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The work of Maha Maamoun on a bus, courtesy "Going Places"

Two initiatives with very different backgrounds but one remarkable feature in common: their alternative way of bringing art before the public. They both flirt with the fast-spreading idea that the white-cube of the 21st century is a non-place out there, among the common people, invading public spaces, finally freed of physical walls.
The first initiative comes from Egypt and is taking place on Cairo’s cross-town buses from October 2003 to March 2004. The concept is very simple: exhibiting art on the advertising boards of public buses. What for? To denounce, through art, an ironic twist that is –by now- sadly institutionalised in the Egyptian capital: public spaces are monopolised by corporate and governmental powers and the only way to access the public is by strongly entering the private. Its title: ´Going places: a project for public buses.`

Maha Maamoun, the Mugamma, courtesy "Going Places"

The four very young, Cairo-based artists involved in the project produced two-dimensional pieces which simply do not go unnoticed. For the project, Iman Issa dealt with advertising (and how it creates new, opulent, fake values) by computer-generating a fictitious block of flats in what are meant to be paradisaical surroundings. Hassan Khan portrayed an unknown, common man that, by just looking earnestly at the audience, unsettles it. He is unusual in a usual place; he seems to be hinting at interaction from a place where communication is stricly conceived as one-sided: from the ad to the audience, trying to convince them to buy. Maha Maamoun depicted the Mugamma (an imposing socialist-era Cairo landmark) and worked on it digitally until reaching a monstrous building, so big that, around it, there is no space left. Not even for the sky. And it is up there, in a deeply grey sky, that the hot-air balloon depicted by Basim Magdy flies. On the balloon, what might be a statement: ´Superman will save us all.`
The second initiative is curated by Museum in Progress, an Austrian private art association born ´with the aim of developing innovative forms of presentation for contemporary art` in 1990. It defines itself as a flexible organisation whose goal is integrating contemporary art into everyday life. The condition they regard as indispensable for the realisation of their projects is the independence of the artistic decision. The association has already worked in different projects with an extremely varied –and, for that very reason, interesting- gamut of artists.

Thomas Bayrle, ´Safety Curtain` 6, courtesy Museum in Progress

Their latest project is called ´Safety Curtain` and deals quite literally with the safety curtain of the Vienna Opera House. The project started in 1998 and is planned to go on until the 2007-2008 season. The actual curtain –176 m2 large- is turned into a temporary exhibition space for contemporary art. An international jury (Daniel Birnbaum, Akiko Miyake, Hans Ulrich Obrist) selects the best proposals. There have already been five safety curtains, by Kara Walker, Christine and Irene Hohenbüchler, Matthew Barney, Richard Hamilton, and Giulio Paolini. The new one is by the German artist Thomas Bayrle, who filled the entire curtain with a black-and-white aerial view of a city. Just anonymous streets, cars, buildings, junctions boringly running one after the other. On it, a larger-than-life Christ comes out. Rather classically, he is on the cross. Less classically, though, his own skin is made out of tiny, repetitive details of the city itself as if he was nothing but a mirror reflecting that which is under him. The only objection to the project is having to pay for an expensive ticket to the opera to see it. (for ‘Going Places’) (for ‘Safety Curtain’)

Text: M. Cecchinato
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