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Omar Elkharadly – "Allegory"

Omar Elkharadly answered a few questions for me regarding his work, Allegory, currently on display in the 12th Annual Emerging Artist Exhibition, CORPUS LUCIDA at InterAccess.

Omar Elkharadly, Allegory (2009 – ongoing)

Jessica Cappuccitti:  Where and when did you get the idea for this piece and how has it evolved since its first conception?

Omar Elkharadly:  The work you saw at InterAccess, titled Allegory is from a larger body of work that was most recently shown in Guelph.  You can see installation shots and a small write-up from that show here:

The first prototype installation of this work took place in 2008, which had the simple setup of the reflective screen, projectors behind, and the viewer in-between. The viewer(s) would interact with their own 3d shadow. (See sketch from when the project was conceived below.)
Omar Elkharadly, photo courtesy of the artist

As you may have read in Farah Yusuf’s write-up, the title is a reference to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where fundamental questions about reality, perception, form, representation, and truth    are addressed. Initially, the work focused primarily on the mechanisms of perception by demonstrating what shouldn’t be possible – a three dimensional shadow on a two dimensional surface – what you see isn’t what you get. The mechanism by which this is achieved is almost poetically simple and is in no way concealed from the viewer. 

The current incarnation of Allegory at InterAccess is part of a body of light-based photo installations that seek to achieve a material self-awareness in the form of visual tautology.  For example, a slide projector containing a photograph of a light bulb that when projected against a surface actually serves to illuminate the surrounding space. 

The work Light Switch (2011) consisted of a slide projector wired to a pull-chain light switch. The viewer is invited to pull the chain that can turn on and off the slide projector containing an image of a light bulb.

Omar Elkharadly, Light Switch (2011), photo courtesy of the artist
WhereLight Switch can be seen in terms of tautology, Allegory can be seen in terms of paradox.  I like to think of a paradox as a tautology with a twist.  Allegory‘s pull chain, rather than switching on a projection of light, functions to switch on a projection of shadow, (which, interestingly enough, is what all transparency-based photographs actually are!)

Going back to Plato’s Allegory, shadows are what we cave-dwellers see; subordinate to the forms they are being cast from.  In the case of our present Allegory, the age-old hierarchy of form and representation is complicated by the decision to paint the lampshade black.  As a result, the shade becomes a representation of its own shadow.  I like to think of it as the kind of proposition Captain Kirk would pose to a 23rd Century Plato-droid in order to cause its head to explode in a most climactic fashion.

JC:  Is this something that you plan to build on/keep going with?  If so, where do you see it going?

OE:  I’ve learned a lot about my practice in the last couple of years.  The main thing being that, while I do have a studio, it is more accurate to call it a workshop or lab (the messy kind).  I develop the bare-bones technical means to execute an idea, and then I shelf it until I have the opportunity to create it for a space and install it.  As a result, my work does not exist until I have the opportunity to show it, and until I have the opportunity to show it, I cannot truly see it for myself.  This is one of the reasons that Allegory has continued to evolve since its inception, and with each iteration it grows into its own.  My goal as an artist is to make intelligent, self-aware work.

Allegory will cease to exist a few weeks from the time of this writing, and that makes me pretty sad.  Every time it has come back though, it has adapted to its new environment in some way that I was not able to predict.

As stated earlier, Allegory was developed as part of a larger body of work.  That body of work explores the ontology of photography – the mediation of light.  Allegory is in many ways integral to that exploration, and the mechanism which allows Allegory to exist is currently spread across my studio in the forms of projectors, bits of polarized plastic, stereoscopic slide photographs, and sheets of tin foil, some more crumpled than others.
Allegory, Installation view, photo courtesy of the artist
The non-crazy answer: I feel as though Allegory covers very rich cognitive territory that I remain thoroughly engrossed in, and I see much that has yet to be explored here.