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Archive: Issue No. 46, June 2001

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


19.06.01 Millennium II opening in Johannesburg
19.06.01 Honorary Doctorate in Fine Art for David Goldblatt
19.06.01 DaimlerChrysler award for sculpture 2002 underway
19.06.01 Sue Williamson's Madrid diary
12.06.01 Gustavo Artigas and the art of mud wrestling
12.06.01 SA artists for Videobrasil 2001
12.06.01 Sue Williamson's New York diary 3
07.06.01 Emma Bedford in Venice - day one
05.06.01 Venice Biennale preview
05.06.01 Vita Art Prize: Excellence or artistic engagement?
05.06.01 Paul Sibisi joins the BAT Centre
29.05.01 Sue Williamson's New York diary 2
29.05.01 Grahamstown festival preview
22.05.01 Sue Williamson's New York diary 1
22.05.01 Yinka Shonibare in conversation with Kathryn Smith

The Millennium II gallery in Rosebank

The Millennium II gallery - work in progress

The Millennium II gallery under construction this week

Millennium II opening in Johannesburg
by Kathryn Smith

In January this year, I reported on the closure of four spaces in Johannesburg. Since then, I have written about the opening of Art on Paper in Melville and PhotoZA in Rosebank and listed shows taking place, albeit not regularly, at Parktown College's new space. In addition to this, Alastair Findlay's "showcase" (a window opposite popular Italian eaterie Franco's in Parkview) has featured one artist a month for the past three months and shows no signs of stopping. I now have the great pleasure of announcing the opening of yet another new, independent space - the Millennium II.

This is the big sister of Pretoria's Millennium Gallery. Owner Ronel van der Vyver decided just over a year ago that it was time to expand. The Pretoria art market is small, despite being very supportive of its artists. It is also fairly conservative, which translates into good commerce. The move to Johannesburg, she says, is a result of all these factors, with the idea being to capture significant buying niches in the market and provide Johannesburg artists, both young and established, with a new space to show their work.

The gallery, which is a transformed Rosebank homestead, is spacious - 250 square meters of space. Almost too large for any one solo exhibition, it has several focal points that can be worked to flow into one another, or which can be successfully screened off to create separate, intimate spaces. A barrel-vaulted wine cellar provides an ideal video or multimedia installation room.

The space is headed up by Sue Glanville, producer of the Seeing Ourselves series of documentaries on South African artists, Project Room manager and media co-ordinator for the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale. Once the space is up and running, it will be Glanville's project. Van der Vyver will remain overall Millennium manager and will be based at the space in Pretoria.

Now I have been the first to criticise the Pretoria gallery for poor administration and invigilation. To be honest, I haven't been back since I saw an exhibition by Kevin Brand. The installation was good, the work was superb, but there were no lights on, there was bad water damage in the space and no gallery assistant to be found.

That aside, they represent some interesting artists. Often, some real "blasts from the past" can be found in their store and show rooms (Wayne Barker's Zulu Lulu paintings, for example).

Van der Vyver wet her dealing feet in the United States and she has extended her services in Pretoria to include framing. With no disrespect to artist-run spaces, neither Van der Vyver or Glanville are practising artists in the conventional sense. Van der Vyver has an accountant's background and Glanville, in addition to vast experience in all aspects of visual art (including painting and art history at Wits University), recently completed a course in art marketing. This bodes well, and should not be confused with selling out - artists always enjoy a good and profitable sale.

Glanville says: "The vision is to establish a strategically networked local gallery that will effectively promote and market a diverse range of work by contemporary South African and African artists both locally and internationally and create links and affiliations both within South Africa, the southern African region and the continent. The gallery will also show the work of select African artists working in the Diaspora."

Negotiating South Africa's place within the global art market, encouraging dialogue between South African "centres" and shying from local regionalism, interrogating "black buying power" by moving away from white-biased spaces and facilitating professional practice and understanding between corporates and artists are all in the pipeline, as are information resources, online print cabinets and a reading room with the option to purchase local and international publications.

As Glanville notes, there is an energy in the Johannesburg art scene that has become less about the no-holds-barred desire for global recognition and more about a certain introspection and taking stock, which seems to plot the way forward for the planned exhibitions for 2001. Willem Boshoff will show alongside Andrew Munnik, Clifford Charles alongside Sandile Zulu (with guest artists), Retha Erasmus will curate an exhibition of young contemporaries and a Doris Bloom exhibition is also planned.

The launch exhibition features work by some 40 artists, rotating on a weekly basis. Artists include Abrie Fourie, Bonita Alice, Braam Kruger, CJ Morkel, Clifford Charles, Doris Bloom, Fatima Fernandes, Ian Waldeck, Jackson Hlungwani, Joachim Schönfeldt, Johan Moolman, John Anthony Boerma, Kathy Coates in collaboration with Azwhimpeleli Magoro, Kevin Brand, Luan Nel, Marcus Neustetter, Marlene Tosoni, Minnette Vári, Nhlanhla Xaba, Norman Catherine, Pat Mautloa, Retha Erasmus, Robyn Orlin, Samson Mudzunga, Sandile Zulu, Stephen Hobbs, Steven Cohen, Terry Kurgan, Walter Oltmann, Wayne Barker, Willem Boshoff, Wilma Cruise, Wim Botha and others. The gallery strongly supports an open-door policy with the emphasis on "approachable".

The Rosebank "strip" now boasts the Goodman Gallery, Camouflage, Kim Sacks, PhotoZA, the Millennium II and a number of opportunities for aspiring artist-entrepreneurs who want to take up empty stores in the Zone shopping complex or the Firs, as Stan Engelbrecht just did for his Caution Horses exhibition. I just hope other stakeholders in the area will see the value of this burgeoning scene (which has started to live up to its wished-for reputation as "a" centre in a very fragmented city) and not try and sabotage its potential before it has been given a fair chance. It can now support something similar to a small "Art Night" if galleries synchronise openings or have open nights. Looking forward to it ...

The opening takes place on Saturday June 23 at 6pm.

David Goldblatt

David Goldblatt

David Goldblatt

David Goldblatt
Mother and child in their home after the destruction of its shelter by officials of the Western Cape Development Board, Crossroads, Cape Town, 11 October 1984

Honorary Doctorate in Fine Art for David Goldblatt

Master photographer David Goldblatt will receive the University of Cape Town's first ever Honorary Doctorate in Fine Art at the university's mid-year graduation ceremony on Friday June 22. Goldblatt is one of six outstanding South Africans to be honoured, the others including Revel Fox (Doctor of Architecture) and Mamphela Ramphele (Doctor of Social Science).

