A key to understanding the mechanics of Russell Bruns’ exhibition is his statement saying, “defamiliarisation is required to reveal the concealed physical and ideological structures from the past still operating within the present”. In this way he reveals why his revisiting of the ‘everyday’ makes it alien. His lens acts not as a capturing tool but a microscope. Candyland demands deliberate engagement, its poignancy remaining unrealized without critical self-examination.
The photographs in Candyland are beautifully rendered. Printed via inkjet instead of laser, they appear full, supple. The heavily saturated colours tucked into the black frames make the composition appear cinematic; this is heightened by the fact that the subjects appear to have been captured in the instant preceding something momentous. But the surroundings suggest nothing momentous could possibly happen. This is the ‘everyday’.
The reason for this is that photographs and videos have the ability to be simultaneously trusted and ignored. They have been thought to document, not express and therefore carry the appearance of truthfulness. They are seen as portals to the past and evidence of lived reality. In a time overrun with stock-footage, images in this medium do not provoke interrogation. Subsequently, for the middle-class gallery goer with a university education, the images of supermarkets and squash courts, etc, initially appear as aesthetically pleasing with an edge of mystery. The imperative to mine them for meaning hangs in a delicate balance with their ostensible banality. Their very ubiquity is a summons.
This specific use of photographs and video makes Candyland a visual demonstration of inattentional-blindness. With the medium being omnipresent it has the ability to obscure its content, thus it becomes the appropriate vehicle for the task of problematizing the unseen contents of the everyday. The meaning of the images is obscured because it is hidden in plain-sight and in this way the show invites an unraveling as opposed to a reading. Candyland agitates the passive acceptance of images fostered by repetition and routine, suggesting that the consequence is a society desensitized to its distortedness, oblivious to its alienation and passively complicit in the entrenchment of prejudicial views.
This show anticipates the predictable, middle-class reaction of appreciative complacency in order to interrogate and agitate it. To be blind to the images, or appreciate them only aesthetically is something that is tied to a socio-economic position. For most of the people living in South Africa -those struggling along the breadline -the images in this show do not depict everyday situations; they are the visual manifestation of their aspirations. Simultaneously, Candyland displays the distorted reality of those who are blind to it; and for those it is vivid for, it is the fictional place at the end of the rainbow (nation).
Best illustrating this is the lone video piece of the exhibition. Though placed at the top of a staircase, hidden by a curtain, it is here the meanings of the photographs coalesce. In the piece titled 3042 likes, young privileged South Africans of all races are shown interacting in their natural habitat: cafes, changing rooms and ATMs in school quads. Their utterances and movements are slowed down, urging the viewer to pay closer attention to what is being said and done. The students wait in line for cash machines and scroll down on their laptops while making disparaging comments about instant coffee, brag about having high-tea at Mount Nelson Hotel and outline their new exercise programs. Taken from real Facebook statuses, the work sets itself apart from being merely being a statement on consumer culture. It’s a display of how self and status is intimately tied with purchasing power and class-affiliation. The slow, slurred speech becomes a symbol of the severity of their intoxication with their unchecked privilege. The initial urge to identify with the scene is promptly collapsed, engendering an unexpected shame. The piece demonstrates that while rights are afforded to all, only some can afford claiming them.
The show is not confrontational in its social critique. The dismissing of the message’s content as unremarkable is a radical reminder for the viewer to interrogate their position, privilege and/or lack-thereof. The show agitates fantasy, reality, dream and nightmare; by virtue of Candyland being a reality for some, and a dream for others, the suggestion is that we’re agents in a collective nightmare. For familiarity and alienation to exist simultaneously, there must be a fundamental rupture in the social fabric.
While it lends itself to opening-night conviviality, the show requires the viewer to go beyond that, for their own benefit. Candyland is not didactic; it is an invitation for viewers to have a dialogue with their own subjectivities, showing how critical self-examination provides a fuller and more meaningful interaction with reality.