On the back of every U.S. dollar bill, there is a depiction of an incomplete pyramid with an all-seeing eye hovering over it. The image appropriates two ancient Egyptian symbols: the Eye of Horus and the Great Pyramid. Inscribed underneath, Novus Ordo Seclorum—“New Order of the Age”—an era in which Pharaonic culture has faded, yet the American psyche remains tangled in an archaic and mystified imaginary of Egypt.
In the days following September 11, 2001, Clear Channel Communications distributed a memo to 1,200 of their radio stations. Along with songs referencing bombs, bullets and airplanes, the Bangles’ 1980s pop hit “Walk Like An Egyptian” was included as “lyrically questionable.” Executives strongly suggested that DJs avoid playing it.
Do these instants represent what Cairo looks like from America? What does the city look like close up? Cairo On The Length is a project that taps the imaginations of over 50 people to construct a collective image of contemporary Cairo. Viewers are invited on a collaborative passage through the city, guided by both locals and outsiders, via a collection of photographs, maps, drawings, texts, videos, and an evening of readings.
Over four months, the artist, a citizen of the United States and of Egypt, drifted for 100 hours with 30 different people in Cairo. Some of the walkers had spent their entire lives in Egypt; some were tourists who had been in the city for a day. Each of 28 segments of the walk began from the end point of the previous segment; conversation and encounters on the walks dictated their paths.
Each segment was documented with photographs and with writing composed by the walkers, as well as through a process of call and response with Chicago artists and writers. Over the course of the four-month project, the artist sent photographs from each walk to Chicago artists and writers, requesting a response in whichever form each individual saw fit.
During the project at Spoke, the artist will host walks from the space through the West Loop. The public is invited to join in a process of observation, collection, and discussion about our own evolving city. The materials produced from these walks will be sent to artists in Egypt, who will in turn create responses. Through this cycle of exchange, a collective image of Chicago’s West Loop will be produced.