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Archive: Issue No. 40, December 2000

Go to the current edition for SA art News, Reviews & Listings.


19.12.00 Cape Town goes to play in the 'Toy Box'
19.12.00 'Cast' at the Bronze Age Foundry
12.12.00 Michaelis Student Exhibition
12.12.00 Steve McQueen at Michaelis Gallery
05.12.00 The Caution Horses of Stan Engelbrecht
19.12.00 Joubert Park Renaissance
19.12.00 'A.R.E.A. 2000' in Iceland




MCQP colourful party caracters


Cape Town goes to play in the 'Toy Box'
by Sue Williamson

The cavernous Good Hope Centre might not seem like a promising venue for the Mother City Queer Project Party 2000, held on Saturday, December 16, dependent as these events are on a variety of differently themed and decorated dance areas, but actually it all worked out just fine. The huge central area was devoted to the hardcore head-bangers and air punchers, and those partygoers who preferred something a little more retro to boogie to could find it in the Games Room or in Lala land. Lights, video screens and lasers activated the main space, and the smaller rooms and chill out areas were lavishly hung with metallic fringing and party decor

If there is one element that makes these parties quite unique, it is the insistence that everyone comes in costume and as part of a group. Brings out the tribal in one, and it's somehow much more amusing to witness the carryings on of a whole band of naughty little Noddys (the theme was 'Toy Box') than if there was just one of the perverse creatures. One of the best parts of the evening is watching all the different groups arrive, costumes at this stage still flawless and intact, and in turn pass under the ceiling-height fabric arch, get hit by the floodlights, and sashay down the stairs arm in arm to join the crowd. Here came the Voodoo Dolls, scarlet and black, bristling with fetish pins; the Smurfs, with their blue faces and torsos showing under sculptured white hats, their skintight white pants ending in outsize shoes; the Trolls, with their outrageously upswept orange and pink hairdos; and the Crayolas, each in a different coloured tube costume. At one stage, the Crayolas unrolled a banner which they turned into a giant crayon box, and posed in lines behind it. Nymphets who had the bodies to get away with it came as Barbies, Kens in their wake, simpering sweetly as onlookers told them they were perfect for the part, didn't even need a costume. There were several games of Snakes and Ladders on the go, Jigsaws, Legos, Train Sets, Yellow Cars, Dominoes, Cowboys and Indians. Towering above the crowd as usual in his dangerously high heeled boots, chief organiser Andre Vorster was a giant Jack in the Box.

As the evening wears on, the tribes inevitably fraternise with the enemy, and begin to intermingle. Sometimes one is grateful for this. In the Games Room at about three a.m., one partygoer with the outsized body of a Springbok front row and wearing nothing but a tiny furry G-string with a bunny tail pinned to the back and two bunny ears was jumping so manically on the dance floor one struggled to keep out of the way of his pounding feet. Thank goodness there was only one of him, and his fellow bunnies were rabbiting away elsewhere. Looking for respite in Lala Land, one was caught in the crossfire of the Water Pistol Warriors - if that's who they were. Cooo-ol.

As a good little Christmas Baby Doll, I was tucked up in bed by five a.m., but I hear that the party was still going on strong well into the next day. Good one, MCQP. See you next year.

Paul Edmonds

Paul Edmonds

Doreen Southwood

Doreen Southwood

'Cast' at the Bronze Age Foundry
by Sue Williamson

For many of the artists participating on 'Cast' at the Bronze Age Foundry in Simonstown, the invitation to take part in an exhibition of small bronzes came as a distinct departure from a current working mode, a challenge to produce a small, workable piece in a classic technique.

Many of the solutions were quite playful, and one got the feeling that the freedom to fool around with a new technique had been welcomed by most. Kevin Brand, co-instigator of the project, took a little diecast metal model car, and cast a whole fleet of them, daubing them casually with white enamel paint, a little smeared, and setting them up on pedestals to illustrate various basic art principles. Focal point: one car. Perspective: four cars converging on a point. Line quality four cars in a straight line. And so on. Cute.

