Fantasies on a Found Phone, Dedicated to the Man Who Lost It
(Mosaic Rooms and Bookworks, 2022)
Aside from a brief introduction on the first page, Fantasies on a Found Phone, Dedicated to the Man Who Lost it contains no prose, captions, or descriptions. Instead, the 150-plus-pages are filled with a cascade of images ranging from the intensely personal to the poetic, erotic, anxious, comic, and banal. Nudes, pornography, and screenshots of Grindr chats are intermixed with passages from James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and Sylvia Plath’s The Applicant transcribed in the iPhone notes app. Classical sculpture and ornate interiors sit alongside hastily snapped photos of a sleeping cat, Megan Markle’s Oprah interview playing on a bedside television, a sneaked photograph of a beefcake standing on a street corner holding a Pomeranian, an elderly couple in matching sneakers snoozing on a bench, a bare ass pressed against a steamed up glass door. Flipping through the book’s unnumbered pages echoes the unnerving and voyeuristic sensation of scrolling, uninvited, through someone else’s camera reel.
The artist’s book by Mahmoud Khaled, published in the summer of 2022, formed part of Khaled’s solo exhibition of the same title at the Mosaic Rooms in London. In the gallery, the immersive installation imagined the life and domestic living spaces of the owner of a lost mobile phone, found unlocked in a men’s public toilet. The book, which extends beyond the exhibition as both a record and an art object in its own right, reveals the intimate contents of this lost mobile phone, interpreted and arranged by Khaled.
The images discovered on the phone are at once intensely revealing and anonymous. Key details such as the time and geographic location of many of the images remain ambiguous and the face of the phone’s owner is never revealed. This tension between public and private, intimate and anonymous, is echoed in the physicality of the volume. The small softback is an intentionally discrete object, not much larger than an iPhone, encased in a flimsy, black re-sealable plastic bag in lieu of a dust jacket which serves to both protect and conceal the book’s contents. This play on the public and the private loops back to the very premise of the work, a personal object, discovered in a public bathroom, “A place,” Khaled explains in the book’s introduction, “where men enjoy the simultaneous pleasures of being alone and together.”
Whilst much remains unknown about the mobile phone’s anonymous owner, it is impossible to deny his aesthetic sensibilities. The book’s pages are filled with antiques, figurative paintings, classical sculpture and ornate baroque-inspired interiors, many of which have been photographed in museums, archives, antique shops and private collections. On first glance, these images seem to be randomly interspersed with snapshots from the protagonist’s daily life but, leafing through the book’s pages, it quickly becomes apparent that the images have been carefully sequenced and paired across the spreads by the artist. A sweat drenched silhouette of a sleeping body on tangled, dark grey sheets becomes almost painterly when presented alongside a small bronze sculpture of Hermes discovered in an antique shop and cradled in the phone owner’s hand. A photo of a gym-honed figure with arms outstretched gripping the ropes of a weights machine is shown next to a bust of a crying Madonna behind the reflective glass of a museum case. Khaled’s interweaving of the art historical with the everyday serves to reframe the contents of the lost mobile phone. It is not simply an uncategorized stream of amassed content, but a thoughtfully selected and curated collection of images and objects, and significant and insignificant encounters that afford a glimpse into, and a record of, the imagined owner’s lived experience.
Collecting and archiving as an everyday practice of contemporary life is an ongoing concern within Khaled’s practice and previous works, such as Proposal for a House Museum of an Unknown Crying Man (2017), which have explored the possibilities of the “house museum”a domestic space turned institution dedicated to the legacy of the person that lived there—as a means of memorializing anonymous and marginalized queer individuals. By presenting the imagined contents of the phone as a discreet volume and art object, Khaled challenges and disrupts archival and museological hierarchies and insists upon the value of this collection of intimate portraits, screengrabs, and blurred snapshots as an important archival record and commemoration of the anonymous phone’s owner. Safely wrapped in its black plastic sleeve, Fantasies on a Found Phone, Dedicated to the Man Who Lost it offers the lost mobile phone as both a museum and an archive that celebrates the quotidian pleasures of queer life and the public and private spaces in which it is enjoyed.