Archive: Issue No. 24, August 1999

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Kathryn Smith

Kathryn Smith
Colour laser print
Detail of video installation

"New Signatures" Winner

Judging for the Sasol "New Signatures" Competition took place on 18 August at the Pretoria Art Museum. The R10 000 prize was won by Kathryn Smith for her video installation Regard (dealing with complexities of photographic representation and desensitisation to sub/urban violence, using Antonioni's Blow Up as a model), with Mark Wilby and Renier le Roux receiving Judge's Choice Awards. Wilby's What goes around comes around (windpump installation) comprises three sculptural pieces resembling suitcases and containing all the parts from actual windpumps. Le Roux's Vier en twee halve bakstene "holds the doors of education and learning open to all" quite literally. It was installed propping the doors to the main gallery open. Of a record 279 submissions, 32 works were selected for this very eclectic show. According to Wilma Cruise, convenor of the judging panel, works were selected for their relevance and the challenges they pose to the status quo. A happy marriage of form and content is a prerequisite and technical excellence alone is insufficient for inclusion. In general, works promise a lot but on close inspection, fall somewhat flat. We can now breathe a small sigh that the competition season is over, until next year anyway.

Show ends September 8.

Pretoria Art Museum info

Robert Hodgins

Robert Hodgins
howling at the edge of dawn
Oil on canvas
91,5 x 121,5 cm

Isaac Kanyile

Isaac Khanyile

Zweletu Mthethwa
Colour photograph

Jo Ractliffe

Jo Ractliffe
'End of Time' billboard
in situ at Nieu Bethesda,
January 1999

Minnette Vari

Minnette V�ri
Still from the video Aliens, 1998

by Kathryn Smith

Probably the most anticipated event on the South African artworld's calendar, the announcement of the winner of the 1999 FNB Vita Art Prize 1999 is taking place at the Sandton Civic Gallery on August 10. Last year, performance artist Steven Cohen's coup when he won out over top rated William Kentridge set something of a precedent. In consultation with Phillip Stein of FNB Vita, Gallery director Natasha Fuller selects the judging panel, this year comprising Brenda Atkinson, Anthea Bristowe, Bongi Dhlomo, Clive Kellner and Frank Ledimo. The panel has the unenviable task of making one artist R 20 000 richer, and with a group of judges that is 'representative' in almost all senses of the word, the decision could be anyone's call.

Kendell Geers, Robert Hodgins, Isaac Khanyile, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Jo Ractliffe and Minette Vari are the artists commissioned to make a new work for this year's exhibition. Loosely based on the Tate Gallery's Turner Prize held annually in London, public nominations and the decision of the judging panel are taken into account when this list is compiled. Recognising the urgent need for public acknowledgement of South African contemporary art and the gaps created by the closure and demise of many of Johannesburg's galleries, Natasha Fuller initiated the reincarnation of the award three years ago. The focus is now on creating and providing a forum for debate, something the administrators hope to achieve by encouraging public interaction.

An introduction of participating artists follows:

A judge last year and an artist this year (I seem to recall Candice Breitz' warning about 'inherent dangers'), Kendell Geers needs little introduction. Having waived his right to supply an artist's statement, it's unclear exactly what Geers will be presenting.

Born in 1920, Robert Hodgins retired to paint full time in 1983. A master colourist, Hodgins' work seduces with its wry humour and powerful presence. Represented in most major collections here and abroad and having worked collaboratively with prominent local artists like Deborah Bell and William Kentridge, Hodgins' work bears testimony to the fact that painting is not dead. " What I relish in those painters I respect", he says, " is the combination of seriousness about life and the act of painting. Seriousness, not necessarily solemnity." Intense self-awareness informs his realisation that if he cannot locate these qualities in his own work, then no one else can.

Currently completing a Master's Degree at Technikon Natal, Isaac Nkosinathi Khanyile made the art-going public sit up and pay attention with his recent solo show at the Johannesburg Civic Gallery. Working with traditional African as well as 'western' contemporary materials and processes, Khanyile constructs monolithic sculptural forms inspired by dreams, the desire for self-awareness and healing.