What is the material most unlike bronze that one can imagine? Compacted polystyrene? Taking the supermarket trays used for packaging food, Paul Edmunds, rescuer of humble objects, added raised decorations in industrial metal style, thus patterning the undersurface. On the rich bronze finish of the final piece, under the gleamingly polished surface 'studs', one can still read the trademarks of the polystyrene tray. On another, he has simulated the patterning of cracked ceramic glaze on a tray, a disarming and slightly unsettling alchemy.

Doreen Southwood twists the classic Madonna and child sculpture mode with a witty, harried looking self-portrait piece of herself with not a child in her arms, but her white Maltese poodle, Miffy. Justine Mahoney also works with the human figure, producing half a dozen small female figures, from a pre-pubescent to a pregnant mother. Each has been painted in bright enamels. Small as they are, their perkiness and the neat and expressive way the figures had been rendered won the attention of many.

Having spent much of the early part of this year battling with his outsize public art bronze sculpture, Africa, based on a West African fetish figurine and Bart Simpson, Brett Murray must have been pleased to scale down a bit. Here, he casts a series of identical Action Man-type figures, pairing them as confrontational pairs: Muslim, Christian or Hutu, Tutsi, their identification an oval label in the base, but otherwise indistinguishable one from another.

Other exhibitors were Julia Clark, who updated the horse bronzes found in English cottages with contemporary South African motifs; Brendhan Dickerson with a trio of animal sculptures which included an ox with a bite out of its back, and Ilse Pahl, who attempted to transform, not all that successfully, bronze jelly moulds into a series of damaged crinoline like figures with the title of Once Upon a Time.

Until January 31, 2001

Bronze Age Foundry, King George Way, Simonstown
Tel: (021) 786-1816
Fax: (021) 786-2237

Candice Borzechowski

Candice Borzechowski
Black Jack (detail)
Cast paper

Lindi Sales

Lindi Sales
Paper, wood, lighting

Click through for full picture

Martin Jackson

Martin Jackson
Beads and mixed media

Michaelis Student Exhibition
by Paul Edmunds

To say that the more students change, the more they stay the same might sound insulting, but maybe I say this because I'm not too long out of art school myself. And I must admit that I felt a little intimidated by the catalogue produced for the show which I saw previous to visiting the exhibition. When I eventually saw the work my insecurity left me and was replaced by feelings of recognition as I saw work, some great, some not, which seemed to fit neatly into categories familiar to me. (I recall one of my lecturers looking at our work in first year and saying "Ah, every year there's a......" as they recognised a kind of work with which they were all too familiar). This is not to say though, that all the work is subject to easy categorisation. What has definitely clearly changed is the ability of students to produce work which appears professional and coherent. A wide range of media and a tendency to move in and out of various modes of artmaking contributes to this and makes for an exciting and lively viewing experience.

The catalogue mentioned above marks the first time at Michaelis that the students have produced such a document alongside their annual end of year exhibition. It is in full colour, square in format and gives an entire page, with documentation and text, to each 4th year, Postgraduate Diploma and Master's Degree student. It certainly is impressive and the committee which produced it could really consider it a part of their own body of work. It also reveals, however, that not every artist should be writer. Unfortunately I wasn't able to see all of the work as some of it was in rooms that were locked and no attendant was in evidence.

My colleague Sue Williamson tells me that behind one of the locked doors was the work of Lindi Sales, who has investigated the seafaring history of her family to China, and linked it to the development of the making of paper in that country. Sales is a printmaker, and has constructed a series of large wall boxes which chronicle those early peregrinations in highly detailed, three dimensional form, like small theatre sets. The sense of looking into a magical world is heightened by strings of small lights glowing behind the paper cutouts.

