Diller and Scofideo
A third Johannesburg biennale, yes or no?
In the normal course of events, October 1999, being exactly two years after the opening of the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, would have marked the opening of the 3rd. In fact, the attempted early closure of the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale by the city and the dismantling thereafter of the Africus Institute of Contemporary Art, the city-sponsored and vital infrastructure which had designed, planned and executed the first two, seems to have delivered the possibility of further Biennales a mortal blow.
Under Christopher Till, a new kind of exhibition - the Ubuntu initiative - has been mooted to take the place of another Biennale, but a number of attempts by ArtThrob to contact Till for updated information on this project have proved unfruitful. ArtThrob will report back in due course.
In the meantime, in an attempt to open the debate up to a larger audience, ArtThrob asked a number of art world people connected with the last biennale to answer a series of questions, and the answers appear below.
1. Is it important in the eyes of the international art world for South Africa to hold a third Johannesburg Biennale?
Linda Givon, director of the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, and one of the sponsors of both Biennales:
The last two Johannesburg Biennales had a forceful impact on people who move in museum and curatorial circles around the world. The last one was acclaimed as being one of the most important art events of that year and indeed the artistic director of that exhibition is now the Director of Documenta, acclaimed as the definitive exhibition of cutting edge art in the world today. There isn't a single African artist or collector who doesn't constantly enquire about the time of the next Johannesburg Biennale. Apart from this we have a flood of enquiries from friends of museums all around the world who ask about plans for this event so that they may arrange tours etc.
Prof Colin Richards, of the Fine Arts Department at Wits, and curator of 'Graft' at the SANG on the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale:
Well, I can't really speak for the "international artworld". Only God and (probably) creative directors can do this. I do think there remains an underarticulated disjunction between the "eyes of the international artworld" and "eyes" from within our borders. The last Biennale, for example, dramatised this disjunction. Neither the South African artworld nor the international artworld is of course without its own internal contradictions and tensions, so it is difficult to generalise with any confidence. But I think it is important that what the Biennales offered is not lost. I would speculate that it would have been important in global terms to continue this initiative in a biennial format (ie a Third Johannesburg Biennale), but this is not realistic, or perhaps even appropriate, in local terms. There should be and doubtless are other formats in which we can explore our internal cultural worlds as they intersect with the global traffic in culture. I also think we need time to build local culture more effectively, though this should not be done exclusively or defensively. This does not mean rejecting anything external, or declaring some improbable moratorium on the dynamic interplay of the local and the global. Still, not an easy question.
David Koloane, artist, writer and curator:
I am not against a third Johannesburg Biennale - the more exposure our artists have the better, and it is stimulating for all to have foreign artists exhibiting here - but when preliminary discussions take place, everyone must be included, and the diversity which exists in our country must not be dismissed. Whether it is an artist in Venda or someone who is using the latest computer technology, both are saying something, and one is not superior to the other. The richness and diversity of our culture is what we have to offer to the world.
Brenda Atkinson, art critic and co-editor of Grey Areas, (Chalkham Hill Press, 1999) a compendium of essays around gender and other contentious issues in the artworld:
Given the success of the second Johannesburg Biennale in the eyes of the international art world, I would say yes, it is important in terms of South Africa's international credibility as a cultural locus with staying power, and as a riposte to "Afro-pessimism". In terms of the local constituency, though, the staging of a 3rd Biennale might be less appropriate.
Salah Hassan, of the Insitute of African Studies at Cornell University, curator, writer, and chairman one of the panels at the 2nd Biennale:
I happen to think it is extremely important that African based forums for showcasing contemporary art must be sustained and supported. As part of the Ubuntu initiative I have argued for providing support for the Biennale. I have also rallied in meeting with the Rockfeller and the Ford foundations that the Biennale must continue. More than writing responses people have to organise at the practical level to make these things happen.
2. What do you see as the long-term benefit of the last Biennale for the cause of South African art?
BA: I have a sense, more impressionistic than empirical, perhaps, that the last Biennale had less to do with furthering "the cause of South African art" specifically, than with refocusing the global cultural agenda on the African diaspora, and situating South Africa within that as a geographical "route" worthy of international consideration.
LG: Many South African artists who exhibited on the last Biennale have felt the benefits of the international exposure by being invited to exhibit all around the world. And it's interesting to note that Thomas Mulcaire, who assisted in the Biennale of Johannesburg, was immediately appropriated as the assistant curator to the director of the last Documenta.