Goldblatt, born in 1930, has been photographing life in South African for half a century. Motivating for the award, Geoff Grundlingh writes: "It is true to say that his images of Afrikaner rural and urban life (especially in Some Afrikaners Photographed), his photographs on the effects of apartheid (such as On the Mines, In Boksburg, and Lifetimes Under Apartheid, a collaboration with Nadine Gordimer), and his work on migrancy in KwaNdebele (The Transported of KwaNdebele) have shifted the ways in which South Africans and the world community have perceived and responded to the problems, the horrors and the complexities of life under apartheid. His photo-essays have been highly nuanced, subtle and multidimensional. His photographs have, through his brilliantly detailed and uncompromising vision, exposed the depth and ambiguities of the lives of individuals through the genre of documentary photography, while at once revealing the creative potential of the medium as an art form. In addition he has made his work, through the publication of a number of books, make a difference in opening the eyes of many to the things that most do not see.

"Apart from David Goldblatt's contribution to photography and to the country through his work, he has lived a life of compassion and commitment to sharing his talent with others, and working for change and democracy. This contribution is widely acknowledged, both within South Africa and world-wide. He has had dozens of exhibitions in major galleries around the world and has done more than any other South African photographer/artist to draw attention to the complexities of southern African life, and to the- practice of one of the most powerful of all expressive media within this country. In 1998, he became the first South African to have a solo exhibition at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in New York. ...

"This is a man of great stature and of extraordinary integrity who has made an immense contribution to his discipline and to the country. In the words of Nadine Gordimer '... [Goldblatt] has put, not only a great talent, but all he knows as a human being, as a man, as a South African, as a white African with a clarity constantly subject to his own unflinching self-criticism, into his photographs. He has given them literally all he has got.'"

Goldblatt will receive his doctorate on Friday at 2.30pm in UCT's Jameson Hall.

Kay Hassan

First Daimler Chysler award winner Kay Hassan

DaimlerChrysler award for sculpture 2002 underway

The third DaimlerChrysler art prize will be given for sculpture in 2002, it has been announced. The first of these coveted awards - worth more than R300 000 and resulting in significant international exposure - went to Kay Hassan in 1998. Hassan's prize included cash of R35 000, an exhibition at the Wurttembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart which also toured to major venues in South Africa, and a substantial catalogue to accompany the show. The second award, in 2000, was given in the field of contemporary jazz and went to Themba Mkhize. The prize was established "to further the careers of innovative young contemporary artists, and raise the profile of South African art both at home and abroad".

A panel of jurors and advisors will select the nominees (in 1998 10 nominees were selected and invited to exhibit work at the Cape Town Castle). A jury meeting will be held at the end of October in Pretoria to decide on a winner. Where 1998's highest profile juror was Documenta 11 director Okwui Enwezor, this year Harald Szeeman, director of the Venice Biennale, will take part. Also on the panel are Marilyn Martin, director of the National Gallery; artist David Koloane; Japanese curator Fumio Nanjo; Richard Flood of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Fanyana Shiburi of DaimlerChrysler SA and Dr Uli Kostenbader of DaimlerChrysler Stuttgart. Octavio Zaya will also act as an advisor, along with Bongi Dhlomo-Mautloa and Anitra Nettleton.

Video portraits of the nominees will be produced towards the end of July. Watch this space for further details ...

Circulo de Bella Artes

The Circulo de Bella Artes
site of 'Dislocations'

Robert Frank

Robert Frank
NYC, Bleecker Street, 1993
On view at the Reina Sofia

Cristina Rodero

Cristina Garcia Rodero
The Venue


Juan de la Cruz Megías
Bodas 1979-1999


Francisco Velázquez
Las Meninas

Sue Williamson's Madrid diary

Weird. Exactly this time last week (Sunday morning) I was sitting here in Newlands, Cape Town, writing a story for ArtThrob, and here I am again - and since then I have been to Madrid, installed a piece on an exhibition for Photo España 2001, spent hours in the Prado, one of the world's great museums, eaten an exquisite garlic soup at an artist's dinner which started close to midnight, and attended at least eight exhibition openings.

Monday June 10

The Iberia night flight from Johannesburg gets in to Madrid at 7am and after a quick check-in at the Hotel Sanvy in the centre of the city, first stop is the exhibition venue, the Circulo de Bellas Artes. The building is old and handsome, containing a bistro type restaurant, a theatre and other performance spaces, and at least four galleries. Ours is up the circular marble stairway and through the glass doors, on the first floor, the Sala Pablo Picasso, and consists of seven interleading rooms. Up to this point, the only other artist I have known to be on the exhibition is Cape Town photographer Dave Southwood, but coming into the space, I meet the curator Danielle Tilkin, who has all the work for the show leaning against the walls. Soon it will be hung by the installation team with their rulers, spirit levels and hammers. The theme for this year's Photo España, the fourth, "supports the need to rethink and redefine such concepts as North/South or Centre/Periphery". Our show is entitled 'Dis/location'. The other artists/photographers are Berni Searle, Minnette Vári, David Goldblatt, Hentie van der Merwe, Jane Alexander, Obie Oberholzer, Roger Ballen, Thobile Shepherd Nompunga, Santu Mofokeng and Steve Hilton-Barber.

My piece, Can't forget, can't remember, will be set up in its own room and requires a data video projector and sound equipment. This has not yet arrived. Danielle, who remains calm through everything, suggests I check in again after lunch, so Dave Southwood and I head for the Reina Sofia, Madrid's museum of contemporary art, where veteran American photographer Robert Frank, who has exerted enormous influence on generations of photographers - Johannesburg artist Jo Ractliffe, for instance, has cited him as a major influence - has a large solo show called 'Hold Still - Keep Going'. Frank himself is due in town next week for a "finishage" of the show, but by then we will be gone. Frank, born in Zurich in 1924, came to America in 1947, and first made his name with a book of brilliant black and white photographs critical of his new country entitled The Americans. After 1959, he devoted himself to film, and his later photographic pieces are often printed directly from film strips or stills with text written by hand.

Call Danielle - no, the technicians have not arrived. It will be tomorrow. We should all meet downstairs at the hotel at 7.30 that evening to go to the first of the openings. Am free to go to lunch - a picnic in the park, of rolls, anchovies, tomatoes and olives - with Dave Southwood and Mandy Jandrell, ex-Michaelis, who has just been accepted for Goldsmith's in London. That evening, the hotel room phone rings just as I am about to go downstairs. Danielle. She is still at the exhibition space. The technicians have just arrived. I must come immediately. They are leaving the country tomorrow. Oh, great! I hate this. A complicated technical setup with non-English speaking technicians who, even if they do have the right equipment, will not be around when it fails to switch on just before the opening. Antonio and Abelardo are brothers, one with wild white hair and no English and the second with groomed white hair and a little English. The projector switches on, but the CD player on the computer is not functioning. They will bring another one in the morning, presumably before they disappear for good.

