Listen to Mandy El-Sayegh in conversation with Russell Tovey and Robert Diament from her studio in Acton, West London for their weekly podcast, talkART.
They discuss memory as a material, experiences of insomnia and nocturnal shifts spent making art, as well as what its like to be a hoarder and El-Sayegh's early love of microscopes, collecting stamps and being a self-confessed geek.
The conversation ranges from her breakthrough 2019 solo show ‘Cite Your Sources’ at Chisenhale gallery in East London to the layers of materials in her studio and the artworks that result from this process of gathering.
El-Sayegh also shares about her connection to medical language and how it informs the language she applies to her own work, the thought processes behind her well-known ‘Net-Grid’ paintings and the influence of film on her practice such as David Lynch's movies and the work of David Cronenberg, whose 1986 SciFi horror opus ‘The Fly’ made a formative and lasting impact for the artist.
Mandy El-Sayegh’s (b. 1985, Selangor, Malaysia) highly process-driven practice is rooted in an exploration of material and language. In her paintings, table vitrines, immersive installations and videos, El-Sayegh creates layered anthologies of found text and images from a variety of sources. These include newsprint, advertisements, aerial maps, anatomy books and her father's Arabic calligraphy, which take on unexpected new meanings through proximity. Set adrift from their original contexts, these fragments become open to multiple readings that are personally, socially or politically determined and undermine the supposed objectivity of language and media. Moving between material, corporeal, linguistic and cultural frameworks, El-Sayegh highlights the constant flux of meaning that is shaped by environment and individual experience.
By emphasising the boundaries of her chosen medium, El-Sayegh draws attention to the systems that determine how information is categorised, contained and understood. She creates 'quasi-archives' in her table vitrines, suggesting associations and references through the objects' placement in a shared, delineated space. In her ‘Net-Grid’ canvases, overpainted grids simultaneously structure and obscure the detritus of popular culture. These paintings also reference the primacy of the grid in modernism, which El-Sayegh found alienating: 'I felt that there was a whole set of systems that I did not know, like a joke that I didn't get'. Instead, she creates 'forms [that] bring about questions of legitimate and illegitimate readings of culture and context', as well as the implicit power structures that determine who legitimises such readings.