Hassan Khan
Exhibition Guide

Hassan Khan draws out the subliminal in objects and circumstances that exist in social and historical environments. His works produce a tension between the nature of these objects and their changing contexts. Some of these objects stem from Khan’s personal biography, while others derive from figures and images of lingering artifacts that allude to specific civilizations and subcultures. This results in an artistic practice that is responsive to the monumental products of human development, collective moments and the immaterial charge of the objects and gestures that lie between.

In his work Lust (2008) Khan uses a cell phone camera. This particular medium allows Khan to directly engage with, and record moments that capture people and objects with the immediacy of their existence in the world surrounding him. Through the accumulation of these rapidly-captured images, a meta-narrative proposes different collective perspectives on the subjects gathered and yet each image also maintains its autonomous contribution to a narrative in history. This method of employing a chain of circumstances can be seen in Muslimgauze R.I.P (2010) where a series of tracking shots are edited together to produce real time continuity. This effect suspends a contained period of 8 minutes and 7 seconds, following a boy’s unremarkable activities in an apartment living room and investing it with significance that is almost historical. Similarly, the logic that drives The Hidden Location (2004) lies in the leap from one section of a four-channel video to another. Gaps are formed within these leaps and this is where the “hidden location” lies. The gap contains the moment where all the latent possibilities, that can support each narrative, lay dormant. One’s encounter with this compendium of observations and various narratives opens up the possibility for reinterpreting and reconstructing the details within.

A work such as Banque Bannister (2010) is composed from focusing in on one of these details taken from daily life. In this instance it is an exact copy of the bannister erected at the entrance of Banque Misr in Cairo. Yet Khan’s version is unrestrained by the original’s context and becomes its irrational replica. Once a gleaming introduction to the bank’s wealth and power that has slowly become weathered by the influence of the elements, Banque Bannister exists perpetually in this perfected form. It also defies structural logic, floating independently, refusing to acknowledge the laws of gravity. Khan further explores these ideas in The Twist (2012), where the precise and discrete beginning and end of a twist he had noticed in a railing is produced as a sculpture. For Khan, the nonfunctional twist in the railing, an ornamentation for its own sake that can be read as a symbol of property, wealth, knowledge and aesthetic judgment, in essence stands for the refinement of societies and cultures. These ideas were first considered in Khan’s and Amr Hosny’s work Lungfan (1995). Both artists worked together under the influence of an “almost telepathic” friendship and engagement with the world around them in the mid-1990s and with a keen understanding of contemporary society’s origins in ancient power structures. In the video aspects of civilization are documented in a spontaneous yet intuitive manner through still images and sound. Although produced seventeen years ago, Lungfan encapsulates many recurring interests for Khan, including the attempt to condense personas, objects and actions into a basic highly charged condition.

Jewel (2010) opens with an evolutionary throwback to a monstrous deep-sea fish that inhabits a dark world until it suddenly fossilizes into a contemporary object. The video references a culture and its music that can be imagined as exotic, but the two men who dance in casual clothing and without apprehension, alter this response. Their activity appears at first distant and absurd, but as we bear witness to their suspended moment in time, we are also gradually embraced by the dance-inducing rhythm. Another rhythmic work, DOM TAK TAK DOM TAK (2005) is the transformation and extension of one audio detail into a large musical production, resulting in a new form of this popular music genre. Khan first restructured and recorded with percussionists a series of generic Shaabi rhythms, he then hired session musicians to improvise over the beats without listening to one another. Finally he mixed these separate interpretations to produce six hybrid musical scores. On entering the installation the visitor encounters an emotionally complex unraveling of musical styles in tension with the automated structure of the composition process and its transmission via a mechanical and cold assemblage of equipment.

DOM TAK TAK DOM TAK transforms human creativity and communication into a technical rather than personalized process. A similar approach was utilized in 17 and in AUC (2003), in which a constrained environment was created so that Khan could focus on and remember details of his undergraduate years spent at the American University in Cairo. Throughout this process, Khan sat in a sound-proofed one way mirrored room, whereby the external viewers could look straight into his eyes, yet he could not look back or even be sure that he was the subject of anyone’s gaze. the dead dog speaks (2010) functions in much the same way, but takes language as its basis. Distinct voices constitute the work and make visible the preliminary moment where the voice animates the character. From there, the work attempts to strip down the dynamics of language into basic relationships between the personas, which in this case revolve around a computer generated Egyptian film icon, woman and dog. Different voices speak through each persona and bring them to life. Likewise in stuffedpigfollies (2007), six inkjet prints present illustrated pigs, yet human characteristics are imitated via their gestures and expressions. The pigs are used as a trope for Khan’s consciousness and aim to portray some of the logic of his dreams. Merging the living with the nonliving and presenting the space of imagination and dreams, Khan uses these illustrated pigs as a reflection of different roles and inner mental awareness.

The logic of dreams also inspires diagrams no 1-6 (2007) and The Alphabet Book (2006). In diagrams no 1-6 Khan turns every dream into a formula that is used to produce a structured diagram. While in The Alphabet Book, images are mined from his periods of sleep to create a narrative connected to the letters of the alphabet. This process of drawing on imagery from a subconscious experience of the world is comparable to the way the objects in The Agreement (2011) have been sourced from fictional narratives based in the social context of contemporary Cairo, while Photographs of statues owned by the artist (2010) delves into personal and cultural historical narratives that are in constant tension with what it is they represent. This opens questions on the nature of these objects, their appeal and connection to a wider history that is both about the artist’s personal biography and that of a collective memory.

Khan’s works function as individual projects; yet, they connect to one another, building a network of relationships and cross-references that unravel during the course of experiencing the exhibition. While engaging with objects and subjects that appear familiar, Khan sets them in dialogue with references to very personal and intimate sources that he often chooses not to disclose. He relies on detailed observations of humanity and interactions with the highly enigmatic gestures of individual consciousness, and the works he produces are very formally articulated –an investment in a language that he sees as essential to the very understanding of art practice. These alternating proximities, to the personal and the formal, shift and reformulate, often causing moments of tension when attempting to grasp Khan’s meaning, yet an open encounter is always available for the viewer. The selected works in this exhibition exemplify Khan’s methods of presenting such paradoxes, which lie within societies and the cultures they produce, implicating himself, and us, within a multitude of scenarios and historical remnants.