Danielle and I taxi off to the opening of a massive photographic exhibition by Christina Garcia Rodero (I love the way these Spanish names roll off the tongue), whose work also graces the back cover of the Venice Biennale catalogue, no small honour. After 25 years of solitary work, Rodero suddenly came to fame in 1989 with a book entitled España Oculta on collective social and religious rituals. This exhibition documents such practices on the island of Haiti. The work is extraordinary. "Black bodies rolling around in the mud," says someone, coming out of the exhibition, but it is much more than this. Such is the camera's proximity to some of the wild eyed tranced out figures totally immersed in voodoo ceremonies, it is hard to imagine it in the unlikely looking hands of Rodero herself, who is small and round, and this evening dressed in a brilliant pink silk trouser suit.

Tuesday June 12

The breakfast buffet at the Sanvy is extensive and delicious, and by the time I make it to the exhibition space, it is a little later than I intended. Antonio and Abelardo are here, the CD player has been replaced, and all seems in order. Now the lectern which is to house all the equipment must be built. In the gallery storerooms, a plinth is found which will be cut to size. At 1pm this will be ready, and all will be put together. Hentie van der Merwe is working on putting up his piece. In a darkened room, landscape photographs from Namibia are interspersed with homoerotic photographs from the Gay and Lesbian Archives. The viewer must take the role of explorer and use a torch to look at the images. Hentie leaves this week for the States, where he has been accepted into the summer programme at Skowhegan.

Since I now have an hour or two to spare before lunch, I go to the Thyssen Museum, around the corner, where there is an exhibition entitled 'Canaletto: An Imaginary Venice'. I am sure everyone is familiar at least in reproduction with the ouevre of this 18th century painter, with his expansive views of gondolas on the Grand Canal, and the Piazza San Marco, always peopled with a large cast of small scale figures. Now as I look at them, I am reminded of the contemporary large-scale photographs of Andreas Gursky, and wonder if his work could be influenced by these paintings. The vast scale and all the tiny people are not the only connection between the two. Just as Gursky makes digital adjustments to his images, a slide show at the entrance of the exhibition shows how Canaletto changed the architectural features of Venice to suit his needs: raising the Rialto Bridge to twice its height to dramatise it, adopting an impossible - but visually believable - viewpoint for his famous Piazza San Marco pieces.

Back to the exhibition space - but now, although Abelardo is there, the lectern must be painted black before the equipment can be put in. Minnette Vári arrives from the Venice Biennale. She will be showing Alien, in which she acts out scenes from TV news broadcasts, her naked body digitally distorted by the dimensions and shapes of the actual figures in the original footage. Her piece will be shown on a monitor on a plinth in the first and largest room. The monitor which has been brought is a battered 30-year-old Sony Trinitron. Minnette is dismayed. The image is grainy, and "Shoebox sound", she says, asking for a separate set of speakers. The ones brought for my piece are tried out for quality and rejected as not good enough by Minnette. Abelardo looks increasingly dismayed as it becomes clear that he will not be able to leave the country until all this has been sorted out. By 9.30pm my piece is finally together. Tomorrow morning is the opening.

Tonight is the official artists' dinner, luckily only starting at 10pm. It is in the Hotel Nacional, and by the time we have sat down at the large round tables and listened to a few speeches in Spanish, it is well after 11. The first course is a white soup with slivered almonds on top - garlic soup. Excellent. Half the people at our table speak only Spanish, but next to me and Dave is Russel Roberts, the articulate director of Britain's National Museum of Photography, here to organise a show of photographic pioneer William Douglas Talbot. The irreplaceable early images have had to be driven from Britain in special temperature controlled trucks, and in the Reina Sofia, where the work will be shown, visitors must go through a cold zone which insulates the inner rooms from the rest of the museum. After a baked meringue dessert, people start to leave, and eventually the South African contingent is the last to remain. The hotel staff start removing tablecloths. It is well past one, and the opening is in the morning.

Wednesday June 13

Two buses carry all the participants in the festival from exhibition to exhibition and at 11am it is our turn. Some speeches in Spanish, some television cameras at horrifyingly close range, a swirl of people round the rooms, and the opening is over. One of the speakers on my piece has blown and must be replaced, but it could have been worse. Onto the bus with a huge feeling of relief. Next stop is the Botanical Gardens, and the official opening of Photo España by a Spanish princess, the Infanta Elena. Apparently this is a very big deal in Madrid, though had it been in the north, at Bilbao, in the Basque country with its separatist ideals, people wouldn't have cared so much, someone tells me. The Infanta is charming, tall, tanned, dressed in a white suit. Minnette, Hentie, Dave and I are introduced to her. "And are you all exposing at the Circulo de Bella Artes?" she asks, smiling. "Congratulations."

There is time for a visit to the Prado before the bus begins its afernoon rounds at 4pm. So much to see, one has to select. Since we are in Spain, I limit my viewing to the Spanish painters: Goya and Velázquez. Pocket sized gallery guides to individual artists are available from machine dispensers for 100 pesetas each - R4 - and are very helpful in filling in informational gaps. I read that Velázquez's painting of The Family of Phillip IV, the painting also known as Las Meninas, is considered the most famous of the 17th century. It is surrounded by an admiring group. The freshness with which it still strikes the eye is extraordinary. At the entrance to this room is a large painting by the Dutch artist, Van Loo, executed almost 100 years later. None of the sensitivity and mixed emotional range of Velázquez is displayed. This one is of the court of Phillip V, and the semicircle of figures, richly dressed and with powdered hair, seem to simper identically. "Why do they all want to get their hair the same colour?" asks an American tourist next to me of her companion.

Back on the bus, and four exhibitions later, I am ready for a wonderful dinner in a family restaurant in a working district of Madrid. Danielle, Minnette and I enjoy a traditional bean stew and salad accompanied by cider poured from arm high height into the glasses below. A perfect finish to the night: flamenco dancing by a thrilling young dancer and music in a small club.

Gustavo Artigas

Gustavo Artigas at the Venice Biennale

Gustavo Artigas

Gustavo Artigas
Geeta vs Sage
'vs Series: Event-Ceramic process 2001'
Roxy Rhythm Bar, Melville

Gustavo Artigas and the art of mud wrestling
Mexican artist Gustavo Artigas, in residence at the Bag Factory, is currently showing at the Venice Biennale. Sean O'Toole caught a recent work staged in a mud-wrestling ring

Watching the two professional striptease artists, Geeta and Sage, writhing and wrestling in the brown mud, there was little to suggest to the audience that they were observing a carefully staged piece "about art, its conventions". Indeed, to regular patrons of the Roxy Rhythm Bar in Melville, the spectacle was almost normal. A few weeks before Mexican artist Gustavo Artigas staged his mud fight in a paddling pool on the main dance floor of the Roxy, both Geeta and Sage had wrestled in oil to appreciative audiences. Tonight it was simply mud - no great evolutionary leap by any standard.

Artist in residence at the Bag Factory's Fordsburg studios from April 1 to June 28, Artigas laughs when asked about the work, which is titled Geeta vs Sage, from the 'vs Series: Event-Ceramic process 2001'. "I'm just playing around a bit with the context, joking a bit with sculpture and ceramics. If you had to enter a gallery and find this mud-wrestling ring as an abstract sculpture, you would say: 'That's a really horrible piece.' I think that would be an achievement. But it's also a really formal piece too. It's about art, and it's about conventions." He pauses, finally adding, "But it's also just about having fun."

