Archive: Issue No. 27, November 1999

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Alan Alborough

Alan Alborough
Beautiful Objects (detail)

Alborough wins Standard Bank Award
by Paul Edmunds

The Standard Bank Young Artist Award for the Visual Arts for the year 2000 has been awarded to Alan Alborough. His name might be a little unfamiliar to some, but those who know his work rate it highly. Besides, the repeatedly stated aim of the award is that it be given to an individual who is 'young' in terms of the development of their career, one who is highly regarded and will benefit from the publicity and accolades which attend this award.

Alborough's work is difficult to pin down and he is notably silent about it. He chooses not to work in any one medium or mode, but instead shifts around, finding what is appropriate for a particular project. Unlike many conceptual artists, Alborough never abandons the aesthetic, and his works are engaging, sensual and provocative. Listing the materials in which he has worked- cured elephant ears, plastic clothes pegs and armoured glass- can't do justice to the multi-layered meaning and visual arrest of his work. It might also seem to preclude any number of media in which he may choose to work in the future. Recently audiences have seen his work, part of a group of works, entitled Beautiful Objects on the 'Emergence' show which is currently travelling the country. His 1997 work Heathen Wetlip ( an anagram of 'white elephant') was part of the 'Graft' show curated by Colin Richards for the Johannesburg Biennale of that year. It is fashioned from the cured ears and feet of culled elephants and was rigged with cotton rope and clamps. It elicited strong responses, not all of them approving. The work created a tension between its sensual and emotional shock value and its compelling visual and intellectual aspect. Its clean lines and structural integrity were refuted by its reference to South African domestic artifacts.

The Young Artist Award finances the production of a catalogue and headlining publicity for an exhibition at the Standard Bank Festival of the Arts in Grahamstown. The show then travels the country. After a hiatus of one year, while the festival celebrated its 25th birthday, it is refreshing to see it return with what some would regard as a risk. Alborough was born in 1964 in Durban and studied Fine Art at Wits University. He went on to complete a Master's Degree at Goldsmith College in London. His career and studies have been marked by numerous scholarships and awards. He is currently resident in Cape Town, where he is certain to produce a compelling and challenging body of work for his upcoming show.

Steven Cohen

Steven Cohen with Nomsa Dhlamini and Ann Cohen
Az di muter shreit oifen kind: "mamzer" meg men ir gloiben - When a mother shouts at her child: "bastard" you can believe her (detail)
420 X 275 mm

Minnette Vari

Minnette Vari
Untitled (detail)
420 X 275 mm

We are Family: WASH 5 is out.

In her editorial to the all-new, super-lush WASH 5, Brenda Atkinson observes: " 'Family' in the late '90's is as mobile a phenomenon as our fantasies of it allow, and as mutable as reality makes it." The contributions contained in this large red book, requested and received from some of the country's most well-known and often controversial artists, engage and confront this initially unsettling but ultimately emancipatory notion from all possible angles. Sometimes with an accompanying text, others without even an indication of who produced the work, the images and text-based pages are critical, seductive and almost embarrassingly frank.

Inspired by a special limited edition of London-based magazine iD called Family Future Positive, there is not a single image of a traditional mother-father-children nuclear family in sight, unless you count Joe Dog's gloriously scathing drawing that accompanies the editorial. Mnr. Roelf Labuschagne, gun in hand, is embraced by his wife on Valentine's Day, while his son shrieks "Pô! Pô! Dors 'n koffer by die deur, Pô!" Penny Siopis gives us Fathers and Child while Steven Cohen manages to get his mother and her maid to each don a pair of his fetish stilettos and assist him in creating a tableaux of family relations gone slightly awry. He takes a quote from The Dictionary of Popular Yiddish Words, Phrases, and Proverbs which translates as "When a mother shouts at her child: 'bastard' you can believe her." Not for the faint-hearted.

From biological 'ties that bind' to the looser bonds of professional, social, gendered, political and digital media/ted families, nothing is allowed to escape to comfort zones, hoping not to be noticed. The images are intensely intimate, private and personal. They allow you in, after a consensual agreement (by virtue of their inclusion) that they are to be respected. In this fifth edition, WASH has truly come of age. From the earlier fold-out issues of City, Christmas, 2000 and Vampires which presented a fresh approach to thinking about a magazine's potential as a forum for a myriad of voices and images around a common theme, this issue contains all this while maintaining the razor-sharp edge. Perhaps this is because it tackles the most sacred of cows with such stunning acumen.

According to the website editorial, artists and culture-mongers need an opportunity to 'come clean' in a society of 'Dirty minds, dirty lives, dirty adverts, dirty politics.' This is why we need WASH, as well as to 'tell us stuff we don't know.' And for the more conservative magazine fans amongst us, you may be pleased to know that this issue has real pages that are actually stapled.

