Berni Searle
Red, Yellow, Brown (details)
from the 'Colour Me' series, 1998
Colour photograph
1 000 x 1 200mm
Photographer: Jean Brundrit

Joseph Kosuth
What Does It Mean?

Mona Hatoum
Over My Dead Body


The Cairo Biennale: A prize for SA

By Emma Bedford

Not only was South Africa represented at the Seventh International Cairo Biennale which opened late last year, but Berni Searle brought home a Unesco award. Unlike the Biennale prizes, the Unesco prizes were awarded specifically to young artists.

First prize went to the Egyptian brother and sister team of Amal and Abdel-Ghani Qenawi whose enormous, other-worldly metal tunnel and hydroponic dome seemed at once a massive seed incubator and a means of extraterrestrial communication. Second prize was awarded to Berni Searle for a photographic installation exploring aspects of her identity. Third prize was shared. Marwan Rechmaoui from Lebanon produced resin, wire and plaster structures reminiscent of the raw, exposed skeletons of bombed buildings which implicate the viewer in their reflective glass surfaces, while Chilean artist Arturo Ignozio Tapia's huge crates packed with rows of submachine guns and stamped "made in the USA" are indictments of American aggression.

Searle's installation Red, Yellow, Brown consists of three life-size photographs of her supine body covered in paprika, turmeric and cloves. This work from the 'Colour Me' series explores the racial classification "coloured" by which she was defined under apartheid legislation. The term remains contentious and continues to be debated in post-apartheid politics, particularly in the Western Cape. According to Searle in a pamphlet produced for the Biennale, she covers her body in various colours "in an attempt to resist any definition of identity which is static". The use of spices in her work refers to the trade in commodities via the Cape Dutch colony in the 17th century which was inextricably linked to the history of slavery. Central to her work is the consideration of gender.

As a woman exploring issues around being black in a post-apartheid context, Searle was the ideal choice for Cairo. Her heritage, by which she can claim ancestry from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Germany and England, made it patently clear to many that there is no way that we can claim any regional, cultural or religious exclusivity. For Berni, visiting Cairo was like a pilgrimage that allowed her to explore the rich diversity of her heritage in Arab and Muslim traditions.

Egypt's relationship to Africa was an issue that generated debate. According to Egyptian artist Adel El-Siwi, "the representation of African artists and curators at the biennale allowed Egypt, for the first time, to open a true dialogue with African art, enabling us to conceive of new dimensions for ourselves, beyond our relationship with the West" (quoted in Al-Ahram Weekly). While the presence of African artists and symposium delegates must be celebrated, the paucity and poor quality of some of the work from Africa indicates that channels of communication between Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa need to be developed and strengthened.

In contrast to the Unesco judges, the Cairo Biennale judges, including Okwui Enwezor, artistic director of the second Johannesburg Biennale and recently appointed director of Documenta XI, awarded prizes to esteemed artists such as Joseph Kosuth, Mona Hatoum and Nancy Spero.

Kosuth's installation was one of the most beautiful and epigrammatic works to be seen. On the greyish-green walls of the Centre of Art's Akhnaton Gallery in Zamalek was written the text: "What does it mean?" Repeated in the five languages associated with Egypt - hieroglyphics, classical and contemporary Arabic, English and French - the questions are reflected, along with the visitors, in the mirrored doors along one wall. Probably the single question most often asked in relation to art, and more so in the case of conceptual art, it also alluded to questions around the meaning of the Biennale itself as well to notions of cross-cultural communication. However, in the context of the air strikes against Iraq, ordered by Bill Clinton the day after the opening of the Biennale, the question took on a chilling significance.

The implications and effects of the bombardment unleashed by combined US/British forces were flashed across every television screen and became the constant topic of conversation in Cairo. Speakers at the symposium made reference to the bombings. American artists and academics repeatedly distanced themselves from them. In light of this, it was impossible to walk into Kosuth's space, see that question and oneself reflected in the mirrors and not be forced in the most profound way to consider one's own position in relation to such global aggression.