Not everyone shares in Artigas's nonchalant sense of humour. While exhibiting at last year's Havana Biennale, he organised an unrelated event to coincide with the Havana show. Four participating artists were asked to play a round robin tournament of dominoes against four prostitutes on a local plaza, the loser of each round having to knock back a cup of rum. The piece was aptly entitled The Domino Effect, and predictably ended up a somewhat rowdy affair. Artigas mentions that certain critics disapproved of his "exploitation" of the participants.

"I try not to think in terms of hierarchies with my work," he answers, "but rather in terms of the links. The artist has the first idea and simply tries to develop it." This view of the artist not being seated at the apex of the artistic process may not fully answer every objection to the content of his staged works, but it does help define a central idea underpinning Artigas's work process - the artist as architect of situations with unpredictable consequences.

Visitors to the 49th Venice Biennale this June will be able to view a work titled The Rules of the Game 2 which boldly demonstrates Artigas's practice. The piece is exhibited as part of Harald Szeeman's 'Plateau of Humankind' show, and constitutes a document of a riotous performance originally staged in Tijuana, Mexico, for the inSITE 2000 Binational Project. Artigas invited two San Diego basketball teams and two Tijuana football teams to play their respective games on the same playing field - simultaneously. Aimed at exploring the conflicting dynamics of the San Diego/Tijuana border area, his work depicts a surprisingly funny collision of cultures in which two neighbouring nationalities play out their contestatory games without any significant incident - or interaction.

Responding to Artigas's piece, one critic commented that it offers an "almost perfect lesson on the cohabitation of differences without interference". Viewed as "a mystic and sweaty vision of a politicised understanding of heterogeneity", his basketball/football piece was praised as a poignant "essay on post-hybrid cultural politics".

In conversation, the artist is far less cryptic about the work. "I like to think of some contemporary works as just serious jokes. I love laughter; it's cathartic. I used to be an extremely serious person. I was trying to say: I am an artist, I know what I am doing, I am very skilled, blah, blah, blah. But that's not the work of the artist." Favouring a process that sees him formulate situations based on rule-based structures, Artigas further comments: "As an artist you set the rules and create the platform. But there are lots of things that can happen. I really like this idea that things can happen - because it is not boring. It's the beginning of something. There's always a human factor happening; that's the nice thing."

In his book Understanding Media Marshall McLuhan wrote: "Since the game, like any art form, is a mere tangible model of another situation that is less accessible, there is always a tingling sense of oddity and fun in play or games that renders the very earnest and very serious person or society laughable." Whether the whoops and cheers of those in attendance at the Melville event even conceived of another situation at play, something other than the actual mud-wrestling match, is uncertain. It would certainly be naive to hope that many did. Yet for some there may have been a brief moment of disjuncture, when the familiar was presented as art. Maybe in that brief moment of disbelief, Artigas achieved his aim of rendering art and its conventions laughable, before the mud-stained bodies of the wrestlers affirmed that it was only mud-wrestling.

Clive van den Berg

Clive van den Berg
Leak, 2000
Recent work

SA artists for Videobrasil 2001

Selections have just been announced for the 13th edition of Videobrasil, one of the global calendar's leading video festivals, to be held in Sao Paulo from September 19-23 2001. Work was submitted in two categories: video and new media (websites and CD-ROMs), and altogether 644 entries were received from 26 different countries around the world.

Two South African artists will be represented in the video section: Malcolm Payne will exhibit a new piece called 15 March 2001, and Clive van den Berg has had two videos selected: Don't fly too high: Box 2000, exhibited at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg on his one-man show last year and in Cape Town at the AVA on 'Ubadoda' in September, and Men Loving, an imagined account of a love story between a British soldier and a boer during the Boer War. For all the entrants see

Minnette Vari

Minnette Vári
Still from REM

Minnette Vari

Minnette Vári
Still from REM

Venice Biennale, day one
Emma Bedford, associate curator of the major African show 'Authentic/Ex-centric', reports from Venice

It's the first day of the Venice Biennale vernissage, a feeding frenzy for the press, appropriately called Stampa in Italian. I skipped the national pavilions in the Giardini in order to home in on the Arsenale where the videos of Tracey Rose and Minnette Vári are installed in the Corderie building. Vari's new piece entitled REM is projected directly onto the medieval Corderie wall which gives the image an extraordinary texture (absent from the images on the left).

According to Clive Kellner, "the projected figure of a woman suspended in hallucinatory slow motion appears in a dark landscape of apprehensive expectation. The image resembles a Bushman rock painting with tableaux of human and animal figures and various objects engaging in a flow of relationships. The figure is that of the artist asleep; the phases where she was most restless were edited together into a trancelike choreography ... The images that float serenely past the orbital nude figure reflect a hundred years of great change. Selected from publications on Southern Africa and the continent, scenes of wild animals, urban clutter, modern day warfare and late 20th century activities engage the hopes and fears of those who have lived through the turmoil of an infamous history and now have to find the best possible future."

Great to see young South Africans holding their own amid the fiercest competition the contemporary art world has to offer.

Venice Biennale

The main entrance to the Venice Biennale

Venice Biennale

The Artiglierie

Venice Biennale

The Corderie

Venice Biennale

The Gaggiandre


Venice Biennale preview
by Sophie Perryer

The Biennale di Venezia, the "mother of all biennales", opens to the public this year on June 10 and runs to November 4, with the vernissage for media and artworld VIPs taking place from June 6 to 9. Such is the anticipated frenzy that Frieze magazine has offered to SMS art lovers three to five times a day in the run-up to the opening to let them know where they should be - from the best show or most splendid pavilion to what's not worth bothering with.

Expansion is central to this Biennale, in terms of both space and interaction between the arts (cinema, poetry and theatre are all drawn into the main exhibition). Prior to the opening art will even take to the skies, with TRANS> magazine presenting 'En el Cielo', an ephemeral exhibition that pushes the boundaries of publication and exhibition spaces to new heights. Every evening from June 6 to 10, artists' drawings or selected words will be drawn in the sky by a team of skywriters. Participating artists include Paul McCarthy, Gabriel Orozco, Rikrit Tiravanija and Jeff Wall.

The main, international exhibition, curated by Harald Szeemann (who also directed the last Biennale of 1999), is titled 'Plateau of Humankind' and features the work of more than 100 invited artists, among them South Africans Minnette Vári and Tracey Rose. No set theme was applied in choosing the artists; instead, says Szeemann, "the Biennale of Visual Arts hopes to serve as a raised platform offering a view over mankind". This "survey" approach serves to "observe and capture the feelings and stories that are narrated in and through the works of young artists" - from social and environmental themes to new technology and the worldwide web - while not overlooking more established figures who contributed to the artistic revolutions of the 20th century.