The only Cape Town-based artist this year, Zwelethu Mthethwa hails originally from Durban. In a fresh and much-needed approach, his concerns centre around exploring the role of Black men, traditionally ensconced in roles where their "virility cannot be challenged" . But this space is being challenged by economic shifts towards capitalism and the growing influence of occidental world orders. Having studied at Michaelis, followed with an MA in Imaging Art at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the US, Mthethwa has established himself as a powerful voice in the fields of graphic work and photography.

A senior tutor in the Department of Fine Arts at Wits University, Jo Ractliffe has become increasingly high profile during 1998/99 both locally and internationally, having contributed to Hilton Judin's architectural tome, blank and exhibiting widely. Love, Death, Sacrifice and So Forth (video installation) critically dissects what we think we know about photographic practice and convention, and the photograph's relationship to reality and desire. Juxtapositions and disconnected fragments have the ability to create meaning between, allowing the viewer an openly interactive role to make meaning, and take responsibility for this.

From making perfumes with names like Decoy and Faith to creating her own corporate art 'company' VAR Inc, Minnette V�ri has emerged as one of this country's most challenging younger artists. Working in a variety of media, her Alien video and exhibition Beyond the Pale at the Alliance Francais last year, make her a leading contender. Gaps, subconscious or deliberate, in recollection, memory and narrative are subjected to her scrutinising gaze in a quest to constantly revise how we 'render' ourselves in the constantly shifting relationships with our environments. By seeking out those things we fear and repress, she attempts to locate a mutable 'self'. As she states, " to reconstruct the missing parts of a history is almost as frightening as staring an apparition in the face."

Under the supervision of acting curator Michelle Kriek, this year's awards will take place on August 10 at 6pm. Catalogues will be available and everyone is urged to join the festivities. Watch this space for an update on the winning work and exhibition.

For more on the Vita nominees and their work, check the special section on za@play

17.08.99 Kathryn Smith's review for Artthrob

Shaking the Mother: the Cape Town Festival
By Tracy Murinik

It should not be assumed, nor momentarily suspected that all is quiet on Cape Town's cultural side - planning for the city's very own arts and culture feast: The Cape Town One City Festival organised to centre around the week of Heritage Day, September 26 - is in full swing.

This festival clearly marks the end of an era: Capetonians are, by reputation inclined to take a slightly longer time to have things happen, to make things happen, as well as to realise when things are actually happening. Now, however, the Cape Times and the City of Cape Town have joined forces on this project to recognise, develop and celebrate the arts and cultures of this city, not only this year, but on an ongoing basis.

The Cape Town One City Festival will take place from the 22nd to the 26th September 1999 and will comprise a spectacular sampling of what the City has to offer in a programme of dance, drama, music, film, exhibitions, public sculpture, poetry and more. Venues for the various events will be centralised within the CBD, with the Festival occupying places such as the Grand Parade, the Castle, the old Granary Building, the City Hall, as well as cascading onto Adderley Street and up to Green Market Square, and inevitably trickling its merry way up towards Heritage Square, Long Street, Kloof Street and, decisively to Table Mountain. The decision to locate much of the activity centrally is in keeping with the Mayor's initiative to integrate the city, and further, recognises the urgent need for the public to have free and secure access to Cape Town and to creatively reclaim their own place therein.

Mike van Graan's vision as the overall Coordinator is for this first festival to happen successfully enough for it to become an annual event that will position Cape Town firmly on the international festival circuit - on a par with Edinburgh and similar festivals - and with all the attendant tourism and economic spin-offs that such events attract. He describes it as a project which aims to generate widespread support, not only from the arts and culture sector, but also from all other industries and communities who have an investment in the city, namely, from the public, from business and from tourism. As part of this concept, Van Graan has also devised a development strategy to be implemented over three years which envisions ways to develop, equip and ultimately maintain a cultural infrastructure in Cape Town, and an audience that supports it.

Visual arts projects include public art interventions, including extensive mural projects to be located throughout Cape Town and its surrounds and a project to design and create sorely-needed street signs marking points of interest for resisdents and tourists in Guguletu. Isaac Makeleni will head up a team of artists to make these. Newly formed artist's organisation Public Eye will act as co-ordinators.

