Archive: Issue No. 80, April 2004

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Teboho Edkins

Watching a Teboho Edkins video about a gangster

Linda Givon, Penny Siopis & Sue Williamson

Linda Givon, Penny Siopis and me at the Deborah Bell opening

William Kentridge

William Kentridge at work on the staging of 'The Magic Flute'.

Albie Sachs, Marilyn Martin & Marlene Dumas

Albie Sachs, Marilyn Martin and Marlene Dumas at the opening of the Constitutional Court

Noria Mabasa

Noria Mabasa's sculptures at the village at Lesheba


Working under the trees at Lesheba

MARCH 1 - 20

Monday, March 1

Public Eye meets with a Cape Town ad agency who are interested in sponsoring the next Soft Serve art party event... keep fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 3

Hands up those who think that globalization has progressed to the point that apart from obvious differences like locale and language, the videos produced by French art students would be similar to those produced by their peers at a South African art school. On the evidence of 'Exchange view on.../ Échange vues sur...', a video exhibition curated by Cape Town based Ed Young, and France's Sophie Solnychkine, this assumption would be quite wrong. At the exhibition opening tonight, the difference between the two sets of videos is startling. South Africa: hot and visceral (with the exception of Matt Hindley's NO CONTENT which simply projects these two words repeated in a block for what feels like ages, and Cameron Platter's amusing animation Zebras from Space). France: cool and stylish. Frankest of all the SA entries is Teboho Edkins' documentary footage of men infected with HIV/AIDS discussing their sexual practices. Zen Marie's First Shoot records the artist's first lesson in using a gun. From France, Micha´┐Żl Fournier shows three elegant pieces in which jets and people are used as design elements.

Saturday March 6

Opening at noon today (an odd time which may account for the shortage of guests), is Swiss curator Karin Frei's show 'Visions of Paradise'. Coming up the stairs, visitors taking a left turn into where the gallery entrance is normally emitting the welcoming clinking sounds of exhibition wine glasses are confronted by a plastered up wall set with jagged shards of green bottles. Oops! Kendell Geers has once more disrupted the habits of the bourgeoisie. There is nowhere to go but up to the next floor, passing my video installation on the way.

This is the first time I have seen Welcome to the Jet Hotel actually installed on the monitor in the stairwell on the next landing, and now that it is there, I am less than thrilled. The sound echoes badly, and light from the skylight drains colour from the screen. Something will have to be done on Monday.

Candice Breitz has done a great piece, staging a Japanese drama played out against a simple interior by a handful of Japanese actors. The story is told in English subtitles, but the language the actors use consists solely of the Japanese words or names in Candice's vocabulary - words like sushi, Issy Miyake, etc. Strangely, even knowing this, it's hard to pick up the words the actors are using.

Hurry off from the opening to meet Jean Christophe Languetin, the set designer who came over from France for the Vita Dance Umbrella, and who is coming to talk about his group, Urban Set Design. In September, a workshop is planned in which 30 artists from Europe, Africa and Arab countries will spend three weeks living in El Max, a fishing village outside Alexandria in Egypt, working on art projects with the local residents.

Sunday March 7

Jean Christophe has tickets for the new William Kentridge production at Spier. Nine of William's videos, originally shot by the artist on a home movie camera then transferred to video have now been re-transferred by producer Ross Douglas on to 35 mm film from the original, allowing large scale projection. The leap of Kentridge's alter ego/protagonist Soho Eckstein from the small screen to the large is remarkable, allowing the audience an unprecendented depth of engagement. Added to this, Kentridge's chosen musicologist Philip Miller has written new music for parts of the production, and this is played by on-stage musicians, pianist Jill Richards and the Sontonga Quintet. The last projection, Tide Table is one I have not seen before, a moving elegy which surely refers to the AIDS endemic, as bound bodies are released into the sea.