CR: I don't know what "the cause of South African art" might be. And "long term" might be a creature of the coming apocalypse. Still, the last Biennial did give us ("us" being those who consider themselves part of an active geo-political art community) a chance to try and develop a visual and critical language which engages the global. This engagement was not always comfortable, which is a good thing. Positions on the Biennial seemed (and still seem) to range from simple capitulation to global cultural markets to parochial resistance to globality in any form. This last of course is not possible, while the former is not desirable. The challenge the Biennial posed (though not always productively) was to find flexible locations of culture somewhere between myopic resistance to anything "outside" and wide-eyed assimilation of everything "global". I think the Biennial in all its rather haphazard forums also called forth some deep-seated fears, desires and sometimes painful questions of how we imagine ourselves as an art community in an increasingly atomised world. On balance, I think the Biennial was as necessary for South African artists, writers, curators as it was complex, contradictory and perhaps frustrating. It opened space (sometimes quite violently and often inadvertently) for artists, writers, thinkers hereabouts, and the long-term effects of prising open such spaces should be in all our cultural interests, however conflicted and divers these interests might be.
3. How do you feel about the argument that money spent on Biennales is better spent on developing programmes for underprivileged artists?
CR: Mmmm. "Underprivileged artists"? I think the money on the Biennials was not well spent, or rather, utilised for maximal developmental effect. But this does not mean that Biennials should not be supported, simply that they need to be conceived in such as way as to substantively encourage "development". The last one, in ways it cannot really take credit for, did have developmental consequences, even if these have not been been felt at the most "disadvantaged" register of our artistic community. These are immeasurable effects, to be sure, but critical nonetheless. I do actually think we need to have a wider, sometimes less instrumental concept of development than currently seems to be the case, while not disavowing in any way the patent disparities in the material conditions under which too many of our artists work.
LG: While I agree that under privileged artists need funding, a properly curated Biennale is to promote exciting art of young and established talent. Not only is it a privilege for a country to host a Biennale (Africa Games?) but it also establishes the host country in the hierarchy of prominent and exciting places to visit in the art world. The kick backs are enormous, properly presented, properly curated, properly marketed, the potential for cultural tourism could make a vast difference to the city. To posit the argument that we do not need any other Biennale is immature, lacking in knowledge, creativity and care for the culture of this land. It's time that the artists and every person who is involved in anyway in the arts, to demonstrate to the Minister of Arts and Culture that we need support in every way and that we need to be taken seriously.
BA: It's a highly complex issue, and could even be reduced to terms as blunt as that money spent on biennales would be better spent on developing basic infrastructure in underprivileged communities. It's the old "global elitism" vs. community development split, seen by some as a question of cultural capital vs. grassroots empowerment. I'm ambivalent, although it makes sense to grow audiences for biennales before staging them - the audience for such events as biennales in South Africa is very small, and might not, in the end, justify culturally or financially the existence of a biennale.
SH: Of course programs for underprivileged artists are important, but both are possible and can go forward together.
4. Would you agree that art will never be taken seriously in South Africa until the cultural benefits of an event such as a Biennale are seen by politicians as extremely important to the development of the country?
BA: While biennales are obviously not the only events that contribute to the degree to which art is taken seriously in a country, they can be vital both economically and culturally - provided that they are as sensitive to local issues as to global issues. Ideally state budget allocations should make provision for events on this large scale as well as for more modest, but equally important, initiatives which raise levels of visual literacy and grow art audiences.
LG: The problem with South Africa is that everything is over politicised without any knowledge or care for the people being served. So it is with visual arts that the appropriate ministry ignores professional artists and the importance of their potential both economically and diplomatically. I won't even touch on culture and the problems of our heritage and the rightful place of our artists in the contemporary international art scene.
CR: Yes. But don't hold your breath. You might expire waiting.
- Having opened the floor for discussion, ArtThrob hopes that readers will respond with their own views on this most important issue - please e-mail us.
Softserve at the SANG
The next project to be given the Public Eye treatment is 'Softserve', which takes place at the National Gallery on November 5 from 6pm to 10pm. In an attempt to revitalise public perception of the visual arts as well as to generate some funds for the acquisition thereof, this project is set to show the National Gallery something it hasn't seen before. Loosely modelled on the Durban Art Gallery's 'Red Eye' events, Softserve is set to be quite some multi-media extravaganza. The gallery will then be in between exhibitions and its hallowed halls and walls will be taken over in a heretofore unseen way.