One of the most visually coherent and imposing bodies of work I did see was that produced by fourth year sculpture student Michele Mathison. Along with classmates Candice Borzechowski and Jennifer Munro, his work occupies the vast open theatre-type area above the Hiddingh library and together these form the most memorable group of exhibits. A vast arrangement of robot-shaped clear plastic juice bottles sits in mesmerising rows on the stage. It is flanked on one side by a huge newspaper dot image of Robert Mugabe, formed by holes cut into plywood which is painted red. On the other side is a large red support covered in rows of cast wax hands gesturing as if to form a gun with their fingers. In front of these, on a lower stage, is a collection of the plaster moulds presumably used to cast the hands. Their opposing sides facing one another, the row of moulds looks like a line of glyphs or letters. The visual language is consistent, professional and convincing, but I found myself unable to penetrate the work. With such a loaded image as that of Mugabe, and the pistol-like hand gestures I searched for links or a narrative but found none. Mathison's accompanying text was a little convoluted and hard to decipher and made no mention of any of the specific players in his work. Perhaps some more clues, or none at all, would have served the work better. Munro, using bike parts, bits of furniture and various other found objects and materials has created a series of lyrical and enjoyable works. They sit, many of them chair-like, between the functional and the useless. She has accompanied her pieces with a fairly detailed explanation of her methods and intentions, but unfortunately this is not very well written and reveals a bit too much. The paradoxical and unresolved qualities of her work function adequately, and the text serves only to demystify her process, narrowing an interpretation to a comparison between the works and her explanation thereof. Candice Borzechowski is showing three works based on body casts. Two male figures, made from cast paper, Everyman Jack and Black Jack, stand uncomfortably, the first a little contorted and on a diving board and the second blackened by flame. A female figure, Candy Girl, made in fibreglass and resin, her torso, supported by two upside down arms and one central leg, is home to a stripped-down monitor (Although, for security purposes, a video machine was not left in place when I saw it, this monitor plays an animated film made by the artist entitled Bridging Faith.) The tension between the figures and their sheer physicality makes them succeed, but although she appears to pursue an idea to its conclusion, I felt unsure of exactly what the work was about. I suppose though, that an artists' career is a continuous process of clarifying one's expression and finding more appropriate language, and as such, her work is well on the way.

One of the great privileges of being a student is the nearly unlimited time and space one has to produce work. The freedom from storage problems, the resources and networks, the equipment and comradeship leave one at liberty to produce nearly anything. Although I myself felt it at the time, there is really no pressure to produce the grande peinture; experiments and doodles can suffice. With digital media such work can even look finished and complete. Graphic works by Design and New Media student Justine Ellis reveal just this. Small digital prints with religious images, words and textual extracts rendered in lush textures and rich hues address a broad range of clearly spelt out themes. Their sophisticated appearance belies the simplicity of the ideas which underpin them.

Martine Jackson, in the same class, chooses a potentially winning formula for her graphic works. The size of the works and her rather obvious choice of images eventually let her down, though. Beaded images, one of a South African bank note, another of a Coca-Cola logo with Ndebele motifs are appealing and have a distinct South African flavour. But the images are slightly flaccid and the large format is unforgiving, resulting in works which are unwieldy. Unfortunately the beads are glued down rather than woven and this does them no good service. Her accompanying digital prints employ similar images and pose, very self-consciously and didactically, questions about the status of crafts and other issues.

Painter Andrew Westcott's Neurotickles seem to come from doodles and fall into the trap that paintings from doodles can. Formally they don't always succeed and their "anything goes" lack of discrimination renders them indecipherable and indistinct from each other. Photography student Claire Breukel's Cast in Concrete is a composite photographic image made from several city buildings and several perspectives. Divided up into tiles and covering the walls of a small dark room the image encroaches on the viewer and is difficult to look at. The work is compelling, but the tiling, I feel, distracts from its power: the single image in the catalogue is more successful.

Body casts; red, white and black colour schemes; bodily fluids; sexuality and autobiography are well tried and tested in student art and this exhibition proves to be no exception. As always, though, some of this succeeds and some doesn't manage to transcend work that has been done before. Printmaker Nicola Deane's work reveals the inevitable fascination with the body, sexuality and the sensual. On frozen bed, her spreadeagled chicken carcasses are toyed with by disembodied hands. With titles like Lust and Regret, the drama and gore is a little too much for me, but her engagement with the printmaking tradition is admirable. A self portrait consists of a series of chocolate casts of her labia in various "poses". This reveals another aspect of the student show: the influence of Michaelis predecessors and other Cape Town artists is very clear. Here we see Veronique Malherbe, elsewhere Julia Clark and Jane Henderson. This is of course not a bad thing, just part of the process of absorption and observation integral to any kind of study.