Szeemann's massive exhibition extends from the Italian Pavilion in the Castello Gardens through to the Arsenale spaces of the Corderie, the Artiglierie and the Gaggiandre, while also embracing the national pavilions and exhibitions at other venues throughout the city. Among the national pavilions, Britain will be represented by Mark Wallinger, the United States by Robert Gober, Germany by Gregor Schneider, Belgium by Luc Tuymans and France by Pierre Huyghe.

Apart from the two South Africans, Szeeman's show takes little account of Africa - a problem experienced previously at the 1999 Biennale. To remedy this situation, the Forum for African Arts was set up, with a board comprising prominent African and international curators, art critics, artists and scholars. The board acted as advisor to the major African exhibition at this year's Biennale, 'Authentic/Ex-centric: Africa in and out of Africa', curated by Salah Hassan and Olu Oguibe, with Emma Bedford of the South African National Gallery as associate curator. At the Palazzo Fondazione Levi, the show features the work of seven contemporary African/Diaspora artists, including Willem Boshoff and Berni Searle.

Elsewhere in Venice, Cape Town artist Paul du Toit is taking part in '70/2000 The Road to Meikle Seggie', which formed part of the main show at the Edinburgh festival last year. Seventy participating artists had to produce seven works each for the exhibition, which also includes Marina Abramovic, Marie Stangret and Ian Hamilton-Finlay.

Emma Bedford will report on the Venice Biennale for ArtThrob in the coming weeks.

For more on "Plateau of Humankind' and 'Authentic/Ex-centric' see International listings.

The inauguration ceremony, happenings and interviews with selected artists will be broadcast live on the web at


Vita nominees

Vita nominees from left to right:
Jan van der Merwe
Robin Rhode
Kathryn Smith
Kim Lieberman
Clive van den Berg
Missing: Moshekwa Langa

Vita Art Prize: Excellence or artistic engagement?

Last month, ArtThrob invited readers to give their views on the criteria to be used on selecting nominees for the prestigious FNB Vita Art Prize. Finalists for 2001 Kathryn Smith and Clive van den Berg were selected not only for personal exhibition work, but were acknowledged for extending their own creative endeavours with curatorial projects. At least one of the judges, Virginia MacKenny, felt that broadening the scope of inclusion in this way left the criteria for selection a little vague. Read her views in full in her ArtThrob opinion piece.

ArtThrob decided to ask readers: Should the Vita be given for artistic excellence alone, or for all round artistic engagement? In fact, artistic engagement won, with a total of 59% of the votes, compared to 41% for excellence alone.

Paul Sibisi joins the BAT Centre

Durban artist Paul Sibisi has joined the BAT Centre's Artists in Residence Programme (Visual Arts). The six-month programme, which begins in early June, was made possible by funding from Durban Metro's Department of Economic Affairs. A BAT Centre job-creation initiative, the course is aimed at equipping up-and-coming artists with skills to allow them to make a living from their work or start their own projects. Programme participants began work in the BAT Centre's walk-in Artists' Studio on Monday June 4. The course, which will cover visual art techniques, business skills and marketing, will end on November 30 2001.

Sibisi made a name for himself in Durban during the 1980s, and has travelled to the United States on a cultural exchange programme. More recently he has been occupied with teaching at Mzovela High School in KwaMashu and running his own security business. He says the BAT Centre's invitation came at exactly the right time because he had been dreaming of re-entering the art scene. A pen and wash specialist, he will guide the Residence Programme (Visual Arts), as well as working towards a solo exhibition at the BAT Centre towards the end of the year.

Walter Oltmann

Standard Bank Young Artist Walter Oltmann

Sokhaya Charles Nkosi

Sokhaya Charles Nkosi
Mixed media collage

Grahamstown festival preview

A flip through the booking kit (now available from branches of Standard Bank) confirms that this year, as ever, the visual arts take a back seat to theatre and music at the Grahamstown festival. Unlike the Klein Karoo Kunstefees in Oudtshoorn, which curator Clive van den Berg has stamped firmly on the contemporary art map, the visual arts component of the Standard Bank National Arts Festival remains a hodgepodge of exhibitions, with no sense of a coherent strategy or vision.

There are highlights nonetheless, chief among them the Standard Bank Young Artist show, this year by Walter Oltmann. A lecturer at Wits university, Oltmann will be exhibiting his trademark, beautifully woven wire sculptures and drawings, through which he is currently exploring the humble domestic insect. "Through dramatically enlarging or transforming these small creatures I play with the paradox between vulnerability and the monstrous," Oltmann says. The SBYA show will tour the country following the festival.

The Goodman Gallery has again commandeered the Gallery-in-the-Round, the small space in the depths of the Monument which provided a suitably claustrophobic home for Penny Siopis's 'Zombie' installation last year. Here Willie Bester will present 'Who Let the Dogs Out?', a meditation on brutality with reference to the shocking television footage of police dogs attacking illegal immigrants. Bester's dogs, muzzles and musculature constructed out of galvanised, found metal objects, will go on to tour American museums in 2003 as part of a retrospective of his work.

At the Rhodes Art School Gallery, artists including Mark Hipper, Malcolm Payne, Penny Siopis, Clive van den Berg and Gavin Young have been invited to transform the leather-bound tomes of the Statutes of the Union of South Africa into art works in a show titled 'Re-Constitution: An Artists' Collaboration'.

Artists in residence this year are Sokhaya Charles Nkosi, trained at Rorke's Drift and currently working in mixed media and paper collage, and printmaker Faiza Galdhari, who will be exploring the role of the woman in Islam. Galdhari also takes part in the exhibition 'Painting, Printing and Stitching' along with Bronwyn Findlay and Daina Mabundla, three women from different cultures who are "drawn together by their response to pattern, colour, surface and cloth".

What else? There are Handspring Puppets, a Hylton Nel retrospective and more photographs of the hinterland by Obie Oberholzer. Sculpture majors from the Port Elizabeth Technikon will be constructing a "sprawling" installation in the gardens of the Carinus Art Centre. And the fringe is even more of a mixed bag with better known names including Maureen Quin, Nigel Mullins and Tony Swift. So there's stuff to see, but if anything the stage is set for a radical intervention in the visual arts programme that will bring Grahamstown a little closer to the cutting edge.

Booking is now open for the festival, which runs from June 28 to July 7. For more on this year's programme visit

Pat Steir

The view from Pat Steir's studio

Pat Steir

Pat Steir's studio

Justine Wheeler, Amanda Williamson, and Vanessa Solomon

Justine Wheeler, Amanda Williamson, and Vanessa Solomon at a babyshower

Siemon Allen

Siemon Allen
Elegy, 2001
Woven magnetic tape and steel
274 x 488 x 7.5cm

Siemon Allen

Siemon Allen
Marais Brand
Sound work
Installation detail

Sue Williamson's New York diary 1

Sunday April 29

I have been in Madison, Wisconsin, for the past four days, participating in a conference entitled 'Fact and Fiction in Post-authoritarian Societies' at the University of Wisconsin. Writer André Brink was the keynote speaker on the opening night, and in the next two days, delegates from the US, Latin America, the Philippines, Eastern Europe and South Africa explored the way that art, performance, writing and popular music have changed - or not - with the breakdown of the old orders. Presentations have been enlightening and absorbing, and the organising group at the University of Wisconsin is working on a book on the subject.

