Critics’ Picks

Car Wash, 2006, still from a single-channel color video with sound, 12 minutes.

Car Wash, 2006, still from a single-channel color video with sound, 12 minutes.

Cairo

Iman Issa

Townhouse Gallery
Hussein El Me'mar Pasha Street
January 6–January 30, 2008

“Making Places,” Iman Issa’s current exhibition of photographs and videos at the Townhouse Gallery, presents a meditation on the urban landscape in reproducible media. The relative anonymity of the scenery (its “placelessness”) and the careful (and often art-historically resonant) framing allow the viewer to focus on details that were previously inconspicuous and—in the case of the videos—are suddenly activated by the flow of time. Indeed, the artist’s approach claims these sites as antimonumental, making the city street or urban skyline as ethereal and fleeting as the smallest skittering leaf on tarmac or the movement of sunlight across the blank face of an industrial-size apartment complex.

Yet Issa’s poetic pretensions, at times convincing in their own right, are also tongue-in-cheek; she appears in both the videos and the photographic series enacting minimalist interventions in the landscape. Her roles serve as failed re-creations of a Romantic communion with nature: naive and sentimental gestures honoring a natural world revealed as distinctly ersatz, postindustrial, or toweringly resistant to anthropomorphic fantasies. (Digital video and digital photography are the dreamer’s new media of choice.) At the same time, the empty symbolism of her actions and the sensitivity of the images speak to a restless but sincere desire to see anything, where “something” has been for so long promised. The tension between the banal and the sublime is perhaps most evocative in Car Wash, 2006, a twelve-minute static-shot video of a car wash's exit viewed through the occasional interference of passing traffic. In this case, however, the sublime “delivers” alongside the artist’s ironic humor: The effect is surprising and rich—something like discovering the sound of the ocean in a Styrofoam coffee cup.