Other work which sticks in my mind are landscape photographs by Nicolette Reinecke which seem to obliquely examine the notion of boundaries and limits. Lizza Littlewort's intense psychological studies are rendered in gestural, bold brushstrokes and are perhaps most successful where they are understated. For indulgence sake, Frances Sanders' Optical Candy delivers the goods, but the paintings are perhaps let down technically by her line and shape which are not quite as tight as the medium demands.

It is always hard to look at the work of students at different stages of their studies without forgetting that some are more advanced than others and it is not always appropriate to compare their work. Despite the professional appearance of much of the work, I think it is important to bear in mind that it is work by students, and as such should not perhaps be held up to the same sort of scrutiny as work by more mature artists. With that in mind, and with just a little jealousy of the freedom of studenthood, the show proves both familiar and surprising, both very impressive but not quite as intimidating as the catalogue might have you believe.

The show closes on December 21

Michaelis School of Fine Art, Hiddingh Campus, 31 - 37 Upper Orange Street, Cape Town
Tel/Fax: (021) 480-7114

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen
Five Easy Pieces 1995
16mm b&w film/ video transfer/ silent/ 7'34"

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen
Bear 1993
16mm b&w film/ video transfer/ silent/ 10'35"

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen
Dead Pan 1995
16mm b&w film/ video transfer/ silent

Steve McQueen at the Michaelis Gallery
by Sue Williamson

The room is dark. The floor shines. On the screen which fills the back wall, five men, seen from above, are swiveling their hips and hula hooping. The angle of the camera and the strong sunlight makes the shadows of the men easier to read than the actual figures. Cut. We see the back view of a woman reaching up and out of the frame, shot from an angle behind and slightly below her bottom. She is swaying up and down in calm, measured movement. Cut. Feet walk along a tightrope. Cut. The figure of black man is floating on his back in water. We do not see his head. Cut. Back to a hula hooper. Now the camera is looking up at the man, focussed on his crotch as he rhythmically rotates his hips to keep the hula hoop in motion. It is a powerful, erotic image. Cut. The film is in black and white. There is no sound. We are watching Steve McQueen's Five Easy Pieces.

British artist McQueen, (31) winner of the 1999 Turner Prize, studied at Goldsmith's College in London in the early 90s, decided he didn't want to be an artist but a filmmaker, so went to New York in 1993 to study that at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. At the end of that period, he came to the conclusion he didn't really want to be a filmmaker either. In the work that he has developed since then, one can see a synthesis of these two forms of the creative arts. The language of film used in a very controlled, largely non-narrative way. Performance art blown up much larger than life size on a screen in an enclosed space, intended to draw the viewer in, to become very aware of the act of watching.

In Deadpan, the artist stands with his back to a two-storey wooden frame house. On the wall behind him, there is one, high window. The wall falls towards him. It is clearly a set up, a staged piece of action, and as we anticipate, the window space passes over the head and shoulders of the standing figure as it crashes to the ground. So yes, we know it has been carefully planned, but what if the artist wavers for a moment, involuntarily takes a step to the side, ducks his head, changes his position fractionally? The action is repeated again and again, shot from different angles, yet the tension doesn't let up, not for ourselves, not for the courageously rigid figure on the screen. McQueen tells students at Michaelis in a discussion group that in the incident which inspired the piece, a scene from a film starring the master of deadpan, Buster Keaton, the actor had his shoes nailed to the ground to keep him in position. Deadpan could be read as a poetic metaphor for life, emphasising the importance of maintaining a position one knows to be correct no matter what might be happening around one.

In Bear, McQueen takes the role of one of a pair of naked men who circle each other, in combat or in dance, engaging, pulling away. An unknown ritual is being played out with grace and power. It is not always possible to tell whether the protagonists are grimacing in pain and anger or laughing at the pleasure of being involved in intense physical action with a close companion. The camera itself is a third participant, a referee, an admirer, as it ducks and dives, catching the action, sometimes lying on its back and looking up at the two circling figures. The viewer is the fourth.

