The Mattress Factory’s exhibition, Sites of Passage, revolves around an evolved concept of ‘pen-pals’. Egyptian artists exhibit alongside Egypt-minded American artists, their theme roughly revolving around the political uprising of 2011. Though this Egyptian-American art exchange, called ‘Firefly Tunnel’, was set up before the political turmoil hit Egypt, the work within the exhibition either successfully morphed or merely blended in with the newer overarching theme. Unfortunately, the work that failed to allude to this new political concept lowered the potential impact of the exhibition, overwhelmed by the powerful surge from the new violent-military-event-based artwork.
Upon entering Sites of Passage, the work that struck first came from the far side of the room. Created by Noha Redwan, Over My Dead Body (2011), combines instillation work with sound and image without one medium overpowering the other. The occurrence of mixing such mediums successfully is rare, thus giving this particular work Herculean-strength. One may sit upon mangy bus seats, complete with bus poles, gazing at a graffitied passenger car filled with an upsetting, repeating image of the same zombie face with different hair-dos. What elevates this work to the next level are the headphones found upon the bus seats. Each one has a different recording prepared for the visitor, but each as upsetting as the last – one a droning radio call, the next an aggressive-sounding male voice and the other being a jaded woman’s tones. Each headphone gave a slightly different experience, but all submerged the viewer into Redwan’s twisted, but not all-together false, realm of the Egyptian transport system.
Another work is found within the exhibition featuring sound and a surrounding environment – Tahrir2 (2011). This work, created by Emily Laychack, is found upon the third floor in its very own room; but is not as powerful as its predecessor on the first floor. There was too much of the same sized imagery found upon every wall, though in different materials. The materials worked well together (spraypaint, sand, thin paper intensly layered, a payphone with a monotonous and hypnotic voice, soft fabric, a monitor screen within said fabric, etc.) but the whole work was messily assembled. The enthralling work upon the first floor had very little technical flaws whereas Tahrir2 featured bluntly cut off images, curling paper edges, greasy smudges upon the monitor, etc. When working with cheaper materials, as Laychack chose to, one must be careful about the craftsmanship.
A work that holds its own is Over My Dead Body’s neighbor, Grenadine (2011). Hyla Willis creates a hypnotic space using unique sandpaper flooring, light aromas, organic sounds and a vibrant film of a pomegranate being disemboweled, speared with American flags and healed once more. Branches lace themselves over the doorframe, distracting the visitor enough that their first step upon sandpapered floor is a shock. The sandpaper used here is much more effective than the loose sand found in Tahrir, being a surprising material to find on the floor compared to everyday sand. The pomegranate’s flesh resembles that of a human’s own, dripping with each stab, seeming to sweat through the torture. This exotic fruit being torn apart by American flags calls to mind America’s intense social power of overwhelming local culture, destroying that which is unique, delicate and foreign.
While being, overall, linked to a theme of political unrest, a few works within Sites of Passage are overshadowed by works similar in materials and nature. The eeriness of Over My Dead Body takes over the uncanny vibe of Tahrir2 by utilizing similar materials, such as sound and graffiti, in a more efficient manner. Tahrir2 uses too many images but doesn’t go pleasantly over-the-top, nor does it tone down to pleasing near-minimalism; it, instead, hovers indecisively between the two, fragmenting itself and spreading much to thin across a room too big for it. Grenadine sits comfortably in its place, filling the space with the violent noises of a once living something being torn apart. This violence reflects the subject-matter of the exhibition as a whole, as does Over My Dead Body while this message gets lost within Tahrir2.The progression of some of the works melting into the new political strife in Egypt was a happy coincidence. The works which were not able to attach to the new Egypt turmoil, however, were left behind and lost.
“Egypt News – Revolution and Aftermath.” New York Times. October 17, 2011. October 22, 2011. <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/egypt/index.html>
Levs, Josh. “Firefly Tunnels Art Project.” Firefly Tunnels, Inc. 2010. October 20, 2011.<http://www.fireflytunnels.net/>
“Sites of Passage.” Mattress Factory. 2011. October 22, 2011. <http://www.mattress.org/index.cfm?event=Exhibitions&c=Current>
Thomas, Mary. “Two Art Exhibits Tussle with Political Issues: Post-9/11 and Arab Spring.” Post-GazetteNews. September 7, 2011. October 20, 2011. <http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11250/1172578-437-0.stm>
“Unrest In Egypt: Questions and Answers.” CNN. January 31, 2011. October 20, 2011.<http://articles.cnn.com/2011-01-31/world/egypt.protests.qanda_1_protests-middle-east-historian-facebook-page?_s=PM:WORLD>