Mandy El-Sayegh’s Provocative ‘Figure One’ Exhibition Opens at Thaddaeus Ropac Paris Marais

When we recently levied what we believed to be reasonable criticism of APPLETV+’s saccharine but beloved hit series Ted Lasso, a colleague quickly rebuffed that this was no time to be “shitting on other people’s joy.” Clearly, she had a point, considering the fatal horrors of the last twenty-one months – though such thinking just might also make for a slippery slope away from the unblinking critical perspicacity that has always afforded us a more, shall we say, realistic view of the world around us.

Malaysian born artist Mandy El-Sayegh also appears to have little interest in kowtowing to anyone’s individual need for psychological comforts – at least where her work is concerned. Rather, her nocturnal self works obsessively through the night, in a studio rife with the assorted debris she has collected for the purposes of explicating the chaos theory that more than likely governs our existence, and unapologetically flies in the face of the so many invented spiritual support systems – religion, astrology, self-help – that we count on to artificially carry us from one day to the next.

Currently living and working in London, her first solo exhibition took place in the spring of 2019 at that city’s Chisenhale Gallery, near Bethnal Green, beating the pandemic lockdowns by a year. And with the art world having decisively physically reopened (the vaccines seemingly having done their duty), she followed with a show at Lehmann Maupin Seoul this past summer. She now closes 2021 by taking Paris, with a solo exhibit just opened at Thaddaeus Ropac‘s Marais gallery.

Enigmatically titled Figure One, it encompasses painting (of course), as well as sound and multimedia, comprised of twenty new works from her recent Net-Grid, White Grounds and Piece Paintings series’. Eerily inspired by the layout of forensic pathology books (we’re pretty sure we didn’t know that was a specific thing), it is intended to be viewed as a kind of fragmented, or broken body. On her canvases, El-Sayegh takes the contemporary media (news headlines, adverts, etc from Le MondeLe Figaro, the Financial Times), and drops them into uncomfortable dialogue with one another and with history – to wit, the sinisterly blithe titles of Israeli military operations like Susannah and Sea Breeze placed alongside both fashion editorials and poems by the 18th/19th Century noted pacifist/humanist William Blake. (What would he have thought of such a juxtaposition?)

Even bits of text from Roland Barthes’ landmark philosophical tome Le Neutre (The Neutral) make their way into her White Grounds series.

Regarding the ideological underpinning of her methodology, she describes the process of silkscreening as a “violence of flattening,” so that no reference is really given predominance over any other – or as she states it, “an overflow of matter, sources and fragments, seeping through and violating boundaries.” This allows the viewer to assemble their own moral hierarchy via each work. One can also discern both aesthetic and methodological connections to the likes of Robert Rauschenberg, and possibly even Juan Gris. But even El-Sayegh herself allows open interpretation of her work.

“When I look at a canvas,” she explains, “I see the thickness of the canvas. [It] is like the thickness of flesh, versus the surface of skin from afar. I’m always between these two ways of seeing.”

Mandy El-Sayegh’s Figure One will be on exhibit at Thaddaeus Ropac Paris Marais through January 15.

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