WASH is a bi-monthly publication that can be subscribed to, ordered on the web and is not available at a bookstore near you. For more information, please contact Brenda Atkinson at Chalkham Hill Press (yes, the same people who brought you Grey Areas) on or phone her on (011) 807-2693. Check out the website, complete with free WASH screensaver, on

Bonnie Ntshalintshali

Bonnie Ntshalintshali

Bonnie Ntshalintshali

Bonnie Ntshalintshali

Bonnie Ntshalintshali dies

One of the brightest stars of the Ardmore Ceramic Centre in KwaZulu Natal, Bonnie Ntshalintshali, died last week at the age of 32, a victim of AIDS. Exhibiting on the prestigious Aperto section in the Corderie dell'Arsenale at the Venice Biennale in 1993 and on the 1st Johannesburg Biennale in 1995, Ntshalintshali's skill lay in building marvellously rich, complex ceramic pieces which combined witty elements of daily life with biblical stories and images refelecting Zulu traditions and culture.

She was born at Ardmore in 1967 and after a mission school education, started in 1985 to work as studio assistant to ceramacist Fee Halsted-Berning. The talent which was to bring her international fame flowered quickly. In 1990, the heights reached by mentor and student were recognised when the two were named joint winners of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, entailing a touring exhibition which opened at the National Festival of the Arts in Grahamstown.

Ntshalintshali constructed her pieces by coiling the clay, or building from solid forms, stacking element upon element, then firing at 1200 degrees, before decorating in intricate colourations.

Most recently, her work was part of a show of ceramics called 'Down to Earth/Okuvela Emhlabeni' curated by Peter Visser which opened at the LongHouse Reserve venue in East Hampton, New York in August 1998. The show continued to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where one imagines local artists must have been struck by the affinities between Ntshalintshali's elaborate and multi-faceted pieces with similarly complex and colourful ceramic art found in Mexico.

Her work is in the collections of the SA National Gallery, the Durban Art Gallery, the Tatham Gallery in Pietermaritzburg, the Johannesburg Art Gallery, and UNISA, Pretoria.

William Kentridge

An image from Kentridge's winning piece Stereoscope and Palimpsests

Kentridge wins Carnegie International

At the opening of the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh last week, William Kentridge was named the winner of the Carnegie Prize, earning himself some money, a medal and untold prestige. The Carnegie represents the crème de la crème of cutting-edge art, the nearest thing the United States fields to Europe's Documenta, but on a much smaller scale. Forty-one artists were chosen to exhibit by a jury of international curators, one of whom was Okwui Enwezor, director of the last Johannesburg Biennale. Kentridge's winning work is Stereoscope and Palimpsests, the artist's newest animated video work, currently to be seen on his solo show at Johannesburg's Goodman Gallery.

Goodman Gallery director Linda Givon was present at the awards ceremony, and says that when the award was announced and photographers leapt forward to take the photo of the winner, Kentridge was nowhere to be seen. He was wandering about upstairs, looking at the work of other artists. Shirin Neshat, who will be remembered by South African audiences for her piece on the Johannesburg Biennale, has a strong new piece on the show, as does Kara Walker, whose work will be seen in Cape Town in January on 'One Night Stand' at the Joao Ferreira. The only other South African artist on the show was Kendell Geers, with a new video piece entitled Poetic Justice.

Cape Town audiences will have an opportunity to see hitherto unseen work by Kentridge, Sleeping on Glass an installation plus etchings, when the Linda Givon curated show 'Artery' opens at the AVA on November 29.

The ArtThrob review of the Carnegie International, by Laurie Farrell, assistant director of the Museum for African Art in New York, will appear shortly.

Ancient Shapes

Ashraf Johardien and partner's Ancient Shapes

Two Tone

Peter Eastman and Matthew Hindley
Two tone
Surveillance video projection

Softserve at the 'SANG'

From the moment the doors opened at 6pm on Friday November 5, the multimedia art party 'Softserve' at the South African National Gallery just took off. Amost 1 500 people thronged the gallery and partied to Phuleng and Frankie's DJing in the atrium. The lighting in all of the galleries had been subdued and changed with coloured gels, completely transforming the austere white halls into the hottest venue in town. Performance followed performance - a group of three led by Nicole Levin and under the direction of Neville Engelbrecht, seated on a bench, taking calls on the cellphone, viewing soap opera and eating chips gave an impression of the after-hours livesof The Butcher Boys, Ashraf Johardien and partner performed an athletic Ancient Shapes around and on top of origami cranes, and at the end of the evening Robin Rhode added to his repertoire of performances which interact with his own drawings (see artbio) by playing a person driven crazy by a persistent morning radio which will not allow him to sleep. Clad in white pyjamas in a white sheeted bed, Rhode keeps trying to fiddle with the radio (charcoaled onto the wall) using hands, socks and a pillow to silence the music, smearing the drawing and sullying his pristine white night clothes in the process.

