It's the vivid, pervasive colors of the post-apocalyptic landscape that capture your attention when you first encounter Basim Magdy's slide photography in the Art Gallery at NYU Abu Dhabi.
Surely the arid, volcanic rock of Lanzarote, a desert island off the Atlantic coast of Morocco, should be dark grey or brown, and the soil ought to be ochre. Where did this saturated red come from, this sickly green, this ominous blue?
Lanzarote, with its thriving tourism industry, usually does not instill in visitors thoughts of apocalypse. But the island's desert climate and lava fields sparked the imagination of Magdy, an Egyptian who lives between Cairo and Switzerland, and whose works are increasingly being seen around the world as his stature increases.
"I had done some research so I had an idea what the island's landscape looked like, and that it would be suitable for my work" Magdy says. But also "we wanted a family holiday and I knew it was a nice place. So we went there partly for that, and partly on purpose."
The resulting slide show, in the NYUAD Art Gallery's six-artist inaugural exhibition On Site, is called Investigating the Color Spectrum of a Post-Apocalyptic Future Landscape.
The colors projected on the walls of the Saadiyat campus gallery are indeed not to be seen on the island. Instead, they're the result of a process Magdy calls "film pickling."
Magdy began by shooting photos of the Lanzarote landscape and coastline, "just the lava, the sea, and the sky," with no human beings or human works in the frame. Later he bathed the different 35 mm film stocks he had used in various household products, vinegar and Coca Cola among them. For this process he likes to use "anything that's not water, so anything that's either acidic or alkaline," he explains.
The results vary, he says, depending not only on the substance he uses but also on the film brand, the time of exposure, and other factors. Frequently, however, the process generates one of the unearthly colors that are so noticeable in these slides. The resulting images are poised between cheerful and menacing; for Magdy these evoke a world awash in chemical residue, after an apocalypse.
Creating the slides in the show "had to do with the process of changing an image," Magdy says, "really of damaging an image. The concept and the process work together. The idea was to create this different imagery."
Film pickling is a flexible, fluid process; Magdy is still experimenting with it. "You can process the same piece of film several different times, and then you get different layers. Sometimes you get spots or color drips on the image. There are infinite possibilities, and I'm intent on taking it in my own direction."
In fact, Magdy has already taken his career in several diverse directions. Originally, he notes, "I studied painting," at Helwan University in Cairo. But since then he has also used photography, spray-paint, collage, gouache, and other media, which he collectively calls "works on paper," and has also made some short films. Since the year 2000 his work has been featured in more than 30 solo shows around the world.
"I still paint," he says, "I do a lot of things at the same time. A lot of the things I do are aesthetically connected but many times people don't see the connections. But I see them. I love drawings and paintings and sound and installations."
What's next for him? He's cautious in answering: "Right now I'm taking a month-long break to think about how to move forward. I don't have a new medium in mind; I have to think about it …"
On Site runs until January 17, 2015, at the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery on Saadiyat Island. Admission is free.
Basim Magdy's website: http://www.basimmagdy.com/