Breathe in, exhale and relax. Combining scenes and sounds reminiscent of an advert for a beauty spa, Adham Faramawy’s solo show – his first since graduating from London’s Royal Academy Schools last year – depicted liquid luxury. Titled ‘Hydra’, the exhibition flowed between two and three dimensions, with moving images extending frictionlessly into sculpture and painting. Swirling screensaver-style graphics recalled the digital renderings of the recent past, specifically around the turn of the millennium. Often immersed in an ambient soundscape of hypnotic beats, Faramawy’s installations conjure a rhythmic environment built from drum machines and lighter, playful sounds from video games – a nightclub-cum-console.
Installed in the middle of Cell Project Space, a two-channel video rested upon a multi-tiered, spray-painted sculpture (Vichy Shower and Hydra, both 2014). Naked men and women gaze out invitingly, sumptuously coated in soap suds and mud masks, drinking endless bottles of mineral water. Mercurial effects continually interrupt the image; the water seems to splash into each frame. Every scene is staged in one of a number of small rooms seemingly lined by a pearlescent material. Indeed, the sculptural plinth itself appeared stage-like, a contained space upon which the onscreen figures performed for the spectator. The audience’s physical presence is intrinsic to Vichy Shower, and to Faramawy’s gallery-based work more generally, suggesting the back-and-forth flow of exchange between screen and user.
Artists and theorists such as Hito Steyerl have discussed how images can move through the screen, invading the physical world. How might this shift our experience of ‘reality’? Faramawy’s work is clearly in tune with this discourse, his forms seeming to permeate the screen, reappearing as objects on the other side. The digital realm is figured as a welcoming, sensual place. Hi, I’m happy you’re here I (2014), for example, comprises fragments of spray-painted, rock-like matter, which recall pixels or graffiti-tagged, pebble-dashed walls. This work reinterprets the light-infused, flat crystals in the video Spa Day (2013), itself perhaps a playful enlargement of the liquid crystals from an LCD screen. Fleeting moments of equivalence are established between liquid and solid matter, which seem to merge in a symbiotic exchange.
Faramawy suggests that the potential of the screen is seductive, mesmerizing, even utopian – an arena where anything can be realized. An erotic undercurrent is evident in the works, though slightly diluted with humour: wet skin glistens under neon lights, pert buttocks present themselves, long limbs are repeatedly massaged with pampering products, while gelatinous effects magnify bodies in videos such as Full Body Facial (2014). But the exhibition space itself felt pristine and sterile, like a tiled-spa, the ironic antithesis of messy liquid dreams; this was a precise technological encounter to be cleanly consumed – the equivalent of buying bottled water rather than sticking your head under a running tap.
A number of artists have recently made work about liquidity, from Josh Kline’s 3D-printed sculptures of hands holding bottled water to Magali Reus’s video Highly Liquid (2013; see also the feature ‘Something in the Water’ in this issue). All suggest melting matter, reflections, slipperiness, capturing high-definition images of water running over skin. Time magazine recently claimed that the wars of the future will be fought over water, and Faramawy and his contemporaries seem to be tapping into this conceptual climate. Their digital works feel visceral, accessible and sensual; the antithesis of how cold, hard, emotionless machinery has been represented in the past, through futurism and it’s aesthetic heirs. Emergent technologies are presented as an extension of humanism; human and machine begin to coalesce, shifting our mode of existence from the physical to the virtual and back again in a continual flow.
Louisa Elderton is a writer and editor based in Berlin, Germany. She was the Project Editor of Phaidon’s survey books Vitamin T: Threads & Textiles in Contemporary Art and Vitamin C: Clay + Ceramic in Contemporary Art, and is Content Editor of their upcoming publication The Art Book: Women Artists, due for publication Autumn 2019
First published in Issue 162