Artists, musicians, DJs and performers have committed themselves to making this an attractive and exciting event, drawing its audience from a wider spectrum than the usual art gallery goers. Younger artists, especially, have been encouraged to take part. There will be a live streaming video and audio link-up with an artist in New York. Signals from a pirate trance radio station will be broadcast and several artists are projecting videos, some of which have not been seen before. Artists including Robert Weinek and Conrad Botes will be working with fire in keeping with the incendiary spirit of Guy Fawkes on that night. Jo'burg artist Robin Rhode has designed a new performance piece for the event, and Bridget Baker is one of a number of video artists. Musicians with weird instruments include Bood Carver of Cape Town band The Honeymoon Suites and Brendhan Dickerson, and DJs Frankie and Phuleng will keep matters humming along in the atrium. Patrons will be charged R10 to get in and the money will be put towards an acquisitions fund for the National Gallery.
For further info contact:
Tracy Gander's "Babes" at Bang the Gallery was one of the stops on the last Art Night
Cape Times secures rights to Art Night
Following the enormous popularity of Art Night on the Cape Town Festival, the Cape Times will sponsor the next six such events. It's not exactly a tale of miraculous success after humble beginnings, since its beginning was a success tale of its own. The first run, set in motion by Mark Coetzee of the Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet and Estelle Jacobs of the AVA, was in April of this year when Coetzee and Jacobs decided to co-ordinate a night-time bus tour of the city's art galleries. Sixteen galleries, many of which opened new shows on the night and provided entertainment, bar services etc, participated. Several artists performed on the city streets, and amongst gallery patrons. Money was raised and several buses and drivers provided their services for an estimated six to ten thousand gallery hoppers. This probably exceeded most venues' annual attendance figures, especially given that most galleries are visited repeatedly by the same patrons.
In September 23, on the eve of Heritage Day, The Cape Times One City Many Cultures Festival and Cape Town's Month of Photography, the second event took place. This time, 41 venues and eight buses drew an estimated crowd of between 12 and 15000. Strangely, because of the larger number of venues (not just galleries but shops, bars and restaurants this time) and because there were several bus routes, it lacked the concentrated feel of its predecessor. Nevertheless, The Cape Times regard it as one of the success stories of the One City Festival and have secured "rights" to the next six events. They have offered, along with two other sponsors, to effectively double the current budget. This will include money to commission performance and temporarily based works especially for the event. In addition, Art Night will once again happen on the opening night of next year's One City Festival and The Cape Times have expressed an intention to ensure that this is the only official event on that evening.
The next event, in February 2000, will see some city streets closed off and will be streamlined to include only 18 participating venues. During this year's two events, some galleries reported noticeable increases in sales and most people who took part in the event expressed the feeling that the city streets were at least temporarily claimed back for the enjoyment of its law-abiding citizens. The visual arts, with this kind of help, might likewise be able to claim back its own deserved part of centre stage.
An image of Ernest Cole's
Second Issue of CO@RTNEWS out
Just when one thought the Clive Kellner- Fernando Alvim contemporary culture mag co@rtnews was surely a little overdue for a quarterly, the second issue is out! And it seems a lot more cohesive than issue one. The editors are beginning to make headway with their mission of presenting a view of contemporary art that embraces the entire continent, not just the southern tip. There's an article by Salah Hassan on Senegalese master sculptor Ousmane Sow, and a discussion on democracy African-style by the recently deceased Julius Nyerere. This issue also includes an interview with William Kentridge, Joachim Schonfeldt on the Artist's Project Page, "Duchamp in Africa", Ernest Cole and Wopko Jensma's 'Sing for our Execution' as the 'collectable drawing'.Several full page ads have been taken by galleries and departments of culture (not ours), giving interesting information on who is showing where. It's the kind of overview which is invaluable. The cover design in blue makes the magazine look like an outsize passport to The Republic of Southern Africa, and it's available (still free) at galleries around the country. Should you have a problem in accessing a copy, email: email@example.com or phone or fax (011) 442 8264. If you thought you had subscribed but haven't received one, contact them too. There was a post office confusion at the time and subscription cards were returned. Co@rtnews apologises. Or check the website at www.coartnews.co.za
Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi
One of the artists
to be featured on
TV series on local artists
Starting on October 25 and for the following nine weeks will be a new series of short - very short - documentary films on South African artists in a series entitled Seeing Ourselves. Scheduled for the 9.50 p.m slot on e-tv on Mondays, the five-minute films nonetheless manage to present a focussed portrait of each artist talking about his/her life and work, images, concerns, working habits and tastes in such things as music. The filming style is upbeat and open ended, posing as well as answering questions. The project is a collaboration between Johannesburg artist Wayne Barker and curator Susan Glanville, and the two hope to see the series receive overseas distribution.