Monday April 8

The morning is a mad dash before Jean Christophe's lunchtime departure. We have a conducted tour of the Michaelis School of Fine Art by Andrew Lamprecht, a quick visit to the Bell Roberts, where photographer Jean Brundrit is setting out her new show, reviewed elsewhere on this site, 'Spaces In-Between', and fifteen minutes at the District Six Museum, always enjoyed by visitors to the city.

From the airport it's back to the Joao Ferreira for a discussion with Joao and Karin Frei on how to improve the presentation of my piece. Decisions taken: a bigger monitor with better sound and a screen out cloth for the skylight.

Wednesday March 17

Lunch with art critic Tracy Murinik who has agreed to take over the marketing of theEditions for ArtThrob prints from my inadequate hands. Such beautiful prints we have, and not enough people know about them. Or perhaps ordering art online is seen as a risk. Yet each of the works we have is a strong examples of the artist's work, immaculately printed. We are now ready to put the work by the first six artists into a portfolio, and offer these to collectors and museums. A unique opportunity to acquire work by such artists as William Kentridge, David Goldblatt and Zwelethu Mthethwa. Only 10 portfolios will be available. Inquiries can go to

Friday March 19

Fly to Johannesburg for a lunchtime meeting with Themba Mabaso of the Department of Arts and Culture, and artist Senzeni Marasela. The artists' project at South Africa House in London is moving along again, and contracts are produced and discussed.

Saturday March 20

Deborah Bell's show of stately, elongated African figures opens at the Goodman. Worked in ceramic for later casting in bronze, the sculptures form a ring of dignified elders in the gallery. The Johannesburg art crowd has come to support one of their own - here is Steven Sack, who has left the DACST and is now Director of Culture for the City of Johannesburg. One of his new tasks will be to oversee the appointment of a new director for the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Strength to all concerned. Next question: Is he planning to revive the Johannesbug Biennale? It's a possibility ... perhaps in the form of a public art biennale ... is the reply. Here too is William Kentridge, Norman Catherine, Penny Siopis, Bronwyn Findlay.

I am staying with artist Penny Siopis, and tonight we go to one of the events around the opening of the new Constitutional Court in central Johannesburg. In any other country, the opening of such an institution might not be an art event, but here art is an integral part of the whole.

On the programme for this evening is William Kentridge's Nine Projections performed in the prison yard at The Old Fort. Artist Lisa Brice is here from London, and, perhaps because it looks like rain, is able to take advantage of one the few surprise empty seats. It is the same performance that I saw last week on the Spier Wine Estate Amphitheatre, but in this austere and historic setting, permeated with the presence of distinguished political prisoners, it has added resonance.

Sunday March 21

Chocolate cake at William and Ann Kentridge's is preceded by a visit to William's large studio, built as a separate structure in their garden. Here, William shows Emma Bedford and I his next major project, currently in progress. A cardboard scale model of the Brussels opera house allows the artist to experiment with the staging of 'The Magic Flute' in miniature, complete with back projections which will fill the back of the stage, and alternate with painted backdrops. Meanwhile, front projections falling on the wings, and Kentridge's continuing fascination with moving cast shadows will also come into play. The finished production will take place with a full opera company in 2005. I envy those who will be on hand to see it.

Asked if he is going to the party for the artists tonight at the Constitutional Court, William replies he hasn't had an invitation, and has now made other arrangements. Mine came by email, and read, you are invited to .. and the rest was blank.

Nonetheless, an impressively large crowd gathers on Constitutional Court Hill for the evening opening. Everyone is curious to see how all the art, from so many different artists, and the architecture work together. The concept of the court fills one with national pride - a unique arena where all may enter to hear the judges discuss the issues of people's rights under the constitution. There have been lots of mutterings in the art community that the commendable inclusivity which has guided the commissioning and selecting of artists for designing everything from the chandeliers and the carpets to major sculptures has led to a bit of a dog's breakfast effect. Certainly the simplistically conceived and clumsily executed steel ladder which leads up out of a bed of barbed wire in the main forecourt is one of the worst pieces of sculpture I've ever seen, but overall, the effect is of an energetic vibrancy and diversity. The impressive and imaginative architecture is bold and functional.