Also taking up the theme of war, Lebanese-born British artist Mona Hatoum positioned herself unequivocally. On a huge billboard in the grounds of the Akhnaton Gallery was an image of her face in profile. She is staring at a diminutive soldier standing on the bridge of her nose with a gun pointed at her forehead. Beside this, in huge text, shrieks the message: "OVER MY DEAD BODY". Beyond the billboard is a small room carpeted with prayer mats each depicting a skeleton while a troop of toy soldiers marches relentlessly across the back wall.

However, all was not gloom and doom. The exquisite beauty of Egyptian-born German artist Susan Hefuna's computer-manipulated enlarged photographs seemed to refer both to architectonic abstraction and the decorative traditions of Arab culture such as mashrabias and fabric patterning. In sharp contrast, Swiss artist Heinrich Luber projected images of himself doing a variety of unlikely things with strange forms. Both mind-boggling and hilarious, they seemed to be intended to question the very idea of effective communication.

Nancy Spero's delicate figures disporting themselves across a double-volume wall celebrated the lives of women throughout the ages and in diverse cultures. In the catalogue Nancy Spero: Seventh International Cairo Biennale 1998, Marilu Knode points out that by "evoking the passage of women's lives mostly forgotten in 'official' tales of history based on conquest, war, and power, [Spero] shows us that history can be rewritten".

While the Cairo Biennale presented some exciting works it suffered, in my opinion, from too much ill-considered work, the result of indiscriminate selections made by national selectors rather than according to a tightly framed curatorial vision as was the case in the second Johannesburg Biennale. However it did provide a platform for artists and symposium delegates from diverse cultures within Africa, Asia, Europe and America to meet and exchange ideas.


Detail of a work by
Sandile Zulu

Frances Goodman
England 1998
Projection in public space

Frances Goodman
Goodman 1998
Projection in public space

Moshekwa Langa
Faxed sketches of ideas
for drawings

'Celsius' - South Africans in Bonn

By Tracy Murinik

'Celsius', curated by Sabine Kampmann of Bonn and Gavin Younge, Professor of Fine Art at Michaelis School of Fine Art, opened at the ifa-Galerie in Bonn on January 19. Five South African artists made up the show - Moshekwa Langa, Frances Goodman, Sandile Zulu, Liza du Plessis and Nigel Mullins, all from different backgrounds and producing very different types of work. The connection: an engagement through their art with their immediate environments.

'Celsius' refers to the scale of temperature on which water freezes at zero degrees and boils at 100 degrees centigrade. The implications inherent to measuring temperature involve an attempt to gauge friction, movement and energy; or the intensity of heat in relation to a body.

Sandile Zulu is an artist who manipulates heat as a core medium in his working process. Fire forms an integral part of the philosophy behind Zulu's art, and has featured consistently as a key device within a larger investigative project that he has been working on over a number of years, called the Artomic Project. Zulu invokes the natural elements, fire, water, wind and soil in relation to his "artomism", using these elements as often-unseen media in making the works. They simultaneously affirm, negate and contradict one another as processes and as concepts: the energy generated through destructive procedures, or the potential threat imposed by water, generally associated with nurturance, for example. Zulu is concerned with the uneasy joining of a number of seemingly disparate experiences: of rural life and urban landscapes; of natural environments and industrial waste.

Frances Goodman is interested in the implications of daily routine, and what she terms "the fine line that separates routine from obsessive behaviour". The series of projected photographs which are included on 'Celsius' comprise part of a recent project in which she focuses on the domain of public toilets. For the 'Ablution Series', Goodman has visited a range of public toilets and, before using them herself, taken sample swabs from them. These samples have then been scrutinised and photographed under a microscope, and the images greatly enlarged.

As aesthetic surfaces they are intriguing and beautiful. Described within the context of what they represent, however, they take on a status which tends to be quite different. They represent, instead, degrees of threat and possible contamination. They expose abjection. They trace a residue of human intervention.

Goodman's inquiries are strongly centred around the tensions that exist between public and private space. She has noted, for example, the lack of private space allotted to men in the design of most men's toilets. The often-perceived threats that are frequently believed to exist in these spaces are generally quite telling of ideological prejudices, human anxieties and widely-believed myths. These threats span the fear of dirt and disease to sexual violation.