The first ten artists to be featured are Pat Mautloa, Jo Ractliffe, Steven Cohen, Stephen Hobbs, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Mmagkabo Helen Sebidi, Karl Gietl, Herve Di Rosa, and Willie Bester. A further 10 are in process, thus completing phase one by early 2000. The project has been funded by the Department of Arts and Culture and the Goodman Gallery, amongst others.
So don't forget - e-tv at 9h20 p.m. on Monday, October 25.
Malcomn Payne, Zayde Minty, and Sjoed Zandstra on the Cape Town side of the On(e)line video conference
International Video Project
The On(e)line international video conference and interchange which was part of the 7th World Wide Video Exhibition and the subject of ArtThrob's project page last month took place over a six day period in September, and after weeks of taking apart, checking and re-checking fractious electronic equipment, Public Eye curator Robert Weinek assisted by Sjoerd Zandstra and John Dubin were able to connect through cyberspace with other art centres around the world, once unexpectedly appearing live on Dutch television, and to show the video work of Minnette Vari and Robin Rhode. On Sunday October 19, Weinek, Malcolm Payne and Zayd Minty in Cape Town and Minnette Vari in Gauteng took part in a three hour discussion and conference projected live at the Gate Foundation in Amsterdam.
X-scape, an exhibition of
Arts & Culture Trust Awards
Winners in ten categories of the important annual Arts and Culture Trust Awards were announced recently, covering a wide selection of categories, and recognising individuals and institutions that have supported the development of arts and culture in South Africa.
In the Electronic Media of the Year category, website nominees ArtThrob, za@play and artslink lost out to the arts television series, "But is it Art?" produced by Chris de Plessis for Awfully Nice Productions. In the award citation, the programme was said to have "reflected a broad spectrum of the arts - from landscape design and commercial art to lesser-known African music and dance formats - and made it more accessible to a wider public". The award raises the question of whether generally underfunded websites can compete against the far greater budget and reach of a television programme, and whether the two media should not each have their own categories, but on the other hand, last year's winner was a website: artslink.
Carl Johnson, Fringe Manager of the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown for a period of nine years, was named Administrator of the Year. Lifestyle editor and columnist for Sunday World, Sandile Memela, received the award for Journalist of the Year for his analytical and interpretative articles on arts and cultural developments. Justly deserved was the award of Print Publication of the Year to Friday, the Mail & Guardian arts supplement.
Friday, read the citation, "engages with culture in all its diverse and contradictory forms. Kwaito is taken as seriously as opera, street culture as seriously as high art". Other awards included Buz Publicity and Entertainment Consultancy for Publicist of the Year; The South African Music Education Trust (SAMET) for Education Project of the Year; The Buskaid Soweto String Project for Cultural Development Project of the Year; Grahamstown for City/Town of the Year; and Shuttle 99 for International Sponsor of the Year.
Shuttle 99 is a two-year long cultural exchange project between the Nordic Council of Ministers (consisting of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, The Faroes and Greenland) and South Africa. The project consists of a series of workshops, master classes, seminars, study exchange, professional training programmes and performances.
The Lifetime Achievement Awards was won by writer Professor Es'kia Mphahlele, who celebrates his 80th birthday this year.
Editor's New York Journal
Wednesday, September 23
Tonight is supposed to be the opening of the exhibition Liberated Voices at the Museum for African Art (see review) but the television news for the past three days has been dominated by the progress of Hurricane Floyd up the east coast of Americe - a blow by blow account as only the Americans know how - and today is the day that Floyd is timed to hit New York City. Actually, a study of the weather maps shows that the heart of the storm is pretty much going to bypass the city, but Mayor Giuliano, doing his "I've got the best interests of the city at heart" act, goes on television to tell Manhattan businesses to close at noon, and commuters to leave by three. Shortly after, the phone rings - the Museum will close, and the opening be postponed until next week. Disappointing. One had hoped to see old friends and make connections. The next hour is spent trying to phone friends who might be on their way. In the event, exhibiting artist Paul Stopforth drives all the way down from Boston to find the doors closed. When Floyd does hit, mid-afternoon, the wind is strong and the rain is heavy, but not worse than a bad Cape storm.
