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

Black and white photograph

Love's Body
Lightbox installation
set into false floor
Installed at Ibis Art Centre,
Nieu Bethesda

'End of Time'
Black and white photograph

N1 Inventory (Every 100kms)
Installation of 28 black
and white photographs

N1 Inventory
Black and white photograph

(N1 is the national road
that links Johannesburg to
Cape Town and runs through
the Karoo)

Pinhole photograph
Taken at the 'End
of Time' workshop

Video still from Balaam

Video still from Balaam

Guess Who Loves You
Installation at 'Dreams
and Clouds',
Kulturhuset, Stockholm

Guess Who Loves You
(soccer ball)

Colour photograph

Guess Who Loves You

Colour photograph

Guess Who Loves You
(stress ball)

Colour photograph

Installation view of
'reShooting Diana'
Silver prints on fibre paper,
glass, steel. Installed
in the Rembrandt Gallery

Jo Ractliffe


A feature on an artist currently in the public eye

Jo Ractliffe
(March, 1999)

Modus operandi:

To explore her themes of a "revelation of absence", Johannesburg artist Jo Ractliffe draws on a range of photographic and art practices, including snapshot, documentary, forensic and studio photography, as well as installation video and projections. "It is not accidental," writes Brenda Atkinson in a catalogue essay, "that Ractliffe has chosen photography as the medium most suited to her thematics. Photography occupies a beautifully, maddeningly awkward space between otherness and the real, between art and documentary journalism". For her 1998 work, Ractliffe has been named as a Vita Art Prize nominee for 1999.

Artist's statement:

"What interests me are things that are ephemeral - desire, loss, longing - and their relationship to photography. I am also curious about what we don't expect from photographs, what they leave out, their silence and the spaces they occupy between 'reality' and 'desire'. I try to work in an area between the things we know and things we don't know; what sits outside the frame. I am interested in exploring these oblique and furtive 'spaces of betweenness', and in how they figure in producing meaning in a mode of representation that seems so often predicated on specificity and transparency. Photography is quite a resistant and unforgiving medium."


In March, Ractliffe is showing elements from her 'End of Time' project at the Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet in Cape Town (see Listings). In January 1996, driving through the flat and endless spaces of the Karoo, working on her N1 project, Ractliffe suddenly saw three dead donkeys lying by the side of the road. No explanation was apparent. The incident stayed in Ractliffe's mind, and she later revisited the area, but could not locate the exact spot where the bodies had been. The sight of the bodies, the knowledge of the difficulties of the "karretjie mense", a community of itinerant people travelling with the donkey carts in search of work, the feelings aroused by the long journey through the ancient landscape, led eventually to a complex project. 'End of Time' was undertaken in the first week of this year at the Ibis Art Centre at Nieu Bethesda in the Eastern Cape. There was the erection of a billboard of a donkey in the veld. There was the installation in a darkened back room of the centre itself of a lightbox with a photograph of Ractliffe's dead dog, Gus, in his grave set into the floor "as if you just come across it". There were pinhole photography workshops.

Before that:

Ractliffe's first work around the donkey incident was the making of a video, Balaam, about the karretjie mense and their donkeys, first shown on 'Alternating Currents' at the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale in 1997, and currently to be seen in Gothenburg, Sweden, on 'Dreams and Clouds: Contemporary Art from South Africa'.

And before that:

Also on the 'Dreams and Clouds' show is a body of work Ractliffe made early in 1997 entitled 'Guess Who Loves You'. This was a series of large-scale colour photographs of strange-looking, brightly coloured, chewed objects: the various toys Ractliffe had given to her dog, Gus. Again, this show wasn't really about those toys as such, but about the complex relationships we have with a dearly loved companion.

Next up:

In May this year, there will be an exhibition of the pinhole photography workshop results at the Rembrandt van Rijn Gallery at the Market complex in Johannesburg, sponsored by the European Union in South Africa.

Workwise, Ractliffe is planning a short film with musician Philip Miller, about "things around romance ? images like someone driving away ? those old French films ? a combination of stills and video ? non-narrative".


Jo Ractliffe lives and works in Johannesburg, where she is a lecturer in the Fine Arts Department of the University of the Witwatersrand. E-mail: 162rad@muse.arts.wits.ac.za.

Solo exhibitions

1999 'End of Time', Ibis Gallery, Nieu Bethesda; Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet, Cape Town
1997 'Guess Who Loves You', Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
1995 'reShooting Diana', Rembrandt van Rijn Gallery, Johannesburg
1990 'Nadir', Market Gallery, Johannesburg

Selected group shows

1999 'Dreams and Clouds', Konstmuseum, Gothenburg, Sweden
1998 'Art Dans le Monde: Tendences Critiques', Passage de Retz, Paris
'blank_Architecture, Apartheid and After', Netherlands Architectural Institute, Rotterdam
1997'3x10', Hänel Gallery, Cape Town
Fifth International Istanbul Biennial
'Aborescence Sud-Africaine: Des Artists en Fin de Siècle', CRDC, Nantes Festival, France
'Alternating Currents', Electric Workshop, 2nd Johannesburg Biennale
1996 'New Art, New Issues', South African National Gallery, Cape Town
'Don't Mess with Mister In-Between', Culturgest, Lisbon, Portugal
'Artists' Books in the Ginsberg Collection', Johannesburg Art Gallery
'Female Printmakers: Graphic Artists from Cognate Language Cultures', Gynaika 2008 Festival, Stedelijk Museum, Sint-Niklas, Belgium
1994 'Biting the Ballot', Market Gallery, Johannesburg
1993 'Limits of Liberty', University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.


1988 Master of Fine Art, University of Cape Town.

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