Artist Marlene Dumas is here, having flown over from Holland for the occasion. Her tapestries, of large scale faces in white, black and shades of grey against a yellow background originally made for a courtroom in Den Bosch in the Netherlands were donated by her to hang inside the courtroom. In the event, they have been placed above the junction of the forecourt and the steps leading down to the library. Need a bit of straightening and repositioning, but they look great. Marlene and I get the full tour of the building and all the spaces and art from Judge Albie Sachs, a prime mover and shaker in the whole process, and I conclude that the Court and the adjoining old prison buildings will quickly rise to the top of the tourist attraction list for Johannesburg.

Monday March 22

I am so excited this morning. Emma Bedford, Penny Siopis and I are heading north from Johannesburg for Lesheba, in Venda, in Limpopo Province, in the far north of the country. We will join the group of 10 international students workshopping with Rose Shakinovsky and Claire Gavronsky. They are already up there, working with some of wood sculptors who have made the area famous. Apart from wanting to meet the artists and sit under the trees for a few days, learning woodcarving skills from them, I am yearning for a landscape very different from the Cape, beautiful as that may be. A lush, more 'African' landscape infused with a rich wildlife and the traditional magic of Venda. I have been looking forward to this trip for months.

Turning left through the small town of Louis Trichardt, we soon leave the main road and head up a track of rich red soil which leads steeply up a mountain. Forty minutes later, we have reached Lesheba, situated in a beautiful valley between two mountain tops, where the air is full of the perfume of wild sage and other veld herbs.

Tuesday, March 23

Nearly 20 years ago, in 1985, the Ricky Burnett curated show 'Tributaries' was largely responsible for bringing the Venda artists to the attention of the art world. Their sculptures in wood, often painted, engaged with religious or mythological themes, or in some cases, derived from images of politicians or sports figures seen on television. Jackson Hlungwane was one of the main artists to represent South Africa on the 1993 Venice Biennale with wooden figures of monumental spirituality. Other important figures of the time were the late great Nelson Makhuba, Dr Phutuma Seoka, Johannes Maswanganyi to name but a few. Noria Mabasa, also on the 1993 Biennale continues to work, and at the invitation of the Rosmarin family, owners of the farm, has been responsible for transforming the main camp at Lesheba into an entire village of her clay figures. A large bull lies outside the dining room, and other figures of people and animals throng the village. Mabasa continues to hold an important position in the art world as does Samson Mudzunga, but many of the Venda artists now feel as if the art world is no longer interested in their work. This problem will be something we will talk about over the next days.

At Lesheba, a complex of three small buildings under the trees, about 15 minutes walk from the main village, serves as an occasional sculpture studio for some of the Venda artists. Four of them, including the well known Paul Munyai and Owen Ndou have been invited to participate in the workshop with Rose and Claires' students.

Wednesday, March 24

At the sculpture complex, pieces of wood lie on the ground beneath the trees, unidentifiably dull until the sharp blade of an adze exposes the colour of the wood beneath. I select one, and start to hesitantly remove the outer surface. The wood is hard and resistant - it's leadwood - and progress is slow, but sitting under the trees, chipping away at the wood is so far removed from my usual computer driven activity that I relax completely.

Thursday, March 25

Almost everyone else has gone off for a day trip to visit Noria Mabasa, but I am reluctant to leave the mountain top sanctuary of Lesheba, and prefer to continue struggling to extract a form from my chunk of leadwood at the sculpture complex. Paul Munyai tells me they are really enjoying working with the students, all of whom are new to woodcarving, but at the same time, they would also like to work with other, more experienced sculptors in the future. This kind of interaction could be beneficial in broadening their practice, and is an avenue to be explored.

Friday, March 26

Time to leave Lesheba. Already. And as I am scheduled to give a lunchtime talk about my work at Wits University in Johannesburg today, we have to make an early start. At Hamasha camp, where we have been staying, I drink my coffee gazing down the gorge towards the far hills of Zimbabwe for the last time.