Shady El Noshokaty, Stammer—A Lecture in Theory, 2009–10, multimedia installation, 14 minutes 7 seconds.


Stammer, an ongoing project by the Egyptian artist and professor Shady El Noshokaty, began as a teaching demonstration for students at the American University in Cairo, and is on view until March 17 in “Histories of Now: Six Artists from Cairo” at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. For the Egyptian pavilion at last year’s Venice Biennale, El Noshokaty curated work by Ahmed Basiony, who was killed in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Here, El Noshokaty discusses the origins of Stammer.

MY PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL MEMORY of being a child with a stutter is the subject that forms the crux of this project. I began researching this particular speech disorder about four years ago as a way to get in touch with the self-awareness it accorded me from an early age. Since then, it has grown into a multifaceted project that utilizes multimedia, texts, drawings, videos, and installations that explore the relationship between pre- and postrevolutionary Egypt.

Stammer is an attempt to represent how the combination of time, distance, place, relations, names, situations, and actions creates an elaborate map of the human persona—it is through these elements that our existence gains meaning. A speech impediment like stammering enables one to see limitations within the virtual mental environment that exists within our heads.

I often think of consciousness as bound within three parallel planes—the mind, physical existence, and imagination. The moment when one stammers is the moment when consciousness is disrupted and the mind loses control—one is unable to chose which plane will be presented to interact with the outside world. In Stammer, I try to move consciously through those planes to other areas of extreme subjectivity derived from my personal memories and subjective history through a virtual conceptual logic.

I began experimenting with these ideas through a lecture in which I tried to create an illustration of philosopher John R. Searle’s book Mind: A Brief Introduction. One of the chapters explains the relationship between the physical mind, the emotional mind, mathematics, and the measurement of feeling and emotions. I wanted to question the dual relationship between the body as material and the mind as a control system, testing the way our bodies supposedly have freedom to move but where the mind is the ultimate controller. Stammering reverses this process—it is the state of interference: The body conflicts with the mind, asking for another thing than what the mind has directed.

In the performance, I develop this idea through drawing, attempting to create a symmetrical drawing that comes from the center and formulates a pattern that is centralized around that point. I wanted explore the way our brain could control the borders of ourselves. The mind might be the central control system, but with stammering that control is very cracked; that symmetrical pattern could be destroyed because there is power coming out of the body that breaks the symmetry. There is a crash that happens, but within the work, before the crash, is this perfect symmetrical drawing—and just as I am finishing, you begin to see the destruction: The line itself destroys the pattern and control it worked to create.

— As told to Allese Thomson Baker