Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie on the best works of 2012

Asunción Molinos Gordo, El-Matam El-Mish-Masry (The Non-Egyptian Restaurant), 2012. Photo: Robert Stothard.

DURING THE FIRST WEEK OF NOVEMBER, the Spanish-born, Cairo-based artist Asunción Molinos Gordo invited a top chef to create haute cuisine from the best Egyptian produce that money could buy, and then offered six dishes to neighborhood diners for just five Egyptians pounds apiece (around eighty cents). This was the opening act in Molinos’s four-part, monthlong art project titled El-Matam El-Mish-Masry (The Non-Egyptian Restaurant), a site-specific installation doubling as a performance that was conceived for the five-year-old art space Artellewa. Located in the depths of a sprawling informal settlement—squished between Cairo’s larger, more volatile slums of Imbaba and Boulak El-Dakror—Artellewa isn’t usually a restaurant but Molinos transformed it totally. For week two, she invited women from the neighborhood to cook the food they usually prepared at home, such as koshary (which is mostly starch). For week three, the artist made meals from what could be harvested within a mile radius of the restaurant (mostly trash). And for week four, she invited a leading Egyptologist to excavate the area and forage for food (mostly dirt). The work was illuminating on a range of socioeconomic and geopolitical issues—not to mention confident as a proposition, graceful in its execution, and above all deeply empathetic to the environment.

Earlier in the fall, SALT Beyoğlu in Istanbul opened a major midcareer survey for the Egyptian artist Hassan Khan, which had, at its heart, the mesmerizing video installation Jewel (2010). Although it was essentially no different here than it had been in Paris (“Intense Proximity”), New York (“The Ungovernables”), or Doha (“Told, Untold, Retold”), the quality of the image seemed incredibly rich, and the pounding shaabi soundtrack both warm and crystal clear. A meticulous choreography for two men that multiplies ambiguities with every move, the piece draws on body language Khan observed and adopted from the street, making a formal grammar from the tenderness of friends, petty crime, and police brutality.

And back in June, among the hundreds of artworks scattered around the central German city of Kassel for Documenta 13, was the weird, womblike Kaskade Cinema. During the opening week, the space hosted around a dozen performances of the French choreographer Jérôme Bel’s Disabled Theater (2012), a five-act drama featuring the cast of Zurich’s Theater Hora. I caught the first one, and having felt sufficiently eviscerated—charmed, humbled, manipulated, implicated, delighted, deeply saddened—returned two days later to see the piece again. An incredible sequence moving deftly through euphoria and criticality while still somehow honoring dance and questioning deformity, disability, and difference, Bel’s work defeated me completely as a writer. But like all three of these works, it overwhelmed me, worked on me in layers, taught me things about the world (and myself) I thought I knew but clearly didn’t, showed me formal intricacies I never could have imagined, and made me extremely grateful for the challenges art poses to us all.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie is a critic based in Beirut.