On the audience-engrossment scale, the piece of Peter Eastman and Matt Hindley came out near the top, proving that we're all voyeurs, really. The duo had secreted minute spy cameras in the gallery cloakrooms, and the activities there were projected in two large-scale soft grey images on walls in the Lieberman room. The interesting part was figuring out who knew they were on camera, and were faking the illicit sniffings, and who didn't.

In a red satin muffin shaped tent by Edward Young viewers could watch untranslatable images projecting on to a ceramic TV, and Stellenbosch masters student Pierre Founche constructed a wall of white cake box bricks with small sculptures in niches. In a room hung with Azaria Mbatha prints, Down Load Up projected and video mixed a dazzling mixture of images on the vaulted ceilings, and outside the gallery, Lynne Lomofsky, Jo O'Connor and Tanya Poole investigated in various ways issues regarding the female body and the interiors of fridges.

It was exhilarating, often moving and beautiful, sometimes funny, and definitely to be repeated.

More images from the show will shortly be added to the website,

Chris Ofili

Chris Ofili
The Holy Virgin Mary 1996
Paper collage, oil paint, glitter, polyester resin, map pins, elephant dung on linen
243.8 x 182.9cm

Olu Oguibe on Chris Ofili

This piece is reprinted from the newsletter Cultural Exchange via Internet - Opportunities and Strategies Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin. It provides an interesting background to the furore about Ofili's piece on the 'Sensation' show at the Brooklyn Museum.
(Editor's New York journal)

From: Olu Oguibe

I believe that a little correction ought to be made regarding Ofili and his elephant dung, so as to distinguish an artist's myth-making from the facts. I write as the first critic to write about Ofili's work in the press 10 years ago when he was a student. I also visited him in his studio in London King's Cross this summer.

Chronologically, Ofili may have began his use of elephant dung in the period after his brief trip to Zimbabwe, but Zimbabwe, as members of this list will easily figure out, was not and could not have been his source.

Instead, Ofili's direct source is the African American conceptual artist, David Hammons, one of the most influential conceptual artists working today. In the 1970s Hammons began to produce what has been referred to as "Dirty Art". Among other artists working in this mode were Alan Heiss, Richard Serra and, of course, Robert Smithson. In 1978, Hammons exhibited his 'Elephant Dung Sculptures' in New York. In the pieces he used balls of elephant dung on a toy cart, with toy elephants and peanuts. One of the pieces is now owned by the collector AC Hudgins. In 1981, Hammons produced another piece, an intervention, by urinating on a Richard Serra sculpture in Lower Manhattan. He was arrested and booked and the event was recorded by the photographer Dawoud Bey.

In 1983, Hammons staged a street sale at Cooper Square, New York. He sold snow balls. The intervention was called 'Bliz-aard Ball Sales'.

Now, here's the catch. A decade later, a young British artist named Chris Ofili tried to replicate Hammons's 'Bliz-aard Ball Sales' in the London East End by trying to sell balls of elephant dung on the street. It was old, but not nearly controversial enough. It caught little attention. Then he began to make decorative paintings that borrowed largely from Australian Aboriginal dot-paintings (especially after Aratjara, the Aboriginal contemporary art mega-exhibit showed at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1993). Then, Mr Ofili propped his paintings on balls of elephant dung in the gallery space. This, combined with his new, Aborigine-inspired decorative style, and a new, very conscious naivete, finally caught the attention of a collector from the Saatchi family, and the rest is history.

It is fascinating that Chris has succeeded in selling his linking of a trip to Zimbabwe and his use of elephant dung (a story which is nothing but a load of elephant crap!) in this most astute exemplar of contemporary myth-making; several other young Afro-British artists have been on the same workshop in Zimbabwe without seeing much elephant poo there. But unlike his deeply intellectual progenitor Hammons, Chris is of course unable to pinpoint exactly what the connections are between his use of the material and his claimed sources other than making vague allusions to Africa, which serve him exceedingly well. A more intellectually grounded artist with less smart-ass intentions would of course have little difficulty making the links (tenuous as they may be today since most of us Africans see elephants for the first time in European zoos or in the rare case, on safari in the reserves of East and Southern Africa). Incidentally, Ofili's knowledge of African art or cultures is quite minimal, and could not have led him to this wonderful revelation that many are dazzled by but cannot quite pinpoint.

Those are the sources:

1. David Hammons, whose influence can also be seen in the works of George Adeagbo, Moshekwa Langa, Oscar Marthine Tayou, Godfried Donkor and the Labotoire Agit-Art.
2. Australian Aboriginal dot-paintings, seen in London at the Hayward Gallery in 1993.