But the inclusion of these works inside an art gallery provides an added, somewhat subversive slant to Goodman's project. Beyond the more easily detached "other world" of basic human need, these images evoke questions around the generally perceived sanctity of the gallery space itself; of an unviolated, contained pristine environment. Duchampian in a certain way, these works literally appear "flush" against the walls of this internally regulated environment, which is inevitably made vulnerable to its own feared contaminations.

Moshekwa Langa's works for 'Celsius' are drawings in pen or pencil, nail polish and acrylics - what he has described as simultaneously paintings/drawings/actions. They might be described as "anthropomorphic portraits", documents recorded within a type of travelling journal that Langa adds to on a regular basis.

As part of a larger presentation that Langa has been working on over the past two or more years, entitled The Mountains of My Youth: A Novel, these works form not simply a record of people watched, encountered, or seen along Langa's many travels, but attest to a personal documentation of his own moods, thought processes and minor analyses of human nature. They are at once private personal journal, scribbling pad and travelling document.

A Novel, Langa suggests, involves a working process not unlike James Joyce: encompassing a fluidity of thought and process which allows for the artist to explore both the absurd and the deeply serious, and accommodating the contradictions that these infer. The drawings attest to this desire in many ways. They tend to encompass anything from deep irony, profound wit and searing insight, to a sense of personal loss, anxiety and disappointment; delight, curiosity, much play; fragile lines, and beautiful sentiment. In attributing human characteristics to often amorphic animal-like beings, Langa exposes a study of himself in the world: the constant grappling with his own identity and vulnerability. Like a type of mapping. A coding of one's own consciousness, abstraction and physical body. It incorporates a gradual comprehension and acknowledgement of one's own desire. It susses out the temperature of where you're at.


Erecting Jo Ractliffe's
billboard at 'End of Time'

Jo Ractliffe
'End of Time'

Jo Ractliffe's 'End of Time'

In the first days of the New Year, Johannesburg artist Jo Ractliffe travelled to Nieu Bethesda in the Karoo and carried out a series of artistic projects, including the projection of videos, the running of pinhole photography workshops, and the erection of a billboard with the image of a donkey. The theme of the donkeys and the "karretjie mense" of the area is one that has occupied Ractliffe for some time. The event was entitled 'End of Time', and sponsored by, among others, the European Union in South Africa.

Here is the artist's account of what happened:

"All in all, I think it went well; 160 people pitched for the opening, which is quite a turnout. The billboards were the subject of great discussion - whose donkey was it?; eventually it was identified as a donkey called Vonk, but only for a day, then everyone started claiming it as theirs! I heard that a few farmers were upset by Mike's [Nicol] text, which they felt targeted them - interesting because no reference is made to the identity of the 'killers' - it's all fiction, and the quoted newspaper reports reference a Willomore farmer and a farmer in Mulelo Village, Northern Province, who incidentally is black - some projections there!

The most wonderful part, though, were the pinhole photo workshops for farmers' and township kids. They were absolutely amazing; I'm going to exhibit them, with the texts that each person wrote about their works, in May at the Market. The show goes to Mark Coetzee in Cape Town in March - it opens there on March 3."


Winsor & Newton Millennium Painting Competition: The winners

Over 200 entries for the 1998 Winsor & Millennium Painting Competition were received, and the entries to be exhibited have now been announed.

The selection of 49 includes well-known and unknown names, and the list is: Lutaakome Alfred, Philip Badenhorst, Jeanette Bing, George Buckland, Mrs CP Burgers, Leon Clemons, Kathy Coates, Collin Cole, Rob Crombie, Reshada Crouse, Sue Dickinson, Lez Dor, Paul du Toit, Coral Fourie, Lesley Fraser, Mary-Rose Hendrikse, Helena Hugo, Francois Jacobs, Kim Lieberman, Albert Luckhoff, Virginia Mackenny, Anthea McDougall, Nigel Mullins, John Pickford, Karin Preller, David Riding, Jane Rist, Kevin Roberts, Clem Robertson, Shelagh Scholes, Greg Schultz, Robert Slingsby, Melvyn Smethurst, Enid Strydom, Willem Strydom, Elsabe Valcke, Sandra van der Merwe, Rosemarie van Wijk, Andrew Verster, Diane Victor and Michael Wald.