Now I am in New York for 10 days, and head straight from JFK to ex-Capetonian artist Vanessa Solomon's apartment on The Bowery in lower Manhattan. The occasional drunk does still lie around on the street in spite of Mayor Giuliani's clean-up campaign, and I pass by one to climb the stairs to Vanessa's stunning floor-through - an apartment that stretches from the front to the back of a building - where a baby shower is in progress. The expectant mother is Justine Wheeler, who with Amanda Williamson was co-curator and participating artist on 'One Night Stand' at João Ferreira Fine Art in Cape Town last year. Also here are Lisa Brittan, co-director of New York's Axis Gallery; Jann Cheifitz, still involved in painting and screening fabrics for her own fashion business; and Amanda. Jeff Koons stops by on his way to a gala evening at the New Museum, and takes a photo of the group.

Monday April 30

What does one do on one's first full day in New York but shop! Almost all the museums and galleries are closed on a Monday anyway. In Barnes & Noble, one can choose whichever books one likes and take them over to the coffee shop, and browse for hours while drinking coffee.

Tuesday May 1

I am staying with Amanda and her husband, artist William Scarborough, in their house in Brooklyn, a quick subway ride to the city. Amanda works three days a week as assistant to Pat Steir, an artist whose vast canvases, with their thrown and trickled paint deeply influenced by Japanese painting and philosophy, are meditative and beautiful. Apart from a mural at the Whitney, I have only seen Steir's work in reproduction before - she was the subject of the cover story in Art in America in November 1999 - and again I am struck by the impossibility of conveying the reality of a piece of art in a small printed magazine reproduction. Steir's studio is gorgeous - an enormous whitewashed space on the 12th floor of an industrial building on West 26th Street, in the art area of Chelsea.

Crossing 26th Street, I enter the White Box, where Lauri Firstenburg and Douglas Cooper are curating 'After the Diagram' (see listings). As I go in, I hear a recorded voice say: "No sir, that is correct", and for a moment I am taken aback. Can it be that somebody else is utilising police captain Jeff Benzien's evidence from the TRC hearings that I have used in the interactive piece, Can't forget, can't remember? The accent sounds a little South African. Reading the wall text, I find I am listening to a sound piece by Siemon Allen called Marais/Brand in which the artist has used testimony given by statistician Laurentius Marais, a witness for the Republican (Bush) team in the notorious Bush vs Gore Florida legal case over the voting ballots. On the tape, this Marais relates statistical information. Allen was intrigued that this person, clearly a South African exile, should be giving evidence in this case. The evidence veers off into odd asides about storks and babies and seat belts to support Marais's case, and over it all, Allen has set music by another South African once in exile, Abdullah Ibrahim, earlier known as Dollar Brand. The music is intended to give the piece a "filmic" quality, and Allen's intention is to reflect on the way expatriate South Africans interact with the larger world.

Inside the gallery is a second piece by Allen, Elegy, a large-scale rectangle of woven magnetic tape which gleams a dull black. A Japanese tourist is photographing it enthusiastically, first from close up then at a distance. He smiles at me as if inviting me to share his enjoyment of the piece. Coincidentally, the work by the other South African artist, Kim Lieberman is also a woven grid, but on perforated paper, in white silk thread; delicate, where Allen's piece is massive. Lieberman's perforated sheets are like unprinted sheets of stamp paper, and in keeping with the theme of movement from place to place that these imply, Lieberman carries her sheets around with her as she travels, and embroiders them wherever she is, adding the documentation of the places where the piece has been worked on. I wonder if the two artists knew what the other would be exhibiting. The pieces, with their same basic structures but very different intentions, work well in counterpoint.

Of the work by other artists on show, my favourite is a piece entitled Neu-York by Melissa Gould, who calls herself Mego (the work is also visible on the net at What the artist has done is located a map of Manhattan dated 1939, and using dull, militaristic browns, made a lithograph renaming every street and park in the city, using contemporaneous names from the city of Berlin, often strangely echoing the real New York name. It's as if history had rewritten itself, or a parallel history existed, and New York had fallen under the control of the Third Reich. Effective, and quite chilling.

Robert Lazzarini

Robert Lazzarini
skulls, 2000

John Klima

John Klima
ecosystm, 2000

Jason Salavon

Jason Salavon
The Top Grossing Film of All Time, 2000

Sue Williamson's New York diary 2

Wednesday May 2

Lunch today with old friends Jo and Annie Bacal - delicious soft shell crabs at Michael's, on West 55th. Annie is an actress and a member of Bread and Roses, the cultural wing of a trade union, and after lunch she takes me to see 'Unseen America' an exhibition of photographs in the union gallery in which newly immigrant groups in the US have been given cameras to record their daily lives. I meet Esther Cohen, director of Bread and Roses, who is shortly coming to Cape Town, and is enthusiastic about meeting the Robben Island and the District Six Museum people. The possibility of an exchange exhibition is discussed.

Thursday May 3

Bill Scarborough has a studio visit today with Larry Rinder. Rinder is the director of the next Whitney Biennial, and curator of the current 'Bitstreams' exhibition of digital art at the Whitney, so this is a pretty important visit. (For American artists, the Biennial, held at the Whitney Museum of American Art on upper Madison Avenue, is the big one, the two yearly review of the hottest American art. Until recently, only US artists were eligible for selection, but in the globalistion of the art world, international artists working in the US are included.)

Bill's studio visit is to be set up in a section of Pat Steir's studio (few big curators will cross the river from Manhattan to Brooklyn), and the morning is spent in covering the enormous windows with black paper - Bill will project his remarkable interactive piece on to the rear wall - and pinning up the prints which the artist sees as "conceptual sketches". The atmosphere is tense.

Finally, Rinder calls to say he is on his way; I leave before he arrives, walking six blocks downtown to the Axis Gallery where ex-Wits students Gary van Wyk and Lisa Brittan have been doing a fine job of introducing South African artists to the US market. The gallery has recently been enlarged and is a very handsome space, a fourth floor walk up. Some months ago I received a call from the gallery telling me the Smithsonian (in Washington) had asked them to find out if I had any other installation work like a piece entitled Mementoes from District Six, which is in the Museum of Fine Art in Birmingham, Alabama. Well, as it happened ... in crates in my garage is a piece called The Last Supper Revisited, shown first at the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town in 1993, then later at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, Oliewenhuis in Bloemfontein and then the Vita Awards Show at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 1994. I had offered it to the District Six Museum as a donation when that museum had opened, but the museum committee had turned it down on the basis that the museum was too small for a large permanent contemporary art installation, and the focus would be more on community exhibitions. After the call from the Axis Gallery, I had emailed images of the original installation to them to pass on to the Smithsonian, which is quite aggressively pursuing a programme of acquiring contemporary African art. The institution has pronounced itself definitely interested, and today Gary, Lisa and I discuss what additional material would be needed for presentation at a curatorial meeting at the museum to take place on May 15. Exciting!