The exhibition of four McQueen films at the Michaelis Gallery is the second leg of a tour of the show organised by the fledgling Institute of Contemporary Art, of which the director is Thomas Mulcaire. The first showing was at the Sala Mendoza, in Caracas, Venezuela, and the third will be at the Museum of Modern Art at Sao Paulo. Mulcaire's plan is to circulate three such initiatives a year, thus pulling Cape Town into an international loop.

In support of Mulcaire's ICA, McQueen came out to Cape Town for his show. He is an immensely likeable, straightforward and direct person. He did not seem to think that it was in any way exceptional for him as a leading international artist to take the trouble to make himself available for interaction with the students, and for a lengthy discussion session about his work. One of the questions he was asked was whether as a black artist, his work should be read as being about racism. McQueen denied it. "I'm just interested to make work which happens to show people who are black," he responded. "I don't have to explain myself to anyone, I don't have to deal with anyone else's question, and that's it."

Five Easy Pieces, Deadpan, and Bear are being shown, one a week, until December-----, in the Michaelis Art Gallery, which has been converted into a video projection space. A fourth film, Exodus, is continously on view on a monitor in the foyer of the space. A catalogue is available.

The exhibition opens on November 29 and closes December 22

Michaelis Gallery, Hiddingh Campus, 31 - 37 Upper Orange Street, Cape Town
Tel/Fax: (021) 480-7114

Stan Engelbrecht

Stan Engelbrecht
The Caution Horses
Black and white photograph

Stan Engelbrecht

Stan Engelbrecht
The Caution Horses
Black and white photograph

The Caution Horses of Stan Engelbrecht
by Sue Williamson

Young photographer Stan Engelbrecht spent some months in the Namib desert recently slowly making himself known and beginning to be accepted by the wild horses that live there. He derives the title of his exhibition from a road sign which warns passing motorists to beware of the horses.

Wild horses in a desert present a romantic and attractive subject with a number of pitfalls: the wrong handling can easily lead to the sort of decorative photographic results to be found on posters on the bedroom walls of teenage girls. On the technical side, as in all animal photography, lighting can be very tricky. Engelbrecht succeeds in some cases, but not in all. In the best pictures, in which the edges of the film frame are retained, the relationship between the horses themselves and to the camera is affecting - a mare gazes towards the viewer, whilst her stallion, in hazy silhouette, pokes around anxiously in the background. The akward lighting which keeps most of the face of the mare in shadow does not detract from the result. The rough and unkempt textures of the horses coats attests to their wildness.

In a number of other images, however, the photographer has succumbed to tight cropping, giving us horizontal lineups of horses heads divorced from their bodies. These shots sit uncomfortably with the full frame images, and seem to diminish the authenticity of the whole. In my view, the show would have been more cohesive and stronger if all the photographs had been printed full frame and in a narrow range of sizes. Nonetheless, Engelbrecht provides us with an original view of a desert world.

Until December 24

105 Bree Street, Cape Town (opposite Riebeek St Parking)
Tel: 082 928-6586

Robin Rhode

Robin Rhode
Wall drawing and performance

Bongi Dhlomo

Bongi Dhlomo and Madiba get up close and personal


Joubert Park Renaissance
by Kathryn Smith

Yeah, yeah, so the renaissance thing is a bit tired. But had you been involved in last weekend's event's at Joubert Park, even as a spectator, you would have witnessed something that's been a long time coming - the park community pretty much reclaiming the park and the Johannesburg Art Gallery - as their own, through performance, dance, visual arts and general hyperactive energy.

Initiated by Dutch culture worker Jack Mensink as part of a project called So Where To? which focused on the cultural regeneration of certain areas in greater Johannesburg, Joubert Park was identified as an area replete with contradictions, community and failed attempts at regentrification. An area once prized for its placement close to both the inner city and the entertainment hotspot of Hillbrow up until the 1980's, it now bears the brunt of urban decay.