The panel of judges consisted of Anthea Bristowe of the Sunday Times; David Koloane, artist; Professor Alan Crump, lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand; Bren Brophy, curator of the NSA in Durban and Zwelethu Mthethwa of UCT's Michaelis School of Fine Art.

The competition was open to all professional and amateur painters working in any media including acrylic, pastels, gouache, oils or watercolour. The theme of the competition was 'My Country in the Year 2000'.

All these artists will have their entries exhibited at the Sandton Civic Gallery from March 31. Of these 49 works, five will be selected for the final judging in London. These works, along with entries from all 52 participating countries, will go on exhibition in London, Brussels, Stockholm and New York and be included in a calendar for the millennium. In the International Competition, nine runners-up will each receive 1 000, third place winner 2 500, second place winner 5 000 and the first place 10 000.

Other prizes to be won by South African participants include a millennium calendar featuring the winning works and R300 worth of Winsor & Newton art supplies.



Snow falls on Tom Cullberg's
Featherdome, outside the
Gothenburg Art Museum

The view from inside
Cullberg's Featherdome

Kevin Brand

Hentie van der Merwe
Portraits (detail)

Sandile Zulu
Main Theme from
Endangered Roots:
Abduction of the

'Dreams and Clouds' opens in Gothenburg

After attracting an extremely positive response at the Kulturhuset in Stockholm, the exhibition of 17 South African artists in the show 'Dreams and Clouds: Contemporary art from the new South Africa' opened in the Gothenburg Art Museum on February 6. Gothenburg is Sweden's second largest city, and the Konstmuseum is an imposing building set looking down the city's main shopping street. The show was curated by Ingemar Arnesson of the Kulturhuset, and South African Wessel van Huyssteen, and the title taken from an early piece by Albert Munyai, one of the exhibiting artists.

In the video spaces, Konrad Welz's darkly powerful Late at night when the malls are closed (1997) alternates with his Empire (1994). Welz interrogates the overwhelming influence of television on life and culture by lifting images seen on South African and Norwegian screens from their original context and freely cutting, editing, altering and recomposing. The results are somewhat nightmarish, but eerily beautiful.

William Kentridge has sent Weighing and Wanting, the seventh short film in the ongoing story of Soho Eckstein, Johannesburg property developer extraordinaire. This one is an exploration of the tensions arising from Eckstein's relationship with a woman. Kentridge's by-now-well-known technique of working from a series of charcoal master drawings, adding, filming, erasing, filming etc, is as alluring as ever, the transformations magical, the details endearing, the changes poetic, the overall impression profound.

Given more space here in Gothenburg, and consequently looking much stronger are Hentie van der Merwe's Portraits taken from a 1943 series of army photographs of naked conscripts. These photographs were taken against a grid, the better to establish body differences. Here, Van der Merwe simplifies the photographs down to black silhouettes, target outlines, deepening and making more poignant the dehumanising process.

One of the most noticeable aspects of the sculptural and installation pieces on the exhibition is that they have almost all been made from found or cheap materials - wood, cement, shade cloth, paper mache, bottles, cow dung. Necessity, or a shortage of cash, it seems, is the mother of invention for South African artists. Thus Sandile Zulu, with his enigmatically titled Main Theme from Endangered Roots: Abduction of the text. Carefully cleaned and twisted roots, exhibiting burn marks, are laid out in a grid below a larger grid of suspended and knotted newspapers, also burnt, this time heavily. The forms of the newspapers suggest hanging body parts: Zulu apparently told Arnesson the newspapers contained stories of the new democracy.

At the time of the exhibition opening, the Gothenburg Film Festival is in full swing. One of the hits is Ntshaveni wa Luruli's Chikin Bizness, a funny, vigorous film about the fiercely competitive business of selling live chickens in Soweto. Many of the Swedish visitors to 'Dreams and Clouds' comment on the parallels between the liveliness, roughness, colour and texture of that film and this show.

