Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The art of motion

Rania Khallaf discovers Nevine Farghali’s extraordinary powers

Al-Ahram Weekly

A world made of iron and steel; how weird would that be? Well, all you had to do to actually see it was visit the Ubuntu Art Gallery in Zamalek, where 27 iron statues by Nevine Farghali collectively entitled “Life in Motion” – her first solo exhibition – were on show until 25 October.

Facing you as you enter is a large, strange machine made of cylinders, tubes, nuts and bots, strings and fans. It has four pedals like those of a piano. Press one with your foot and some part of it comes to life. With two visitors pushing all four pedals at the same time, the whole piece buzzes into motion; and the noise from the collision of different small pieces recalls rush hour in a big city. Three thin, tarnished human figures are planted within, emphasising that it is in just such a contraption that we are trapped.

A 1997, interior design graduate of the Faculty of Applied Art, Farghali earned her PhD in kinetic sculpture in 2007. And it is the fact that her pieces move that makes this exhibition so remarkable. She began work on it only a year and half ago, but how to make sculptures move has preoccupied her for ten years. To complete her PhD, she even spent two years studying mechanics at Al-Azhar University’s Faculty of Engineering.

Since then Farghali has participated in various shows: the 16th Youth Salon in 2004, the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2010, the International Birds Exhibition in Bahrain in 2010 and the Peace Exhibition in France in 2014. And her hard work has paid off. Caricature-like in shape, speaking to the child in us, birds, animals and children on swings all look like unique creatures never before seen. And, like old machines, they are ready to move once you turn a handle – making viewer interaction an essential aspect of the creative process.

One piece is a merry go round that starts rotating when you turn the handle, but as the horses begin to move you realise they are not alone: children, toys, cats, dancing nudes all accompany them. The faces of these characters, cold and grey and unsmiling, can nonetheless make you cheerful.

Sitting among her fabulous creatures, Farghali told me that she first fell in love with kinetic sculpture when she came across the work of Alexander Calder (1898-1976), who pioneered “the mobile”: precariously balanced pieces that move in response to touch.

“Movement,” she said, “has always triggered my imagination. It is the law of nature. I am the mother of four, so you can imagine, home is never a quiet place,” she beams. “I was keen on reflecting my own view of movement by representing every element of life: people, animals, machines, and even noise itself. Life has changed dramatically. Time is flying at an unprecedented rate. When we were young, we had the luxury of getting bored, of repeating our jokes and silly talk, but now, you don’t even have enough time to talk with your own family...”

Almost all the exhibits are made solely of iron; however, the texture is often soft and the surface ornamented. Other than the moving pieces, there are three big pieces of still animals: a huge two by three metre buffalo stands before the entrance of the gallery, just to greet the visitors, and shows off the artist’s facility in steel; a goat in different shades, adorned with flowers; and a donkey painted blue. A jumping girl in orange appears to run after you when you push the stand to which she is affixed.

“I always do sketches before I start producing my pieces. My study also involved cartoon drawing, which has helped me a lot in designing and moving my characters,” Farghali says.

Indeed, in some pieces, humans come in the shape of keys, appliances, chess pieces. In two adjacent corners stand two giant human figures, male and female: when you move the handle of the female, it makes a gentle noise; noisier, more complex sounds come out of the male, a reference to the complicated and repressed male psyche. In addition to iron sheets, the two figures, which are broken up to reveal their internal composition, are infused with burned wood other materials, the male being more complicated.

It was a pleasant ride in an amusement park of the psyche.

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