A graduate from the Slade School of Art and Royal Academy Schools, London-based artist Adham Faramawy works in digital video, computer programming, sculpture, painting and print. His videos are characterised by destabilising aesthetics and a recurring attention to the body and they’re sexy, psychedelic and fun.
His latest exhibition at the Bluecoat, Liverpool, was part inspired by a road traffic accident in 2015 that left Faramawy bruised, scratched and unable to walk for weeks. Observing the unpleasant healing process and registering the surprising changes in his own body made him consider similar feelings brought on by advertising, which produce a sense of physical inadequacy that can only be soothed by shopping. One video in the show (Janus Collapse) is shot in the typical style of commercials, gradually shifting towards unpleasant sound and visual effects of decay and rotting.
Playing with the language of advertising to subvert it, Faramawy interrogates the sense of alienation from our own bodies and from society, personal and social anxieties that can be translated into discussions about ethnicity and gender. Here he talks body horror, virtual reality and the need for fun.
In ancient Roman mythology, Janus is the god of transitions and passages, usually depicted as having two faces. Where does the title of the exhibition come from?
I was feeling pretty rough when I started making the work for this show, so I tried to use the image of the Janus as a way to invoke instability and talk about looking backwards and forwards at the same time. Last year and the year before were both quite challenging and I’ve been trying to use my work to find ways to talk about challenges and work through them. I get that it seems like a leap from a road accident to shopping! But I wanted to make the experience generative, to explore the ways that the healing process made me feel about my body.
As a maker of images who deals with advertising in their work, I recognised that feeling of dissociation from your body when it starts behaving in ways you don’t recognise, as something I’ve felt because of how adverts present images of other people’s bodies. Most of what I do explores ways of seeing, thinking about and mediating bodies and for this show the work thinks about bodies in relation to advertising and in a way, shows images of biology cannibalising and collapsing advertising images as the screen folds and rots.
I’m very interested in the double-faced nature of advertising: it promises us a better life through the use and consumption of a certain product, but reminds us how imperfect our lives are. What do you think are the repercussions of decades of commercials on our society?
Advertising images wear many faces. Without being too down on things, I feel like in London, where I live, there are few places left to look without someone trying to get your attention. Sometimes it feels like an image of any possible action can be used to sell you something and I don’t want to behave as a consumer all the time. Things are changing quickly and I want to think about empathy and activism. I don’t know how to be more active in relation to this mechanism than to find ways to try to inhabit and destabilise or repurpose the images I receive. Using fun and play can be a strategy to collapse these images, even if it’s only for a short while before they’re recuperated again. I think that sometimes joy, pleasure and laughter can be useful ways to resist things you feel uncomfortable with.
Your video is displayed as part of an installation featuring sand, concrete plinths and a garish collage vinyl. Could you tell me more about their relations?
I wanted to work with mutable materials that describe a state of flux. I wanted for the sculptural elements that support the TVs to be materials that describe a site where architecture, and the images that architectures support, were in a state of both building and demolition. The area by the Bluecoat has been redeveloped into a shopping district. I think it’s interesting and important to position the images you make in relation to their context, to find ways to make that context visible and to start a conversation about how we can inhabit and navigate situations. I hope that the way I’ve produced and installed the images in the show bring what’s just outside the window inside and starts a conversation about it.
You mentioned the body horror genre as a partial source of ideas for the exhibition. Did you have others?
A lot of what I was looking at while I was making this work was body horror in television adverts; teenagers exploding to sell pizza, tongues escaping mouths and running riot to sell beer. These ads can be hilarious, bizarre and really gross. Sometimes the images are so abstract I failed to understand their relation to a product, which in itself provided some relief. I read quite a few science and speculative fiction novels too, like the Blue Ant trilogy by William Gibson. The stories in this series hinge on the work of an advertising agency and in a way talk about the time around the fall of the Twin Towers, using the tragedy as a fulcrum to the story.
I also read a lot of Octavia Butler, particularly the Xenogenesis trilogy, which describes the ways an alien race tries to save the human species after a terrible war decimates the planet. The slug-like aliens do this by trying mate with us. I think Octavia Butler was an author who was truly gifted at using fiction to discuss social politics. The stories behave as a positive proposition in that they offer these often extreme circumstances that allow her and us as readers ways and reasons to reassess our relationships to each other and the hierarchies we take for granted.
What are you working on at the moment?
Since the show at the Bluecoat I’ve been working on a virtual reality sculpture project with HTC Vive and the Royal Academy in London. I’m presenting a VR environment and we’ve extracted an object I sculpted in an app called Kodon, to make a physical sculpture called Reclining nude with television. I’ve worked with the programmers at Kodon to make a new tool for the app, which allows you to graffiti these floating sculptures while you stand on a platform above the clouds. The work is presented in a series of events at the Royal Academy on the 12th -14th January 2017.