Festivities will begin with a spectacular street carnival procession and a multifaith service on Table Mountain. The Castle will conduct its Open Day, playing host to a range of arts and culture events; there will be a children's festival at ArtsCape, a three-day music festival at the Good Hope Centre, a jazz festival on the Piazza outside the Nico, a range of contemporary art exhibitions, photographic shows, craft and a cultural tourism expo in the historic old Granary Building. Another Art Night will happen on the night of the 23rd, where buses will be provided to take you to all the art galleries in the city open till midnight. Three stages will rock with music and performance on the Grand Parade, including an Aids Awareness concert on the night of the 24th. There will be an African Film Festival at the Labia and in Guguletu; there will be theatre and dance - for children and adults; fashions shows, home video competitions, a book fair, cultural lecture series, a cartoon exhibition, night market and a celebrity play; food, craft and a little craziness. So you know you'll be busy that weekend!

Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

Millennium project in China

Of the many millennium art projects planned for the year 2000, one of the most unusual and exciting is "The Endless Line", which will involve 200 artists from around the world meeting at The Great Wall of China, developing ideas, and then putting them into practice on site.

An initiative of ART + PROJECT in Hamburg, curator Wulf Kirschner's proposal reads in part, "The Great Wall is the only man-made structure which can be seen from outer space. It is therefore suitable as a symbol for the planet Earth and the unity of its inhabitants. Analogous to Olympic peace, we would like to bring into existence peace between the cultures of the world for the period of the art symposium at the Great Wall, to which the participating artists and countries promise to adhere. Cultural exchange among nations is the best path for a future in the third millennium oriented towards peace and understanding".

The symposium and the subsequent art projects will take place at Mutianya, a particularly beautiful section of the Great Wall, restored by the German firm of Henkel. Three kilometers will be at the artists' disposal. The approval of the Chinese government has been received after two years of negotiations. Participating will be 200 artists - 50 from China and 150 artists from nearly 100 nations under the planned guidance of UNESCO and the Chinese government.

The symposium will start on May 8, 2000 and the artists will develop ideas on site before putting them into practice. On May 28, the opening ceremonies will take place. Final decisions on the artists to be invited have not yet been made, but South African artists Moshekwa Langa, Sue Williamson and Andries Botha have been asked to submit preliminary documentation.

No art at Arts Alive Festival

So who's seen the Arts Alive programme for this year? Does the fact that there isn't a single visual arts event listed beg any questions? Having waited two weeks for an email response with no satisfaction, some answers were provided telephonically by Roshnie Moonsamy, who's been involved in this 'spring celebration' festival since its inception. Although billed as a festival of the arts, the focus of Arts Alive is on the performing arts only. This year's line-up, which includes such world music and jazz luminaries as Nitin Sawhney, Andy Narell, Luis Conte, the Afro-Jazz All Stars and Salif Keita, can only be described as mind-blowing. Their line up of supporters and sponsors reads like a diplomatic convention: The French Institute Johannesburg, The British Council, The Arts Council of Switzerland, The Dutch Embassy, Shuttle '99, the US Fund for Artists and the Government of Flanders have all risen to the occasion in one way or another.

Moonsamy was quick to point out that the French performance group, Oposito, who will perform at the opening of the All Africa Games, are collaborating with over 200 South African artists, including the Fine Art department of the Wits Tech, in order to prepare props and costuming for this mammoth spectacle. Although performance is an integral part of the visual arts, this assimilation reads more like a justification for the inclusion of visual arts as well as a mild abuse of skills than a politically-correct experiment in cross-disciplinary practice.

Questions regarding this marked absence were met with an incredulous tone stating that it is the Biennale's job to cater for the visual arts component of the Metropolitan Council's arts calendar. The fact that AICA has folded and there is no Biennale this year is even more reason to make added effort. Arts Alive '93 and '94 did include some visual arts, but according to Moonsamy, the emphasis placed on these was small in comparison to the rest of the programme. If there is to be no Biennale and a festival infrastructure exists, it seems reasonable to assume a symbiotic relationship of sorts. But strangely enough, lack of funds is again part of the equation.

Perhaps this is simply an issue of misguided publicity. According to the press release, "[t]he Festival is part of the Metropolitan's vision of urban and social renewal through the promotion of arts". Granted, some mural work is taking place in Alexandra through The Artists' Forum based there, but this caters for very young children and teacher-training. Do we assume, given the title 'Arts Alive', that contemporary visual arts is considered dead, somewhat comatose, or just that the broad spectrum of contemporary practices are irrelevant to festival-going public? Either way, a decision needs to be made about the agenda this festival serves, and a suitable publicity campaign launched.