Crime and abuse aside (the statistics from the surrounding areas are radically bad), Joubert Park has its own distinctive communities, with a greenhouse, oversized chess board, community centre, clinic and day care centre all oversubscribed. Church groups fill the area with movement and music on weekends, and park photographers aggressively hustle for clients, whom they pose against the fa�ade of the JAG that skulks defensively in the midst of what is ostensibly a microcosm of the African continent.

Taking over where Mensink left off is the Joubert Park Project, an independent collective of artists, facilitators and curators headed by Bie Venter and Dorothee Kreutzfeldt, who have been running workshops in photography and performance for the past few months. Jo Ractliffe, Rory Bester and the Market Theatre Photo Workshop's John Fleetwood form part of the core group.

The Open Day (and the JPP in general) should not be represented as 'a bunch of whiteys pulling in and sorting out the situation'. Firstly, the quite literal self-imposed barricading of the JAG from the park life (the staff opened the doors out to the park for the first time in months for the Open Day) bespeaks a realm of problems that have to do with a fear, or even worse, an unwillingness to tackle a changed dispensation head on. Yes, they are short staffed, and have been plagued with major structural problems resulting in flooding. Renovations, successful to greater and lesser degrees, are currently underway, but to restore the gallery to its former glory (it does have excellent collections) doesn't really address the more pressing problems of how the gallery can be significant for an immediate community whose needs are more fundamental than high-end art appreciation.

Secondly, the Project has been very self-conscious about how they tackle their roles as facilitators. Their first phase involved the freelance park photographers in a series of workshops to hone their skills, the results of which were exhibited at the Open Day. A studio was set up in the downstairs gallery for the day, including a mobile cutout of Mandela and an enlarged copy of a portrait from the gallery's collection (with its face cut out), used by participants in performance workshops, that clients could be photographed with.

A number of young artists, including Mark Dunlop, Usha Seejarim and Robin Rhode led workshops ranging from Dunlop's stunning 'Urban Alphabet' project (participants had to 'find' and photograph the 26 letters of the alphabet in the surrounding environment) to Seejarim's paperbag lanterns that ended the day on a sublime level, and Rhode's collaborative performance drawings that had kids playing musical chairs, enacting a mugging, throwing actual cans at a 'security camera', and acting like lovers on a park bench.

In addition to a brilliant 'speech bubble' project that had people draping stencilled soundbytes from love songs across the large sculptures in the park (Gavin Younge's piece rather piquantly proclaimed 'There's so much I want to say') and creating dialogue on park benches, actresses Amanda Lane and Nicole Abel produced an astonishing series of vignettes that had participants becoming 'talking sculptures', the imagery of which was gleaned from photographs taken by the park lensmen.

The taxi ranks that surround the park, along with a plethora of informal traders, service over 90 destinations in Africa. The ownership of the streets that they've successfully achieved is a big factor in the drastic drop in foot traffic in the gallery. The city is currently involved in a major move to redesign these areas so as to provide easier access to all services, formal and informal alike. The taxis are slowly being relocated (at times under much duress) to Jack Mincer Square, and as of next year, rerouting of the roads into a systems of entry and exit will hopefully present bottlenecking, gridlock and general congestion of road systems.

The workshops did not bypass the inherent difficulties posed by the environment but presented anecdotal and experiential accounts related in the first person. A series of speakers including Bongi Dhlomo and Clive van den Berg gave a variety of perspectives on how to tackle the rich possibilities of public art, and a documentary film of the entire process was shot by the Trinity Session, Daniel Hirschman and Amichai Tahor, which will be shown during phase 3 - the public art day scheduled for July 2001.