Thursday, September 24
The other artists here for the opening - Penny Siopis, Bridget Baker and Sandile Zulu - had been scheduled to leave on Sunday, but now their visits are extended so they will be here for the opening next Wednesday - well, it's an ill wind etc etc. Decide to go over to the Dia Center for the Arts over on the west side. The four storey building in the heart of the Chelsea district hosts installations and exhibitions by the world's most interesting contemporary artists, and is always top of my list. Robert Irwin is an artist whose materials are screens of nylon organza and lighting, materials which he deploys in architectural spaces to divide existing rooms and create new areas through which windows and openings glow softly, as if through a gentle internal fog. The effect is calming and meditatative. Photography is forbidden, but the guards are vague grey shapes through layers of Irwin's screens. I open my camera case...oops... the ripping sound of Velcro is a dead giveaway, and in moments a guard is sternly by my side. "You can buy a postcard in the shop", I am told.
Downstairs, film and video artists (Canadian) Stan Douglas and (Scots) Douglas Gordon present twin installations in Double Vision. Both artists use found footage as well as directing and producing their own material. South Africans may remember Stan Douglas' Nu*tka* (1993) a split vision of the colonial history of British Columbia, which showed on the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale.
Here in the Dia, Douglas' piece Win, Place and Show is a filmed piece, an argument between two men which leads to physical violence, set in a small apartment. The action takes place across two screens, sometimes disappearing into the crack between the two, and although one seems to come to the end of the loop and the conversation is repeated, the shots are unfamiliar, and oddly disjunctional. In fact, Douglas has filmed the scene from twelve different camera angles, and the takes are cut together in real time by a computer during the exhibition - thus, every time the scene repeats it repeats differently.
Turner prize winner Douglas Gordon again turns to old films as source, here using Otto Preminger's Whirlpool (1949), a murder mystery involving a wealthy psychiatrist, his wife and a hypnotist filmed in classic black and white. Again, there are two side by side screens, in this case, the second is an almost exact mirror of the first: Gordon has edited the film so that all the odd numbered frames are on one side, the even on the other - and the soundtrack is treated the same way. To this he has added a strobe effect, replicating the act of hypnosis on which the plot turns.
What both artists do is to take our everyday experience of watching a film and move it into a new, unsettling and more critical place.
Emerging from the Dia, the movie continues: a steel double garage roller door across the street suddenly slides up and open, and a vast and extraordinarily dressed crowd of exotics pours out onto the street. Many are carrying cameras. A film set? Oh, it must have been a designer show - I remember that it is New York Fashion Week.
Friday, September 17
Pepon Osorio, also on the last Johannesburg Biennale with his brilliant twin room installation portraying a conversation between a man in jail and his teenage son, is showing at the Ronald Feldman Gallery near the museum. Osorio, like 30% of New Yorkers today, is of Hispanic descent, and works by workshopping his pieces in poor neighbourhoods, looking at the problems of the community. Las Twines, the twins, considers the issue of the higher value placed on a fair skin in the Spanish community. A legend by the door tells the story of the twins, one dark one fair, who travel the world side by side, receiving gifts everywhere but never able to find the father they seek. In Osorio's piece, models of two girl children in white party dresses are seated in a red car which rides round and round the gallery on a raised oval track. "Papa...Papa..." runs the soundtrack. On each of the walls of the gallery is projected a close-up of a face of one of four men, each a different skin colour, each engaged in washing clay from his face. Each seems to look up as the girls pass, and shake his head in non-recognition.
Penny Siopis in The Terrace bathroom
PS1 in Long Island City
Pipilott Rist video
Laurie Farrell, assistant curator at Museum for
Saturday, September 18
A gallery talk has been advertised today - at 3 p.m., and a large group of people turn up. Museum Director Frank Herremans introduces the work, and in turn, first I, then Penny Siopis and Bridget Baker discuss what led to the making of the particular piece on show. Sandile Zulu is the last to speak - and announces that he will not give any exact interpretation of his work, but prefers to give his audience some words to think about when looking at his pieces. These words are delivered in the manner of free form poetry - evolution, revolution, revelation - one word leads to the next, weaving a powerful textual framework for his meticulously worked pieces in natural materials - wood, paper, grass, dung, fire. The museum has bought one of them - a triptych - for its permanent collection.
