artthrob artthrob

Archive: Issue No. 44, April 2001

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

Thomas Mulcaire

Thomas Mulcaire and
Craigie Horsfield
Johnny, 2000
Installation view, Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels
Photo: Manfred Jade

Thomas Mulcaire

Thomas Mulcaire and
Craigie Horsfield
Johnny, 2000
Installation view, Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels
Photo: Manfred Jade

Thomas Mulcaire

Marko Peljhan
Makrolab, 1997-2000 Installation view on Rottnest Island, Freemantle, from the exhibition 'Home', Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 2000

Thomas Mulcaire

Thomas Mulcaire
Liam Gillick's Odradek Wall (1998) reflected in Donald Judd's Blue Stack Piece (1980)
Installation view, Odradek, Centre for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, New York, 1998

Thomas Mulcaire

Installation view, Centre for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, New York

Thomas Mulcaire

Thomas Mulcaire and
Joseph Kpobly
Some Polychrome Wood Sculptures (aka The Reading Room), 1998
Installation view, Sao Paolo Biennale, 1998

A feature on an artist in the public eye.

Thomas Mulcaire
by Kathryn Smith

Modus operandi:

After five years of working abroad on major projects and exhibitions, curator and artist Thomas Mulcaire recently returned to South Africa to establish the Institute of Contemporary Art in Cape Town. One of our best-connected contemporary visual cultural workers, Mulcaire has selected Cape Town as home base for a number of provocative reasons.

Within the next ten years, a space is planned for the ICA that will have museum dimensions but not operate in the traditional museum fashion. "I intend in the next ten years, to do three shows a year which will raise the consciousness of Cape Town, particularly in relation to art, to the level where it's possible to put a museum in the city and have an audience," says Mulcaire.

"Cape Town is the point of most need. It's a space where you have very serious intellectual people working in an environment which is not urgent from an economic or social level. There are violent and urgent aspects to Cape Town certainly, but generally it's a city that is not in the vanguard of economic and social development in this country. It should be, as it has always occupied a special place in this country's history as the oldest point of contact. And coloured people could vote until as late as 1957. So its always occupied a slightly more fluid and ambiguous relationship to race than the rest of the country, but by the same token, it's always been the hotbed of race theory. So it needs to be integrated into the rest of the country - it also has a big desert between it and the rest of South Africa. It's really an isolated place with a very special community of artists, intellectuals, writers, filmmakers."


Having recently completed the Cape Town leg of the touring exhibition by British artist Steve McQueen, Mulcaire is currently consulting in a private capacity to a new Apartheid Museum being built at Gold Reef City in Johannesburg. The next ICA project is a conference, originally designed as a post-'blank_architecture apartheid and after' event, but now planned to extend beyond the initial framework of that exhibition to speak to issues of representation in contested situations. That is, to look at how complexity can be represented. Scheduled for late June, he hopes to attract artists, film makers, critics and academics to the two-day event.

Before that:

Johnny, which took place at the Palais de Beaux Arts in Brussels in 2000 in collaboration with British photographer Craigie Horsfield, was an 80-day event that attempted to get the multipartite and divisive national cultural institutions who occupy the Palais to interact - the building contains the Philharmonic Society, the Exhibition Society, a film museum, a theatre institution, and Flemish music and dance company. Mulcaire and Horsfield devised the model for the first interdisciplinary event. Events crossed physical space via projection, an inflatable elephant which addressed the crowd below topped the roof, and Mulcaire and Horsfield devised a film set in the great hall with 100 tables and 300 chairs arranged as if for a banquet. The great hall is the only space that is 'public' and everyone in the building crosses it. Plan was for each institution to be responsible for arranging the tables on different days. In the event, those who were supposed to participate didn't, and as such, the space was dysfunctional, but the curators kept rearranging the space for the duration of the event.

Home, curated under the auspices of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, featured Marco Peljhan's Makrolab, a self-contained living and working environment designed to withstand extreme conditions in isolated environments, an evolving organism designed to evolve while having a minimal impact on its surrounds. A live video conferencing link connected the lab, located on an island off the mainland, to the gallery exhibition. Other artists included David Goldblatt, Kendell Geers, Sarah Morris, Lucy Orta, Raymond Carver, Sarah Morris, Djibril Diop Mambety and others.

In 1998, Mulcaire, this time as an artist, collaborated with Joseph Kpobly on a piece for the Sao Paulo Biennale. They created a film set designed as a reading room containing books dealing with issues of colonialism and cultural absorption and mutation, a historical phenomenon that is "cannibalistic in its intents", says Mulcaire. Created site-specifically, it focused on Brazilian contacts and relationships and while people felt comfortable to sit and read, a sense of self-consciousness was built in by the presence of stage lights and cameras.

