Lisson Gallery is proud to present The Magic of the State, an exhibition and editorial project conceived in collaboration with Beirut, a new art initiative and exhibition space in Cairo, Egypt. Curated by Silvia Sgualdini of Lisson Gallery, in conjunction with Jens Maier-Rothe and Sarah Rifky, co-directors of Beirut, the project defines an ambitious platform for artistic exchange by bringing a number of international artists to Cairo for the first time. It also presents an innovative model of collaboration between an independent space and commercial gallery, highlighting the different social and political contexts in which the two organizations operate.
The project is structured as two discrete yet interconnected exhibitions, opening first in Cairo (3 March - 6 April) and then London (27 March - 4 May). Different works by the same group of artists will be presented, including new commissions, performances and discursive platforms. The project will be accompanied by a publication featuring critical texts and artists contributions in English and Arabic.
The Magic of the State takes its name from the book of the same title by anthropologist Michael Taussig. In this text, Taussig conceives the modern State as configured through a theatre of spirit possession into the living body of society. Historically placed at the intersection of science, religion and politics, magic in its broadest sense is addressed within the context of the project: both secular magic and its connection to propaganda and mysticism with its claim to access supernatural entities and powers.
The invited artists adopt magic as a filter to question the increasingly intricate ways in which power manifests itself within given social, economic and political structures. Ryan Gander presents the performance I had a Message from the Curator, originally conceived for dOCUMENTA (13). Gander's two newly commissioned Alchemy Boxes - sculptures made of common objects in which mysterious contents are sealed - alchemically connect the two exhibition spaces in Cairo and London. In Goldin+Senneby's audio installation The Decapitation of Money, economic geographer Angus Cameron draws a series of associations between Bataille's obsession with decapitation as a release of energy and his understanding of sovereignty, regicide and economics; the emergence of the Eurodollar in the 1950s and off-shore finance beyond the jurisdiction of the sovereign state.
Magic's coerciveness lies in its power to transform, simultaneously holding together the desire to believe and the desire to doubt. Here, politics and magic, statecraft and stagecraft, converge as performance. The exhibition at Beirut opens with Interpretation, a performance by French artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar. The work features iconic Glasgwegian club performer Mary Knox and Parisian experimental musician Hendrik Hegray in a recitation of the visionary political broadsheets of Sun Ra, woven together with the emancipatory force of free jazz of records from the collection of La Grande Oreille, a record shop active in La Rochelle between 1975 and 1979.
At Lisson Gallery, Liz Magic Laser, (Armory Show Commissioned Artist 2013), performs for the first time Stand Behind Me, a development from her acclaimed work The Digital Face. Referencing Francois Delsartre's 19th-Century studies in gestural expression, the performance reworks key oratorical moments from recent history to highlight the evolution of political speech. Lebanese artist Rana Hamadeh has created two new commissioned lecture-performances which explore the relationship between resistance and contagion by considering the plague in ancient Athens as an allegory for the current Arab uprisings.
UK-based artists Anja Kirschner and David Panos' video installation Ultimate Substance examines the current Greek economic crisis by revisiting ancient myths and looking at how the introduction of coinage affected the emergence of abstract mathematical and philosophical knowledge. Cypriot artist Christodoulos Panayiotou presents a series of photographs selected from the Press and Information Office in Nicosia. The works excavate the rituals and ceremonies that underline the construction of a national narrative and the constitution of Cyprus as a modern nation state following independence from Britain.
At a time of uncharted and complex political transition in Egypt, the selected and newly-commissioned works question the legacy of outmoded systems of beliefs and mythological principles within the modern State, pointing to the slippage between the prescriptive intent and the idiosyncratic manifestations of stately power. They chart the potential of alternative aggregations, and explore the possibility of resistance by thinking laterally and looking in unorthodox places.