After the talk, the artists and the gallery people go for drinks at a nearby restaurant where the talking point is the loos - these are unisex, and on entering the bathroom, all the toilets are visible through glass doors. On entering the booth, and closing the door behind you, the glass magically fogs over, providing a last minute privacy - a puzzling and intriguing piece of technology which necessitates some experimentation. Then out onto the Soho streets - Saturday night, the weather's great, and in next door Little Italy, the Festival of San Gennaro is in full swing. Coloured lights above the street, music, stalls, energy. Watch some street theatre outside the Storefront for Art & Architecture (designed by Vito Acconci and Steven Holl)- revolving metal doors swing open on to the street disgorging slow-moving performers in red and black costumes which hover somewhere between mediaeval and futuristic. End the evening in a bar with Penny, Bridget and John Peffer-Engels, an art historian who spent some time in South Africa, and who is curating a video show of South African work at the back in Cape Town alternative (meaning not-for-profit)White Columns Gallery in New York early next year. Wish I could hear more of what John is saying above the painfully loud music.
Sunday, September 19
Today, the On(e)line international art conference is taking place via the internet, with the host organisation being the Gate Foundation in Amsterdam. Back in Cape Town, Robert Weinek, Zayd Minty and Malcolm Payne are connecting from South Africa, with Minnette Vari in Pretoria. It's starting at 12 noon New York time. My daughter Amanda, also an artist, lives in Brooklyn, and I think I'll connect from there on her computer. Never overestimate the ease of technology. I dial into the Netherlands site, and the screen tells me that in order to participate I will first have to download Realplayer. O.K. But this will take 45 minutes. I give up and head for PS1, the old Long Island City school (Public School 1) which has become one of the best New York spaces for contemporary art. Moshekwa Langa showed here earlier this year. A rambling old redbrick building with generous spaces, it's well-visited by locals and tourists in spite of being off the beaten track. In the foyer, a crack in the floorboards reveals a tiny moving image - a Pipilotti Rist video. Highlights are a series of highly coloured highly charged photographs from the mid-eighties, by Australian Tracey Moffat, which like a series of movie stills, tell an enigmatic story of glamour and death in the outback, and a room full of exquisitely designed objects by Philip Starck.
The Williamsburg area of Long Island City, across the East River from midtown Manhattan, has become the new place for young artists to live, work and show. Only relatively rich artists can afford spaces in Manhattan now. From PS1, Penny, Karen Harber and I go to meet Amanda for a studio visit - she is working on a series of collages and soft sculptures on the media infantilisation of women. Follow this up with visits to Momenta and other Williamsburg galleries - and finally, a jug of icy frothy frozen margueritas at the incomparable Vera Cruz, a Mexican restaurant and artists hangout in the heart of the area.
Monday, September 20.
Monday is update day for ArtThrob - and I'm six hours behind Cape Town! All the press releases and articles which have come in over the last week must be organised and edited. By noon I'm through - and go over to meet Penny at the Museum. We both want to buy video cameras, which are much cheaper here than in South Africa. Walk from the museum to the downtown store of J&R, through Canal Street, and Chinatown, trying not to get too distracted, though we do have to make a stop at Pearl Paints, for a quick scan through their three mind-boggling floors of art materials. But J&R, next to the City Hall, is closed - from here, we can see down through Wall Street to the tip of Manhattan. New York is so walkable. Soon we find ourselves stepping onto the Staten Island ferry - it's free - and drifting past the Statue of Liberty. For the first time, I feel like a tourist and not a working artist. Sunset, and so beautiful, it's dreamlike. We make a pact never to stop making art and travelling. Back in Manhattan, the day ends with a protracted browse through the St Marks Place bookstore - all the wonderful books you never get to see at home - and for half the price.