The JPP is ongoing, with the aim of creating a level of sustainability such that the leaders of communities within the park will continue working. The most interesting aspect of the project thus far was the diagnosis sought from a group of local sangomas, who interviewed JAG director Rochelle Keene, and blessed the door to the JAG at the start of the Open Day. Unfortunately, Keene was unable to attend the day. Neither could the JAG come up with anything other than verbal support to encourage the ongoing work of the independent project, which is, as far as I can see, doing the majority of the work that the JAG should have been engaging in themselves months ago. It's a strange thing when such responsibility is blithely handed over to another party. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sangoma revealed the increasing invisibility of JAG on the South African cultural horizon to be a result of structures within. While the well-intended philanthropical desires of such projects are often sneered at when initiated by a group of umlungus, the bottom line is that it is all too easy to write off a zone when the situation becomes complex. Just because major businesses have relocated to Sandton does not mean that the inner city no longer exists. Out of sight, out of mind does not comply. Instead, the 'retrek' into the city, as Rodney Place would have it, as it is being populated by new groups of people, offers a range of possibilities that can focus the job of culture.

The Joubert Park Project is seeking proposals for the public art day in July 2001. For more information, contact Bie Venter on 083 728 5606 or

Jeremy Wafer

Jeremy Wafer
Anthole, 2000
Video projection
Dimensions variable

Claudette Schreuders

Claudette Schreuders
Belonging (detail), 2000
Wood, enamel

Thembi Goniwe

Opening crowds in front of:
Thembi Goniwe
Communication XYZ, 2000
Video, digital prints


'A.R.E.A. 2000' in Iceland
by Kathryn Smith

As one of the artists privileged enough to have travelled to Reykjavik for this show [see diary], it can be tricky to separate yourself from an amazing experience and look critically at something you played a role in helping create.

As these things go, what with budgets being funding-reliant and the like, the time between being considered for the show and needing to get work there (and if you're lucky, yourself too) was fairly long and quiet, followed by an intense rush of energy as money, transport and travel all got confirmed within weeks of each other.

Curated by Gavin Younge, the title of the exhibition revealed his strategy that sought to go beyond the heavily-criticized 'survey show' and focus on issues of space and place. Unfortunately, the title is also an acronym, standing for 'Art Region End of Africa', which strikes me as a bit cheesy, as well as somehow playing to the 'exotic europeans' amongst us who may still entertain some fantasies about Africa. But that's another discussion altogether.

Featuring 18 artists and one collective (the Egazini project from Grahamstown) - which brought the total number of individual artists represented to an ambitious 47 - the exhibition was installed in three spaces in the amply-appointed Listasafn Reykjavikur Kjarvalsstadir, a municipal gallery with dynamic communications and education departments, a great caf� and book shop and gregarious director Eirukur Thorlaksson, who is a walking Icelandic encyclopaedia and historian.

Interrogation of space is, needless to say, always a pertinent point of reference with regards to the politics of post-Apartheid South African cultural production. As David Koloane has pointed out elsewhere, "Apartheid was a politics of space more than anything. If you look at the 1913 and 1916 Land Acts they are all about space, and much of Apartheid legislation was denying people the right to move. It's all about space, restricting space...Claiming art is also reclaiming space."

Space in these terms is not simply physical, but also emotional and psychical. Speeches at the opening were made in front of Terry Kurgan's Vita-winning work Lost and Found, which formed a spectacular backdrop of ghostly presences, spectres from the past that so deeply informed every level of this exhibition for the host country.

Alongside Kurgan's work was Andries Botha's series of latex wall panels and video monitors, facing off against each other in a dialogue of legislation, personal journey and a corporealized politics. In a glass-facaded bay to the left of this installation, the works of the Egazini print collective, interrogating contexts around the historic Battle of Grahamstown, hung in a mini-exhibition of their own.

The rest of the show was hung in a pristine white-walled gallery, for which specially-designed internal walls and partitions had been built. On entering the space, Bonny Alice's Turf installation occupied a right hand bay, facing Senzeni Marasela's Cradock Four textile work, produced during her participation in SANG's 'Fresh' residency program. Turf uses the spaces and identity politics of football to interrogate issues around ownership and community, as well as spatial intervention in the broadest sense, painting three views of a sheet of corrugated iron onto a football pitch at a Berea school.

Berni Searle's Vita work Red Pool, Blue Mark, Black Stain neatly shared a three-screen projection loop with Greg Streak's Dreams in Red, Leaving (Blue) and Jaundiced (Yellow) , both artists using colour or pigment as a trope to explore identity and place. Speaking of Streak's work, Younge's catalogue essay puts it thus: "All index pigment as an agent and all evoke human presence as a reagent." This is not inappropriate for Searle's work.