Tonight there is an opening in the new Project Lounge at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. I go with Amanda and Bill, who reports that his studio visit with Rinder was non-commital. Well, you never can tell ... We get to the New Museum late, so late I'm not even sure who the artist is, but he is totally concealed inside a small four-sided structure of black fabric in the centre of the space from which violin music is emanating. A camera trained on the artist inside the space relays an image of him playing his violin to a monitor outside. Perhaps it looked better at the beginning of the evening, but now it seems totally lame, and no one is taking any notice. Dressed in regulation New York black, the opening crowd is much too busy swigging its wine and talking to its friends to listen or watch.

Friday May 4

"BJ is off the radar," her answering machine had told me when I first phoned, but Barbara Jakobson had called me back, and today I am to lunch with her. The vibrant Barbara is a well-known art collector and a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art, and her house, on the upper East side, is straight from Architectural Digest. The mezzanine lounge is furnished with Fifties' classic furniture, and the walls are hung with stunning pieces of work by top American artists. The backyard waIl, visible through the sheer glass of the back wall of the house, supports a mural of rainbow coloured bubbles on large-scale white tiles which once decorated the fa¸ade of Alexanders department store, and now look much better than many op art pieces of the period in museums. I met Barbara when she came to my studio in Cape Town early this year, saying she had been given my name as Information Central on the local art scene.

After a highly enjoyable lunch at a nearby restaurant, I stroll over to the Whitney to take in 'BitStreams', the first survey of digital art that the museum has staged. The show has had a very mixed reception: idea good, selection of work not so good. I get there just in time to take the daily tour, being given by one of the museum's docents, and get a thoroughly impressive rundown of each piece, with a discussion of the artist's intentions, the computer programmes used or the code written by the artist. As we move from piece to piece, I reflect that she is a very typical New Yorker, dressed in designer shirt and pants, perfectly made up and coiffed, completely informed and articulate about her subject. At the end of the tour, a woman at the back says, "May I ask you one question?" "Sure, go ahead", replied our guide. "Then would you mind telling me where you get your hair done?"

But back to the art. The first piece as one enters is an outsize projection of John Klima's ecosystem, a complex and dramatic animated computer game operated with a joystick involving real-time global stock market fluctuations, currency volatility and local weather conditions. Market indexes are represented with branching trees and currencies with birds that swoop and flock according to trading activity, moving at high speed towards or away from the viewer. "The more volatile the currency, the more active the flock," explains Klima in the low-tech catalogue. "If the daily volatility exceeds three times the yearly average, the flock attacks another flock." This is the only piece which calls for interactivity from the viewer on this floor, though down on ground level, there is a darkened room where, if you can edge your way in past the geeks, there are a selection of other interactive pieces.

Robert Lazzarini laser scanned an actual human skull to create a 3D CAD (computer aided design) file, which he then distorted, printing the distortions out as rapid prototypes - objects created by a machine - and used as models for the final works, each of which is cast in bone. Set in their own room, contemplation of these interesting objects, which have been set at odd angles to the walls, have the effect of disorientating the viewer. In a right brain attempt to look at the skulls as one knows they have always been, the room itself turns weird.

Jason Salavon, in The Top Grossing Film of All Time, 1x1, took the 336 247 frames of the film Titanic and made a digital "portrait", averaging each frame according to its predominant colour. These Savalon arranged in chronological linear sequences to produce an all-over abstraction, which as the catalogue says, "allows this epic production to be literally encompassed in the blink of an eye".

'BitStreams' runs until June 10, and is being sponsored by Philip Morris. For more, you could check out the museum website at

Ledell Moe

Ledell Moe
Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens

Adreas Gursky

Adreas Gursky
Prada I, 1996

Sue Williamson's New York diary 3

Sunday May 6

The sun is shining, and we are going to do the South African thing and have a braai. Amanda and Bill have invited numerous friends, and I have asked Siemon Allen and Kendall Buster and Ledelle Moe and her husband, Quint. Siemon and Ledelle were both based in Washington until recently, but have moved to Brooklyn. I last saw them in Stockholm, in 1998, where we were all part of the 'Dreams and Clouds' show at the Kulturhuset. Both were founder members of the FLAT Gallery (see Reviews), and Ledelle is still working with wire, newspaper and cement to make her work. An enormous figure of a lying man, last seen at the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, will be on show at the Pratt Institute shortly. Siemon will open a prestigious one-man show at the Corocoran Gallery in Washington at the end of July.

Monday May 7

Alone among the major New York museums, the Museum of Modern Art, Moma, is open on a Monday. The museum is going through a radical restructuring and renovation process which will greatly enlarge its floor space, and will for a period close its doors altogether to allow this to happen, moving out to PS1, its new museum partner across the East River in Long Island City. In the meantime, much of the museum is sealed off anyway, though the ticket price remains the same - $11.50. In any case, we have come to look at only one exhibition really - the star of the main show at the moment is the German Andreas Gursky and his überphotographs. I have seen some of these before, at the Saatchi in London, but en masse they are even more impressive. The scale is immense, often three metres in width, which puts the viewer into quite a different relationship to the normal landscape shot. So large is it that one almost becomes part of the scene. The body and the senses are fully engaged. When I first saw one of Gursky's photographs, a winter landscape with a cross-country ski race in progress, hundreds of little figures crossing a vast snowy valley, I imagined that he had an enormous camera with a very special lens designed to correct parallex error. But some of these photographs seem impossible.

Now, reading the catalogue, I find that Gursky uses digital means to produce his images, and in the case of his "seething mass" type photographs, a rave scene for instance, he cuts and pastes figures, recolouring the clothes and making small alterations so that this is not obvious. Part of the fascination of the show is standing there and picking these out. And for his famous shoe display photographs, he simply built a section of a display case, photographed it six times, and put the whole thing together digitally. To learn that the images are constructed rather than real makes one reassess. But the strength of the images supersedes this knowledge, even though some seem much better than others.

Apparently Gursky did not have enough work to fill the vast caverns of the Moma, and he had to make some more at the last minute. In fact, the last images of the show seem merely silly - corporate logos in a sky hang over boards of directors at long tables with strips of mountain behind them. Gursky is much better when he tries to replicate reality rather than present a metaphor.

