Posts tagged ‘sinai’

January 2, 2011

On Alvaro Sau’s Coptos

by M. A.

Watch Coptos

It is a rare incident for events like Alexandria’s last week blasts to lead to a personal discovery that could match Alvaro Sau’s video Coptos, shot in 2010 during Sau’s residency at Contemporary Image Collective in Cairo.  Oblivious as I could be, when encountering Alvaro and the unassuming Brother Farid at a friend’s place in front of a TV screen watching Batman Returns, I missed my friend’s meaningful remark about the bearded young man in his white galabeya and a monk’s cap: ‘He is the subject  of Alvaro’s work’.

Sau gives us a 16-minute single-channel video, shot inside and around St. Makarios’s Monastery at the heart of the Wadi Al Rayan desert.  The video is categorized with extended still footage of the wilderness, that pay homage to 2001 Space Odyssey and brings to mind Coen Brothers’ nihilism.  The artist consciously avoids the use of music in his documentary and folds back to the sounds of the desert to reconstruct the air of silence and waiting that encompasses the monk’s life.

The desert too is a conscious choice of the artist.  It is naturally treacherous to question an artist’s motives, but we have grown an unfortunate affinity to seeing images of the daily struggle that is Cairo, its sub-culture’s characters, and the sounds of its death shriek in many a ‘resident’ artists’ works, at best,  misguided presumptions and at worst, contemporary exoticising.  Alvaro’s work, however, seems to be derived from a mystic desire to indulge in inner-conflicting austerity, through abandoning artistry the artist is instantly free from shackles of formality.  Similarly the monk abandons formality and embraces the desert.  A sufficiency in a meal of fried potatoes, and prolonged reflection, is echoed in Alvaro’s supplement-free documentary.

On the artist’s path to austerity, he encounters on the opposite lane a monk who doesn’t seem to mind a vivid return to the public in a video that unveils his sacred daily rituals, from dawn to midnight, to the world he once abandoned.   One could only speculate the depths that the relationship between the two men must run, where a monk/ subject grants a foreign man/ artist access to his world.

The artist only shows his face at the last third of the video.  It is nightfall, and the monk descends down a long, dark and claustrophobic path towards what begins to sound like a gathering at the heart of the mountain.  The monk leads us to what seems to be the reason why he is in this place, where he has found joy.  Human chattering and laughter accelerate to a climaxing deafening noise of an inexplicable presence.

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