And before that:

Mulcaire left the Department of Fine Arts at Wits University after his first year, frustrated with what he perceived as the 'conservativeness' of the teaching at a time in this country's history that seemed to be about more pressing issues than the navel-gazing attitudes of modernism. He spent a year travelling abroad and returned, graduating with a BA in 1993. He then got involved with the first Johannesburg Biennale as exhibitions co-ordinator. During this time, he met the soon-to-be director of Documenta X, Catherine David, and was invited to assist her on what is probably the most high-profile contemporary art exhibition in the world .

Post-Documenta gave rise to Odradek, a project that took place at the Centre for Curatorial Studies Museum at Bard College in New York. Taken from a story by Franz Kafka, the odradek is a fugitive object resembling a five-sided spool of yarn that lives under the staircase, but moves between houses. A type of humble oracle, the odradek may be asked questions, but answers in an abstract manner. As Mulcaire says, "it was the closest thing you could come to a definition of art as I was thinking of it in 1998. Art is most interesting when it occupies a space beyond utility. The exercise of the exhibition was to try and deal with the odradek without instrumentalising it in any way. Paradoxically but quite obviously it failed in what it set out to do, as it's impossible to interpret something without being bound by language. Odradek included Liam Gillick, Art & Language, Kendell Geers, Donald Judd, Jeff Wall and others.

Next up:

Mulcaire is working to finalise the ICA programme for this year, which includes a film collaboration between Austrian artist Peter Friedl and unknown-outside-of-subculture-circles musician Daniel Johnston. Johnston, writer of superbly quirky and beautiful lyrics is scheduled to play a gig in South Africa that will be filmed by Friedl. Other people on his hit-list for the near future include Dan Graham, Sarah Morris, David Goldblatt, Liam Gillick and Marco Peljhan.

Selected curriculum vitae:

Thomas Mulcaire was born in Johannesburg on Christmas Day, 1971. He graduated in 1993 from the University of the Witwatersrand with a BA in History of Art and English Literature. He is currently the director of the Institute for Contemporary Art in Cape Town.


Exhibitions (curated):
September - October 2000: Steve McQueen, Sala Mendoza, Caracas
November - December 2000: Institute for Contemporary Art, Cape Town
April - June 2001: Museu de Arte Moderna de Sao Paolo
12 July - 30 August 2000: Johnny (in collaboration with Craigie Horsfield), Palais de Beaux-Arts, Brussels
February - April 2000: Home, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
20 September - 18 December 1998: Odradek, Centre for Curatorial Studies Museum, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
21 June - 28 September 1997: Assistant Curator: documenta X, Kassel, Germany

Exhibitions (supervised/co-ordinated):
November 1998 - December 1999: The Trial of Pol Pot (Philippe Parreno and Liam Gillick), Le Magasin, Grenoble
28 February - 30 April 1995: Co-ordinator of Exhibitions: 1995 Johannesburg Biennale
Exhibitions (artist):
23 January - 6 March 1999: Quelques Sculptures Polychromes (a.k.a the reading room), in collaboration with Joseph Kpobly, Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris
October - December 1998: XXIV Sao Paulo Bienal, Sao Paulo, Brazil
June - October 1998: The Jetty, intervention in Marko Peljhan's project 'Sundown', Manifesta 2, Luxembourg
April - May 1994: Bite the Ballot, Market Theatre Galleries, Johannesburg
Selected Published Work:
: Steve McQueen: Introduction, in 'Steve McQueen', exhibition catalogue, Sala Mendoza, Caracas, Institute for Contemporary Art, Cape Town, Museu de Arte Moderna de Sao Paolo
2000: Home exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Spring 2000: The Fifth Annual New York African Film Festival, in 'Nka: Journal of African Contemporary Art, Number 9, New York
September 1999: Alvaro Siza: Serralves Museum, 'Nu: Journal of Nordic Art', Vol. 1, Issue 2,
Fall 1998: The Film Installations of Steve McQueen in 'Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art', No. 7, New York
1998: The Tempest with Lorna Ferguson in 'XXIV Bienal de Sao Paulo, catalogue of the XXIV Sao Paulo Bienal
Summer-Fall 1997: Inclusion/Exclusion in Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, number 6, New York
1997: Joachim Schonfeldt in 'Inklusion/Exklusion: Kunst im Zeitalter von Postkolonialismus und global Migration', Pieter Wiebel (ed.), DuMont Buchverlag, Koln
October 1996: Interview with Okwui Enwezor in 'Flash Art', vol. XXIX no. 190, Milan