrrha”—stories of taboo, self-annihilating desires and perverted wish fulfillment, wherein the fates ironically answer the protagonists’ all-consuming longings by transforming their bodies, while leaving their yearning intact.
Aly began the project in 2010 while reading late 19th-century case studies of schizophrenic delusions. The compulsive repetition that is symptomatic of this psychosis framed the artist’s reading of Ovid’s classical epic. Working with non-dancers (a similar working process to Aly’s earlier works, “The Girl Splendid in Walking,” 2009, and “A Tress of Hair,” 2008), the artist developed four different, but closely interrelated trajectories of movement, and a highly aestheticized, but still personal vocabulary of pathetic, obsessive and affective gestures.
The exhibition continues in the First Floor Gallery, where a minimal, geometric structure immediately disturbs the viewer’s navigation of space—a sculpture that is based on the paths walked by the performers in the “Metamorphoses” series. This spatial disruption leads to a series of drawings based on diagrams of the human skull in Gray’s Anatomy—the delicate, petal-like bones that protect our fragile brains. A monumental text collage sutures together pieces of Ovid’s poems with medical texts on mental illness, personal memoirs and interviews, and literary works. The texts become performative themselves, creating a more visceral counterpoint to the rarified atmosphere of the videos. Through varying but deeply enmeshed processes, these works all stem from a sublime hysteria underlying everyday life, that is manifest in both mundane gestures and epic failures alike.
Finally, the video “Roy,” produced in 2012 during the artist’s residency at Ashkal Alwan in Beirut, suggests a potential end to (or transition away from) the “Metamorphoses” series. The eponymous subject of the piece slowly traces one long, autobiographical gesture. Roy, unlike the protagonists of “Metamorphoses,” is achingly human. His bare humanity is simultaneously disturbing and sensual.
“Metamorphoses: The Sequences”
Director of photography: Tarek Hefny, Mahmoud Lotfi
Production managers: Tamer Eissa and Mahmoud Khaled
Production assistant: Mansour
Carpentry, woodwork: Hossam Said
Performers: Ahmed El Gendy, Taha Belal, Weaam Said, Sama Waly
Production funded by: British Council, Young Arab Theatre Fund
“Roy” soundtrack: Le Banquet Céleste by Olivier Messiaen
Very special thanks to all the performers, and to Mahmoud Khaled, Ala Younis, Mohammed Abdallah, Ania Szremski, Townhouse, and The Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts (Ashkal Alwan).
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