Though most people see him as a gregarious, sweet but largely innocent young man with loads of talent (which his earlier paintings certainly attest to - the talent, that is), Chris Ofili is in fact a very bright artist with a self-promoting skill that seems to match that of his major patron, Britain's most successful advertising executive, Charles Saatchi. The new controversy (which will eventually hurt the Brooklyn Museum more than it will New York Czar Giuliani) is only one in a series of ploys through which Mr Ofili has successfully sailed ahead of the YBA (Young British Artists; some will substitute another word for Artists!) group. The ploys work alright, but the leads are false. I suppose that is pure Public Relations 101 there.

Clive van den Berg

Clive van den Berg
Memorials without Facts: Love Story
Video still 1999

Johannesburg artist selected for Videobrasil

Solange Farkas, director and curator of Videobrasil, and the current international video director of the Microwave Festival to take place in Hong Kong from January 21 to February 3, 2000, has announced her selections for the festival.

Of the 41 artists chosen, the only South African accepted is Clive van den Berg, whose video Love Story, the story of an imaginary relationship between a British and a Boer solider, will now be a part of the festival.

In a statement about this work, Clive van den Berg has written: "Love Story comes from a series of works titled 'Memorials without Facts'. In this series I explore those parts of the nation's memory that are left out of official accounts, both new and old. There is little information about love between men available and what there is comes in archival documents that record a history of crimes and their punishment, What I wanted was a kind of record that carries the voices and motivations of those who loved. In the absence of these narratives, I make them up. It is important for me that this other, largely unmarked history is imagined on the land. So many of our narratives of belonging, whether in the form of folk songs, poetry and indeed official memorials use the land as their central motif. Underpinning many of these narratives is a figure of the dutiful man, imaged on the sites of battle. I appropriate these sites as places to figure a different form and practice of the masculine."

South Meets West: the conference

Coinciding with the opening of the 'South Meets West' exhibition at the National Museum of Ghana in Accra (see listings) is a workshop for curators on November 10 and 11 with lectures by internationally renowned experts on the theme of 'The Significance of Contemporary African Art in Africa and Europe'. Two young curators from each of the countries participating in the exhibition have been invited to attend, including from South Africa, Veliswa Gwintsa and Zayd Minty.

A vital aspect of the event will be a series of public discussions between established curators mainly from Africa: among those expected being Kendell Geers (SA), Jacouba Konate (Cote d'Ivoire), Olad Bamgboy (Nigeria/UK) in sessions dealing with the 'Developments and Possibilities of Contemporary Art from Southern and Western Africa', and Johannesburg curator Clive Kellner and Hou Hanru (China/France) in a session on 'Africa Worldwide'.

Zayd Minty will report back on the conference for ArtThrob in the December issue.

Tom van Gestel

Tom van Gestel
director of the Praktijkbureau in Amsterdam
who recently visited Cape Town


Tadashi Kawamata's project with the people of the Brijder Stichting, Alkmaar

Praktijkbureau director visits Cape Town

Tom van Gestel, the director of the Praktijkbureau in Amsterdam, recently paid a seven day visit to Cape Town as the guest of artists' organisation Public Eye in order to assess for himself the possibilities of collaborative art projects in the Mother City.

The visit was a preliminary to a symposium which will be held in Cape Town next September to tie in with the second One City Many Cultures Festival and will be entitled 'ReImagining the Urban Landscape: Dealing with Issues of Public Art'. The symposium will consider ways in which an improved interface between artists, city planners, architects and community workers can result in art projects which enrich and enhance urban life.

The Praktijbureau works with Dutch and international artists to respond to requests from towns, institutions and community organisations to carry out projects which raise awareness on issues in often surprising ways. At a public presentation at Michaelis on Monday, November 25, Van Gestel showed slides and videos of some of these projects. For instance, working with the Brijder Foundation in Alkmaar, Holland, a rehabilitation centre for addicts, Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata came up with the idea of a wooden walkway which would reconnect the centre to the nearby town, thereby symbolising the way back to society for the people of the clinic. Over several years, the patients constructed this walkway themselves.

The symposium next September will focus on the transformative power of such projects, and a number of local and international artists will be invited to begin or plan initiatives around the theme of public art.

Zwelethu Mthethwa

Zwelethu Mthethwa is one of the artists featured on the 'Seeing Ourselves' series

Seeing Ourselves

The Susan Glanville/Wayne Barker produced series of 10-minute artist's profiles is now on air on every Monday at 9.20pm. Lively and pithy, the series is an excellent introduction to some of the more interesting art practitioners working in the country, portraying each against the background of their daily life and studio habits.




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