Willie Bester

Willie Bester
Semekazi (Migrant miseries) 1993
Mixed media in board
125 x 125 cm

Francina Ndimande

Francina Ndimande
Untitled 1992
Acrylic on canvas
126 x 92 cm
Collection Jean Pigozzi

Pigozzi Collection at Auction

South African art moved into a new arena - the world of international art auctions - when a number of pieces by local artists went on the block at Sotheby's in London recently. The work on offer was contemporary African Art from the Jean Pigozzi Collection. The top price for the day was paid by a private collector for Willie Bester's Semekazi (Migrant Miseries) 1993, which realised almost R110 000, nearly double the pre-sale estimate. Executed in Bester's trademark collage style, the painting evokes the problem-ridden daily life of Crossroads resident Mr Semekazi. Willie Bester is the subject of this month's Artbio.

Other South African art sold on the day was a charcoal and pencil drawing by David Koloane, which realised R5,500, a Tommy Motswai pastel (R5,700), and, also well in excess of the presale estimate, an Ndebele geometric painting in acryclic on canvas by Francina Ndimande entitled Local is Lekker sold for R24 000.

The Swiss-based Jean Pigozzi has amassed the largest collection of African art by living artists in the world - a collection documented in a handsome volume edited by Andre Magnin and Jacques Soulillou (Thames and Hudson 1996) and entitled Contemporary Art of Africa - a title which in its sweep annoyed many, as the book restricts itself purely to the black artists of Africa.

Pigozzi has announced that the proceeds from the recent auction will go towards financing the Jean Pigozzi Prizes for outstanding sub-Saharan African painters, sculptors and photographers. Each award is for R60 000.

Brett Murray

Artist Brett Murray
with his drawing of the sculpture

Fuss over commissioned sculpture

Missing Cape Town City Council minutes, Bart Simpson, the significance of fetish objects and the stated opinion of a respected Nigerian academic are all elements in a fight over whether a winning public sculpture should be allowed to stand in its designated space.

It all started in August last year when Cape Town artist Brett Murray won an open sculpture competition with his maquette of a fetish figure with erupting Bart Simpson heads, a typical Murray comment on the subversive effect of American culture on Africa. The maquette was chosen from 56 entries, six of them from abroad, by judges Willem Boshoff, David Brown, Berni Searle, architect Doug Roberts and city cultural officer Delysia Forbes, acting in her personal capacity. The place where the sculpture was to be erected was on a bandstand base in St George's Mall, a pedestrian walkway in the middle of Cape Town. The prize was R30 000 plus money for materials.

In February this year the bombshell dropped. The Council announced the sculpture was "inappropriate for the site and might offend some sections of the community". The minutes of the meeting in November at which the sculpture had previously been approved were mysteriously missing. Colin Traub, adminstrator of the Trust which put up the prize money and the AVA, also involved in the organisation of the competition, hired a lawyer. The processes of judging the work and awarding the prize had been strictly adhered to, and there was no way, it was argued, the council could back down now.

The old issues of who speaks for who, and who decides who will be offended by what were at stake. In a special Council meeting last week, a statement from Nigerian writer Kole Omotoso, now at UWC, praising the sculpture and stating that it did not in any way offend religious sensibilities was read out. Somewhat appeased, the Council has decided to take one month to take a second opinion...

16.08.99 Update: The City Council in its wisdom has now informed lawyer Colin Traub that he is required to produce no less than five additional informed opinions before a decision can be taken on whether Brett Murray's sculpture will offend sections of the community or not. It has also announced that in any case the piece will not be permitted to stand in St George's Mall, but in a far more inconspicuous position behind the City Hall somewhere. Traub's reply to both points: "No way". Meanwhile, previous winner of the Urban Arts Foundation Competition for public sculpture, John Skotnes, has entered the fray with a letter to the Cape Times (Aug. 13) headed "City Council's treatment of sculptor Murray disgusting". "It would seem", writes Skotnes, "that self-appointed cultural gods, pompous and full of their own importance, have taken upon themselves to withdraw permission for the erection of Murray's work.

"What is more sickening is the same council has desecrated the urban environment of Cape Town by granting permission for the erection of one architectural monstrosity after another. An artist such as Murray is a light in such a depressing cultural milieu. The erection of this sculpture must go ahead."

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