• Jul 13,2022
  • In Review
  • By Abundant Art

‘Fantasies on a Found Phone Dedicated to the Man Who Lost It’: A Dreamy, Meandering Evocation of Modern Living, 22 June-25 Sept 2022

A lost phone, left unlocked in a public bathroom, becomes the basis of Mahmoud Khaled’s first solo exhibition in the U.K. The texts and images stored on this iPhone paint an enigmatic dreamscape, moving between the mundane and the intimate, the erotic and the isolated. Screenshots evoke the banality of endless scrolling and swiping; and yet the presence of mindfulness apps aimed at insomniacs constitutes a cry for respite from a fast-paced, digitized world. The sheer volume of unfiltered information retained by this mobile device symptomizes the endless consumption of media intrinsic to modern life; whilst notes of dissonance – sleeplessness, anxiety, isolation – suggest that the contemporary world manifests perennial forms of human suffering in manners new.

The exhibition itself is an immersive experience that has The Mosaic Rooms transformed into an imaginary home for an imaginary stranger. The period architecture and décor of the gallery are subversively infused with modern references to queerness and social media. Khaled plays with the antique grandeur of the gallery space, once an upper-middle class family home, by injecting it with notes of dissonance. One room takes a day-bed – a symbol of leisure and luxury – but upon recognition of the distorted, disproportionate size of the sofa, any sense of ease is undermined. Leather straps recall sexuality; and whilst the mindfulness track played on speaker is initially calming, the endless looping of the audio suggests that serenity is never achieved. The downstairs room, dominated by a bizarrely circular bed, is windowless, dark and claustrophobic; this, too, is no place of rest. Close inspection of the wall-paper reveals the presence of a desktop ‘loading’ icon in the corner of the repeated motif. Despite references to sexuality, the anonymity of the exhibition’s central figure, and the absence of any reference to friends or lovers, makes the whole space seem oddly isolated, even fragmented. This is a complex emotional landscape that leaves the visitor strangely uneasy.

The exhibition gestures to a host of cultural traditions without necessarily articulating a defined critical position. The form of the installation recalls the house-museum, in which a famous person’s home is turned into a public space; yet our protagonist is a stranger, and a fictional stranger at that. The sofa-beds and leather straps refer to Freud, a sensibility compounded by the dialogue between dream and reality evoked by the space. Moving through each room, one definitely has the feeling that there are many layers of this exhibition to uncover.

The flipside of the coin is that the highly conceptual nature of Khaled’s work does make it somewhat inaccessible. Without foreknowledge of certain cultural traditions and intellectual histories, it would be easy to miss the probing questions that the exhibition gently raises. It took me a while to understand how the fiction of the lost phone related to the gallery-space; and if I hadn’t shared a conversation with the curator, I’m not sure that I would have picked up on the notes of dissonance imbued within each room. Although a brief explanatory guide does excavate some of Khaled’s ideas, I still found that the exhibition verges on nebulous. Perhaps it is a personal preference for clarity that for me clashed with the meandering nature of this work, but I do wonder if other visitors would also have benefitted from a little more transparency. As it stands, the exhibition left a distinct impression on me, but few of my thoughts crystallized into lucid expression; perhaps, however, that was Khaled’s intention.

The exhibition is on until 25 September 2022 at The Mosai Rooms Open 11am – 6pm | Tuesday – Sunday | Free Entry  http://www.mosaicrooms.org/

Reviewed by Sophia Sheera – Sophia is a writer interested in migration, cultural citizenship, displacement and queerness with a focus on Central Asia and Northern India. Sophia is inspired by talking to the people whose stories are sidetracked by sensationalist headlines, and as such aspires to share those counter-narratives through political journalism.


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