Wednesday, September 22
Six days late, thanks to Hurricane Floyd, "Liberated Voices" finally opens. Well, the museum has had the show up for a couple of weeks, but this is the official opening. There's African music, food, and a really big crowd. New York artists Jeff Koons, Coco Fusco and William Scarborough are here, Paul Stopforth has come down from Boston - for the second time - and the expat crowd includes Candice Breitz, Tony Karon and Jan Cheifitz, Gary van Wyk, Michael Gresty, Karen Harber, Vanessa Solomon, Petra Mason and Justine Wheeler. Cape Town artist Ralph Borland has recently arrived for a stint at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Programme, Johannesburg art collector Jack Ginsberg shows up, and Cape Town city manager Andrew Boraine comes in "from a visit to the ghettoes", he says. One of the artists, Samson Mnisi has arrived in time for the event. He and Richman Buthelezi will leave next week for a one month workshop at an art centre in Vermont as part of the extensive programme planned by the museum around the exhibition. It's always difficult to tell at openings whether visitors like the show or not, but everyone is in extremely high spirits. The word is that New York Times critic Holland Cotter seemed to like the show very much, (in fact, he had taken the trouble the previous week to request an interview with Penny Siopis and myself to talk more about the situation of art in the country). A good review in the Times is enormously influential in deciding the success of the show. It will probably be out on Friday. The evening ends with the best Vietnamese food I have ever eaten at Nyoo Nyoo, in Soho.
Thursday, September 23
Wake slightly fuzzy headed, but my friend environmental artist Janet Culbertson came into town for the opening last night, and we've planned some gallery hopping this morning. Ralph Borland has suggested we go to see the show in the NYU department at 721 Broadway where he has just begun a course. Called "More and Less", the exhibition is a show of interactive art pieces by research fellows of the Interactive Telecommunications Programme. Totally beguiling. Daniel Rozin's Easel is a canvas stretched on a frame, standing on an easel. Using a brush, the viewer applies live video from cameras positioned nearby, each new stroke covering the image underneath - four paintcans give a choice of image, one of which turns out to be a portrait of the viewer herself. Text Rain, by Camille Utterback, is my favourite. Letters drift down a blank screen. Moving into the orbit of the piece, the viewer causes a soft grey self image to become part of the picture - and slowly, on the screen, the letters begin to settle on one's head and shoulders like snowflakes, gradually forming words. Wooden Mirror, also by Daniel Rozin, is 830 small wooden tiles set in a frame. A computer connected to a video camera, and hundreds of tiny motors control the position of the tiles, moving them in and out of the light with a myriad of little clicking noises, and resulting in a rough representation of the image in front of it. Best seen by squinching the eyes.
Friday, September 24
Should be review morning. I would like to go round the corner to the Lotus, my adopted cafe from home, where I can order granola (toasted muesli) with fresh fruit and Rice Dream and orange juice, and read the New York Times there. Problem is, I've only got $5 and that won't be enough, so I buy the paper at the newsstand and a blueberry muffin at Ratner's ($1.85) and climb back up six flight of stairs to my apartment to read the verdict. The main art story of the day is that Rudolph Giuliani has just discovered that 'Sensation' the blockbuster show of British art coming to the Brooklyn Museum of Art contains a piece by Chris Ofili which he, Giuliani, considers denigrates the Virgin Mary because resined elephant turds are an element of the piece. He is threatening to cut off the Museum's subsidy from the city - the major part of their funding - if the show goes ahead . What an infuriating and bigoted menace this man is! And how is it that he has the right to make such threats? Public funding of the arts in America has never recovered from the cuts in National Arts Endowment programme following objections in Congress to Robert Mapplethorpe's homoerotic photographs, and Andres Serrano's image of a cross in a bottle of urine. And now Giuliani is back on the warpath - no doubt with an unspoken agenda of appealing to conservative voting interests. Oh yes, the review. Under the headline South Africans Isolated No Longer and with a photograph of Claudette Schreuders' leopard piece, Holland Cotter has given the show a whole half a page, commending the show overall, and with special approbation for Penny Siopis and Claudette Schreuders! Relief! A line at the end announces that David Koloane and I will be giving a talk at the Museum at 1 p.m.the following day.
Saturday, September 25
The museum has been expecting about 20 - 25 people for David Koloane's and my talk, but about twice that number turns up, no doubt encouraged by yesterday's New York Times review. The serious sounding title is 'Converging Cultures and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.' On the exhibition, David is showing nine drawings from a series done last year after the revelations in the TRC as to exactly how Steve Biko met his death in detention. He talks about these, and of the importance of the support of Biko in his life. I discuss my work, four pieces from the Truth Games series which have been hung in a block, and we then move into the museum's events room to field questions like "How many galleries in South Africa will show political work?" and "How difficult is it for young black people to study as artists?" The discussion continues for almost an hour. This is my last day, and afterwards the artists and some museum people and Kristine Roome, who has been organising the show from Johannesburg, go out for a final meal in the Soho sun.