Tuesday May 8

Part of my piece The Last Supper Revisited which is under consideration by the Smithsonian involves transparent orange plastic blinds which pull down over images in windows - as if one were gazing through the blind at people in a room. The orange plastic I used before got spoilt, so I spend this morning trying to track down a suitable material which I can make new blinds with in the plastic shops of Chinatown. One which I love is fluorescent - when you cut the edge, it glows. But it is more suitable for the rave scene than my piece. I don't find anything I like. If I can't find what I want here, I'm probably going to have to rethink that detail. But Chinatown is so great, with all the buzz, beautiful trashy stuff to buy, and the dumplings shops on the street, that shopping is a pleasure.

Yinka Shonibare

Yinka Shonibare

Yinka Shonibare in conversation with Kathryn Smith

London-based art star Yinka Shonibare was in Johannesburg recently for the opening of an exhibition of his work, a scoop for local gallery Camouflage. The exhibition is sponsored by Billiton SA and curated by Camouflage director Clive Kellner. You'll remember Shonibare for his Victorian Philanthropist's Parlour, included on 'Alternating Currents' at the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale. Or, for those with a copy of Okwui Enwezor and Olu Oguibe's Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Market Place, there's an image from his Diary of a Victorian Dandy series on the front cover.

Best known for installations and tableaux, including Victorian costumes made from Dutch Wax (batik) fabrics, and multi-part paintings mounted as wall installations, Shonibare's work may seem glamorous (which it is) and superficially simple (which it isn't) but he's not as self-effacing as he initially makes out. As Enwezor titled an article about him, "The joke's on you". Shonibare's got your number.

Shonibare was born in London to Nigerian parents, relocated at a very young age to Nigeria with his family, then moved back to London to study, aged 17. His research into Dutch Wax fabrics was prompted when a lecturer commented that his work (which focused on Russian politics at the time) was "not African enough". Dutch Wax is a prime motif for the complexities around postcolonial identity. Produced in the Netherlands and Manchester, the brightly coloured and patterned fabrics are influenced by Indonesian textile design. When they didn't take off there, they were flogged to the African market where they have since become absorbed to the point that they are considered an "authenticating mark" of West African culture.

The artist gave two lectures on his work, one at Wits University and the other at the MTN Art Institute. Apparently underestimating the level of the audience at the Wits lecture, Shonibare took us through his body of work in a descriptive rather than discursive manner. Instead of critically addressing the postcolonial economy into which his work has been so easily slotted, Shonibare filled in some art historical "gaps" with regards to feminism and Pop Art, which he claims, as a self-professed postmodernist, influence him enormously. I chatted to him at his hotel the day before the opening.

Yinka Shonibare (YS) with Kathryn Smith (KS) and press agent Bev Wright (BW)

KS: Are you making any radical changes to the gallery space?

YS: I don't know!

BW: Yes ... two major changes I can tell you about. If you've driven past the gallery, the outside wall is now a brilliant yellow. And inside, there is Double Dutch, and Yinka can talk you through that one ...

KS: Are you painting the interior pink?

YS: Just the specific section where the painting is going to be. Because the painting comes with the wall.

KS: You said in the lecture yesterday, "If you buy the painting, you buy the wall." Have people done that?

YS: Yeah. You obviously don't buy the exact wall, but you have rights to that way of installing it. You buy on the agreement that it will be installed in that way.

KS: And new work? Will you be showing any of the Alien or "space race" works?

YS: No, it's quite difficult to get hold of the work. It's quite a coup for them [Camouflage], I think, as it's difficult to get hold of pieces as there are so many shows happening at the moment.

KS: Can you keep up with production levels and requests?

YS: Well, I control production levels anyway. The gallery [Stephen Friedman] says no to so many things, but we have to keep it controlled like that. But even so, it is a bit of a problem. But it's good, it's a very good thing. I'm happy that people are responding very well. It's a sign that people are engaging with my work, that they have dialogue with it. That is very exciting for me.

KS: So where is most of your work at the moment? What kinds of exhibitions or collections is it included in?

YS: The Art Institute of Chicago, the Saatchi Collection, National Gallery Canada, Modern Art Gallery Scotland - various places.

KS: Tell me a bit about the 'Authentic Ex-centric' show at the Venice Biennale. Emma Bedford from the South African National Gallery is an associate curator on the show, and two South African artists, Berni Searle and Willem Boshoff, are included on the exhibition.

YS: I'm not really involved in the organisation of these things. Really and truly, I don't know anything about the organisation of exhibitions, so they spoke to the gallery. Otherwise I'd go crazy. [laughs]

KS: Do you have a full-time assistant?

YS: Yes, I have a number of assistants. They're not full-time though. With the costume pieces, I have about four different costumiers that I use. So it depends on the skills. I work more like an art director than an artist. I have design meetings with people, and so on.

KS: Have your costumes ever been "performed"?

YS: No, but there's somebody who does these crazy, avant-garde theatrical productions and she's been trying to work with me for years. I might do it at some point, but ...

KS: So you haven't been down a catwalk at Fashion Week, doing a Vivienne Westwood?

YS: No! [laughs]

KS: But are the costume works fully functional as clothing? Can they be worn?

YS: They can't. Well, they could be, but of course, the pleasure of it is that they're not, ever.

KS: Why do you say that - "the pleasure"?

YS: They're made specifically for visual titillation, and the fact that you may want access, but you won't get it. It's pure titillation. There were some people doing a fashion shoot and they rang me to see if their models could wear them, and I said no.

KS: Rory Bester wrote a text for the catalogue, implying you are some sort of taxidermist. You have also been called an anthropologist, which is interesting in the South African context. The most common observation that people visiting from abroad make is that artists in South Africa behave like anthropologists in the sense that the social context plays such a large determining role with respect to the work that is produced here. Do you think you work in a similar way, perhaps as some sort of fictional anthropologist, re-determining history, culture and representation from your own experience?

YS: What I want to say is that the study of anthropology for me is very dry. I consider myself to have more affinities to entertainment and theatre. In other words, my practice has more to do with hyperreality - theatrical reality - not the literal illustration of the study of culture. It is a space in which people can actually have fun and enjoy creativity and theatre. So it moves beyond a pure illustration of society. It's art because it becomes theatrical. It's not reality, it's fictional.

KS: Yes ... a kind of fictional or fictive anthropology. I would go as far as to say that, because I think so many complex things are revealed by the work's playfulness, or even its glamour, that wouldn't be revealed if the work took itself too seriously, or was too earnest in its desire to be politically heavy-handed. Would you accept that about your work.

YS: Oh yes, sure. In a way, I think that it's important that if you're an artist, you don't want to give people a dry, academic study. I would go as far as to say that even if they have no idea of the discipline in which you're working, they should be able to enjoy and engage with the pieces without any knowledge of anthropology or enthnology, etc. My work is about making very complex issues simple.

KS: Indeed, if anything, that comes through loud and clear. A lot of the work is really funny, but then you catch yourself laughing, and take a moment. It's good, old-style wit, which always possesses an undercurrent.

Click here to continue reading the full transcript of the interview