Image: Mandy El-Sayegh in London, at Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery
Mandy El-Sayegh, exhibition view Net-Grid Series | In Session, 2023 © Aggie Cherrie, courtesy the Artist and Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery, London Paris Salzburg Seoul
Featured in Juliet Art Magazine

Mandy El-Sayegh in London, at Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery

8 September 2023


Mandy El-Sayegh is one of the many artists which belong to a world without borders: she lives in London, but was born in Malaysia, therefore, in addition to having entered the Western cultural system, she brings with her the legacy of ancestral signs and knowledge, completely foreign to our visual culture. Furthermore, like many authors from distant worlds and tried by aggressive and invasive capitalism, she explores the political, social and economic complexities of a humanity tending towards homologation, using a puzzle of information: from advertising slogans to newspaper articles. This material is subjected to a process of stratification and cancellation which modifies its perception and fragments its meaning.

For example, in her first solo exhibition at the Chisenhale Gallery in London (“Cite Your Sources”, 2019), the artist had worked precisely on the flow of meaning and signifiers, working with painted grids that could symbolically represent a way to capture and hold the information, as if it were a “miraculous catch”. Of course, the formal aspect of an invasive decorativeness (a kind of sensational pattern) blends in with the calligraphy from the Arab tradition. Ultimately it is a dispute between man and the world, for a principle of supremacy, dictated by greed, and between man and man due to an unhealthy desire for economic oppression or social role. In this regard, Samuel Johnson’s words are very pertinent: “To adjust the violence of a dispute to its actual importance seems too difficult a task for the senses of man. Pride of intellect has engaged ages in debating irrelevant matters, and pride of power has destroyed whole armies to acquire or keep useless possessions.”

Here, then, Mandy El-Sayegh, in her path of analysis and synthesis, uses a mosaic of information which she then subjects to processes of stratification, cancellation and obfuscation. This practice stems from an interest in the classic relationship of a part with the whole (the face in the proportion of the body, man as a microcosm inserted in the macrocosm), and how all this can lead to the creation of a new meaning, because it is the flow (the constant flow of things, like a river in which you don’t bathe twice), in the mutability of the form, which can generate new information.

For her first solo exhibition at the Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery in London, Mandy El-Sayegh transforms the gallery spaces, intervening on the walls and floors to create an enveloping environment within which ideas of bodily, psychological and spatial interiors are developed. Presenting paintings, sculptures and installations (all works designed for this appointment), as well as a performance, the exhibition superimposes different materials and modes of artistic creation, referring to sensory experiences and processes of accumulation. Almost an immersive journey, in the style of the forties of the last century.

For example, an installation is inspired by Sigmund Freud’s studio, assembling objects that reference it, including Persian carpets and the “confession couch”. Another installation is based on the White Grounds series in which layered images of maps and debris from the artist’s studio are partially hidden under layers of chalk and white paint. The technique of layer upon layer, where the next layer only partially reveals what is underneath while slightly hiding the previous sign, refers to the saturation of information to which contemporary society, first with printed paper and then with the web, got used. Another installation consists of latex curtains, similar to skin, suspended from the ceiling of the corridor leading to the gallery; these curtains draw on the artist’s enduring interest in the fragment and mutability of language, intersecting her investigation of psychological experience with ideas of embodiment and bodily disintegration. El-Sayegh will activate this installation with a performance that will take place against the backdrop of a new sound and video work, created through visual and auditory collages. The multimedia work alternates footage of studio processes with a series of images of bodies under the effects of external forces, whether harmonious or malignant. An exhibition to be seen and to be visited.

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