Archive: Issue No. 132, August 2008

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by Chad Rossouw

Green and Grey: South African Artists at Emergence, New York

'Emergence' is a show in New York of experimental and participatory art that took place over nine weeks in New York, ending last month. Calling itself 'creative pioneers in uncharted territory', the project is worth checking out for a bunch of interesting projects at . Avant Car Guard and Barend de Wet, Christian Nerf and Douglas Gimberg from South Africa were invited to participate.

Avant Car Guard presented a work which, while neither participatory nor particularly experimental to my mind, looked bizarrely at the impact of the art industry on the environment. Reminiscent of the signpost pointing the direction and distance to the other Spur restaurants, four signs pointing the way back home to Johannesburg were presented by the artists. While it could easily have been a meditation on the centre versus the periphery, or space versus place, an accompanying poster shifted the meaning by calculating the carbon emission the artists would have generated in order to attend the show. Contemporary art loves the words 'traces' and 'residue'�, but often forgets the real world impact of those terms. While green is the new black, it was a surprisingly sincere offering from the trio, lacking their standard sarcasm and irony, but still containing their incisive critique of the art world. It can be seen at .

De Wet, Nerf and Gimberg produced a project that appeared to be participatory, but ended in a tight knot of veils. Acting On Orders invited visitors to the show to email them commands, which half a hemisphere away would be acted out by them. As we have learnt by generations of soldiers blaming atrocities they committ on orders issued to them, orders are open to interpretation. And the orders can be entirely meaningless.

The project took the form of a blog where documentation of the acts was posted. The first veil falls when we realize that the orders aren't written out, we merely have numbers. The second falls when we see the acts aren't what we would have expected, but miniature sculptures. The veils get tied when we see that we have been lead into a blind alley, where no meaningful interpretation is possible (except a vague erotic and I presume unintentional phallicism). One end is a faithless lunge at reason and sincerity, the other, as tightly held, is a belief in the importance of art. We end up with objects coded into an unbreakable cipher, all elements randomised, the base text devoid of sense in the first place. It's frustrating as hell, but they were just doing what they were told.