Exhibiting artists: Siemon Allen, Clive van den Berg, Willem Boshoff, Kevin Brand, Tom Cullberg, Maureen de Jager, William Kentridge, Isolde Krams, Hentie van der Merwe, Ledelle Moe, Santu Mofokeng, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Albert Munyai, Jo Ractliffe, Johannes Segogela, Konrad Welz, Sue Williamson, Sandile Zulu. Tom Cullberg, the young Swedish born artist who trained at Michaelis, in Cape Town, is also showing his Featherdome, installed outside the Museum, as a part of the exhibition. Until April 11.

For more about 'Dreams and Clouds', see Stockholm Journal in November ArtThrob.



William Kentridge
Drawing from Felix
in Exile

Kentridge makes cover of Art in America

William Kentridge became the first South African artist to have his work featured as the cover story of a major American art magazine when the January issue of Art in America devoted about eight pages to a sustained article by Leah Ollemans on the artist's work. And in the December issue of Artforum, in which a number of leading art commentators around the world are invited to name the 10 artists/exhibitions/events which have most impressed them in the previous 12 months, Kentridge was mentioned in no less than two of the lists, the only artist to receive double recognition.

In the coming months, Kentridge will be on view in New York with a new video installation in the Project Room at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And this is the artist who was passed over by the 1998 Vita Art Prize committee at the Sandton Museum last year!



Sue Williamson
Messages from the Moat
Photographed at the opening

South Africa House,
under scaffolding

Sophie Calle
Photographed by Jean
Baptiste Mondino 1998
From Calle's book
Double Games

Here Calle, in blonde wig
and dressed as Brigitte Bardot,
has herself photographed for
a series in which she conceives
images for each letter of the
alphabet. This, of course, was "B"

Sophie Calle
Details of photographs
from the Ventian hotel project

Yinko Shonibare
Diary of a Victorian
series (detail)
Colour photograph

Editor's London Journal

Monday, February 8: Arrive in London from Gothenburg, in Sweden, where I was invited to put up my piece Messages from the Moat as part of the 'Dreams and Clouds' show at the Konstmuseum (see story above) and take part in a seminar. Have taken advantage of the trip to come back through London, to try and finalise arrangements for a show to take place at the end of March, entitled 'The New Republics', curated by Sunil Gupta and Edward Ward of the Overseas Visual Arts Association. Or, at least, it was supposed to be called 'The New Republics', a show featuring artists from South Africa, Canada and Australia in a sort of post-colonial discourse. Now the Canadian High Commissioner has objected to the title, and the show has the less interesting title of 'The New Worlds'. Since the London venue is the Canada House gallery, he has had his way. The other South African artists are to be Moshekwa Langa, Brett Murray, Clive van den Berg and Willie Bester.

Tuesday, February 9: Rush around trying to get a local adaptor for my laptop modem so I can send off the ArtThrob updates.

Wednesday, February 10: Lunch with Sunil and Edward, who want a final decision from me on what I am going to show. Well, I have two projects in mind, and am hoping to do both. One is an electronic version of Truth Games, a joint venture with Electric Ocean in Cape Town, which will allow viewers to interact with text and images taken from TRC cases. This will take place within the gallery. The second is a sort of TRC for buildings, in which I will paste huge blow-ups of old headlines from the days of apartheid over South Africa House, which stands opposite Canada House in Trafalgar Square. At the moment, South Africa House is covered in scaffolding, which might be up for months, and I do not yet have permission for the project, which is called Papering Over the Cracks. I am hoping to get that this week.

Thursday, February 11: A meeting with Jeanne Denyer, cultural attaché at South Africa House. She is extremely helpful and supportive in principle, but it is the High Commissioner, Cheryl Carolus, who will make the decision. As I have explained in my proposal, sent on ahead of me, the posters will be attached with velcro, and will not damage the building's surface. Another problem might be that the Westminster authorities may not allow the putting up of large posters as the project will be situated in a historic area of London. They can apparently be very difficult. Anyway, time is short, and I must proceed as if I will get permission. I go to the British Library Newspaper reading section in Colindale, north London, to start my research. Here, copies of newspapers like The Times are indexed back to the 18th century, and have been stored on microfiche. I start making notes.

Tonight is the opening of two shows of work by the French artist Sophie Calle, who was part of the 'Important and Exportant' show at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Generally in London you need an invitation to get into an opening, but this one is at the Camden Art Centre, so it is open to all. The space is gorgeous - four large, high-ceilinged galleries, and the opening is packed. The artist, dressed in black velvet lined with magenta satin, flings herself into the arms of London's trendiest gallerist, Jay Jopling.