Stephen Hobbs' Grey Area: Reconstituted performed an anthropology of urban signifiers, in this case focusing on the presence of Ponte City as a landmark on the Johannesburg horizon. A video piece compiled fragments of previous works dealing with this space, photographs documented context and spectacle, and a wall text some 2,5 metres high borrowed from texts written about the building, presented as a concrete poem that echoed its physical shape.

Using the strategies and methods of cartography, Angela Ferreira attempted to place the personal (video images of her childhood home in Maputo photographed in the 50's and now) within the broader framework of mapping. The videos were projected onto two screens built to replicate (in 3D) the gnomonic and 'Robinson projections' of representing the globe on a two dimensional surface. An equally effective projection device was employed by Jeremy Wafer in his video tracking the activity of an anthole. The film was projected onto the floor in the round, such that one's path was suddenly activated by a flickering, almost ephemeral surface. Beautiful.

With other artists including Thembi Goniwe, Jane Alexander, William Kentridge, Claudette Schreuders, Stephen Inggs, Jo Ractliffe, Mark Haywood, Sophie Peters, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Sue Williamson and myself, there was an over-riding sense of photography, or print-based works, and sculpture. It is also interesting to note that there was not a single painting in the traditional sense, included on the show. The use of technologically sophisticated media, like digital printing and video, was picked up on in interviews with the local media, who asked very frank questions about the place of these media in 'African art', but without the sense of 'this is not what we expected' that can so often inform such situations.

This is the first exhibition of contemporary South African art in Iceland, and as such, a certain 'introductory' approach needs to be engaged with. This presupposes a presentation of a variety of critical practices, rather than an intense interrogation of a few issues. Survey shows in mind, what the strategy embedded in the title had the potential to do was act as an editing tool for an otherwise huge task. And for the most part, I would think that Younge's strategy was effective in keeping things relatively specific content-wise, but in so doing, broadening the playing field to encompass so many of the issues we face on a daily basis. Having said that, the show could easily have been smaller - it is a lot to take in, both visually and content-wise.

All in all, for a dedicated follower of South African art fashion, the exhibition may have seemed somewhat pedestrian, with either familiar works or names comprising most of the show. On the other hand, the inclusion of artists like Greg Streak and Thembi Goniwe provided the space for younger voices to emerge from what is often a group of the usual suspects.

After the incredible hospitality extended to us and the interest shown in not only our work, but the broader context of South Africa, we heard nothing from the South African ambassador to Iceland, to whom a special invitation had been sent. Embarrassing, given that Reyjavik had pulled out all the stops, but depressingly unsurprising.

Consul to Iceland is ex-ANC man Cyril Ramaphosa, would you believe? He contributed a preface to the catalogue, explicitly stating the "comfort" he derived from " the knowledge that half of the 47 artists represented on this exhibition are black, and that originality was the only yardstick." Asked what he wanted to achieve with the show, Thorlaksson said this: " I wanted to see how the artists of South Africa today are dealing with being artists in South Africa today - knowing what they know of themselves, their society and the world which to be found outside of South Africa. I think the show does that in a powerful way. It has been very successful in opening the eyes of the guests to the social and cultural reality of South Africa - not as a stereo-type, but as a living and breathing entity, that the artists are struggling the cope with along with their fellow South-Africans. The expectations of those less aware of the art world were mostly around traditional African hand-craft and related art; the expectations of those more aware were to see to which extent the artists of South Africa had been able to integrate western and 'southern' traditions into a single artistic visual language. This is very different from the contemporary art scene in Iceland, where social issues are almost non-existant, but most art is (with great simplification) focused on form, method, inner-self or environmental (nature) issues."

With regards to the political framing of the show from our side, the next step would be to put our money where our mouths are and bring some Icelandic work to our shores. We've had enough exhibitions of 'Art From South Africa' abroad - we now need to reciprocate.

The museum's website is at

November 17 to January 5, 2001

Reykjavik Art Museum, Flokagata, 105 Reykjavik.