Calle first began to attract art world notice when she followed a slight acquaintance to Venice, and gave herself the task of finding out where he was staying, and then following him, documenting her obsessive progress over a 10-day period with words and photos. In another project, Calle worked as a chambermaid in a Venice hotel, rifling through guests' discarded items, taking photos of their dirty clothes, building up dossiers on the occupants of the rooms she cleaned. The results have been presented as words and text. The chambermaid from hell. Her work allows us, too, to be voyeurs. The utter dedication with which she approaches her seemingly purposeless projects, her intriguing texts and photographs, all handsomely presented, are seductive in the extreme.

Friday, February 12: A full day at the British Library.

Saturday, February 13: Call in at the Photographers' Gallery, where there is new work on show from Yinka Shonibare, a black artist based in London, who was also on the Johannesburg Biennale. In this series, entitled Diary of a Victorian Dandy, Shonibare has had himself photographed as the central figure in a series of elaborately staged tableaux which take place in the bedroom, drawing room, billiard room, etc, of a grand English country house. These "fantasies", which move the migrant from the outside to the very centre of the British class system, continue Shonibare's reassessment of the relationships between coloniser and colonised.

The photographs are hung in the gallery in elaborate gold frames, but have also appeared as posters in the London Underground stations, thus merging the rhetoric of history painting with the immediacy of contemporary publicity imagery.



Steve McQueen
Bear 1993
Exhibited on the 2nd
Johannesburg Biennale

Francis Bacon
Bending Figure No 2
Oil on paper

Damien Hirst
Details from Pharmacy

Michael Landy
Scrapheap Services

Editor's London Journal II

Saturday, February 13: A late rising and an extended lunch at The Ivy does not leave much time for art today, but luckily the Institute of Contemporary Arts on The Mall is open till 7.30pm, and I'm keen to see the new video work of Steve McQueen, who impressed on the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale. In the main gallery, there's a three-screen projection of circular images, rapidily revolving street level views of a city, streets, traffic. Rumbling noises, cabs honking, and every now and again a polite voice saying things like "'Scuse me. C'n I get through, please." The artist has attached a video camera to an oil drum, and is rolling the drum through the prosperous and crowded streets of midtown Manhattan. The piece is bewildering at first, with its triple images spinning crazily, and uncomfortable and unfocussable views of one of the world's richest shopping areas. McQueen works with ideas of black identity in Western society, and this piece might be read as a metaphor for the immigrant experience.

Monday, February 15: My last day in London. Am still trying to further my project of wrapping huge blow-ups of headlines about controversies from the apartheid years around South Africa House. This would be to tie in with the 'New Worlds' show which will open at the end of March in Canada House, the other side of Trafalgar Square. Phone Jeanne Denyer at South Africa House to see if the Commissioner has had a chance to consider the proposal. Not yet. Meet the curators of 'New Worlds', Sunil Gupta and Edward Ward, to look at the gallery space in Canada House together. The spaces are quite small. It's hard to decide what to show.

A few hours left go to the Tate. Get in to the press viewing of a new show of Francis Bacon drawings on the strength of my ArtThrob business card. For years, Bacon denied that he made any preparatory sketches for his work, claiming that he attacked the canvas directly. The group of sketches now up have recently been unearthed, after a deliberate suppression by Bacon. Slight as they are, they are a clear indication of a consideration of pose and space.

In the next gallery, Damien Hirst's Pharmacy fills the space. All the walls are lined with packed shelves with everyday pharmaceutical products. Looks like Boots have moved into the Tate. So what's the point? Art is about life, says Hirst, and cannot be about anything else. The array of products, which look so ordinary today, in 100 years time will look completely dated. A time capsule. Near the door, three old-fashioned apothecary jars of coloured water reinforce his point.

And then there's Michael Landy's Scrapheap Services, filling another room. Behind a grid, life-sized mannequins in red uniforms like municipal workers sweep up piles of what look like dead leaves, but on closer examination turn out to be thousands of little cut-outs of paper doll-type people

... MWeb

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