Kay Hassan
A room-sized installation with
slide projections in the Electric Workshop
was one of the highlights of
the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale
(See ArtThrob No 4)


ArtThrob: The first year

This is the 12th issue of ArtThrob - we've been online for one year, and have seen our hit rate go from less than a thousand in the first month to more than 9 000 in July. Of that total, about 57% are from within the country, and the rest come from all over the world. The interesting thing about web stats is that you learn exactly how many viewers are looking at each story or picture - and each month it seems that not only are the current month's offerings being well read, but the archives right the way back to the beginning are also being perused. This suggests that ArtThrob has become a real resource for those interested in contemporary art in South Africa, which was the whole point of doing the column in the first place.

In Click Here for Culture (Mail & Guardian, June 26 1998) Brenda Atkinson wrote that ArtThrob is "worthy of some dedicated surfing," "catches the beat of existing body of artistic production", and "proves that talent, software and sweat can enliven a scene greatly in need of gusts of fresh air".

It has become a cyberhome from home for South African artists outside the country - and with not a single periodical dedicated to the visual arts, the one place to go to find out what's worth seeing anywhere in the country at any time.



Francois van Reenen

Douglas Gordon
Hysterical 1995

Winner of the Hugo Boss Award announced in New York

"Nobody gives a patootie about the Hugo Boss prize," states the latest issue of US journal Artforum, citing as reasons the fact that it is named after the German men's fashion manufacturer rather than a famous artist, (like Britain's Turner prize), the looseness of the wording for the qualification, and the wideness of the net cast. Any artist working anywhere in any medium may be nominated by the panel of international judges, making comparisons almost impossible.

Let's hope these thoughts will cheer up South African entrant William Kentridge, who lost out this week to British video artist Douglas Gordon. Kentridge still gets to show on the exhibition at New York's prestigious downtown Soho Guggenheim, and his public visibility index has been immeasurably raised. And all South African artists will glow minimally brighter in Kentridge's reflected glory. Pity about the bucks, though. It's hard to wave goodbye to the possibility of $50 000 coming your way.

See the Guggenheim Museum Soho website for more on the museum, the finalists and the Boss prize.



Francois van Reenen

Francois van Reenen
Suburban Mishap 1998
PC animation, 6 x 2 mins





Jeremy Collins

Jeremy Collins
Wake for Mr Pickle 1998
VHS, 1 min





Joachim Schonfeldt

Joachim Schonfeldt
My Boy Was a Beautiful Girl 1995
Beta, 3 mins

The Processed Image: Video Art in South Africa

Robert Weinek, producer of video compilation tapes The Processed Image I and II, sets the fledgling medium in South Africa in a worldwide perspective. Tapes can be ordered through ArtThrob - see below

In 1957 a revolution was under way in American television stations: magnetic video tape began to be used to record studio performances. The cameras were bulky studio-bound machines coupled to huge reel-to-reel magnetic tape recorders, and the images produced were black and white and of low resolution. Soon, pioneer video artists such as Nam June Paik, and Peter Campus began using this studio-bound technology to make art, followed by Richard Serra and Vito Acconci.

Nam June Paik's interest in the technological processes of video was influenced by his study of electronic music done with Karl Heinz Stockhausen in Cologne during the late 1950's and his association with "FLUXUS", an iconoclastic art movement of the early 1960s. These influences helped him to blur the line between video art and happenings. The "FLUXUS" artists were known to work with "inter-media" rather than with mixed media. John Cage's music was a catalyst in the "FLUXUS" movement, in that he used simple events in which ordinary or chance sounds were incorporated. Paik used Cage's structuring devices to create improvisations, and moved from placing magnets and other electronic devices on the television monitor to inventing video synthesisers to manipulate the video images.

American TV studio's such as WNET-TV in New York and WGBH-TV in Boston started artist-in-residence laboratories. Paik was often part of these "labs" and this gave him and other artists a full range of technical capabilities.

This studio technology, though exciting, was limited to a small number of privileged artists. This all changed when the Portapak was introduced in 1968 - an important step towards video becoming an independent art medium. The Portapak consisted of a small hand-held video camera coupled to a brief-case sized magnetic tape recorder that could be carried by the camera operator. It was relatively cheap, so artists could work independently - and unlike film, the Portapak allowed instantaneous feedback.

Bruce Nauman was one of the first artists to use this technology. He initially documented his own performance works and then in 1968 incorporated it into his actual work.

Meanwhile, back in South Africa we did not even have television. In the late 1960's , the National Party's Minister of Posts and Telegraphs Dr Albert Hertzog was still continuing to resist its introduction, calling it "the tool of the devil". It was only after his death that the Nats realised and made full use of the propaganda potential of this medium. The mid-Seventies were a period of enormous political turmoil in the country, but while people marched in the streets, SABC-TV (South African Broadcasting Corporation) marched to the tune of American sit-coms, such as The Brady Bunch.

Film and video equipment was difficult to come by in the Seventies and early Eighties, and there was no way of distributing and exhibiting the works that were made. Art films such as Die Voortrekkers by Matthew Krouse, Jeremy Nathan and Guilio Biccari were banned for years and when shown at a conference on censorship in Johannesburg in 1994, caused a riot by members of the extreme right wing military group, the Afrikaner Weerstand Beweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement).

Development of small, relatively affordable, video-cam recorders in the late eighties provided a huge impetus to produce art videos in South Africa. Artists such as Morris La Mantia, Conrad Weltz and Stephen Hobbs were among the few artists working in this way.

It was not until the mid 1990's that artists like Belinda Blignaut and Moshekwa Langa got a footing in the SABC. They produced/directed inserts for an arts programme called Artworks, now defunct. In 1996 Mark Edwards, Stephen Hobbs, and Clive Kellner organised an exhibition dedicated to video art at the Civic Theatre Gallery, in Johannesburg. Previously, the Newtown Gallery and I had released a 70 minute collection of non-narrative South African art videos called The Processed Image I in 1993.

A second series, The Processed Image II has just been produced by a newly formed art trust called Public Eye, of which I am a member. This was broadcast on several occasions at the prestigious Grahamstown Arts Festival in July 1998 by CUE-TV, run by Christo Doherty, of Rhodes University's Journalism Department. The Independent Broadcast Authority (IBA), had given CUE-TV permission to broadcast a 50 watt signal into the small town. This was a first in South African broadcasting history, both the fact that a non-commercial and independent television station could broadcast in South Africa, and that a collection of art videos was shown in its entirety.

The Processed Image II is a VHS video exhibition package of work by nine South African artists, made over the last two years. It includes works made on low- and high-tech video equipment and a new medium - the personal computer. Francois van Reenen's work - Suburban Mishaps is created on a PC animation programme and is presented on a website at www.suburbanmishaps.co.za.

Contents of Processed Image II:

Jo Ractliffe
Balaam 1997
Hi 8 video. 5 minutes
First shown on the second Johannesburg Biennale in 1997, Balaam refers to the biblical story of the ass seeing the angel. It is a melancholic and even tragic view of a cart donkey trapped in an endless landscape.

Stephen Hobbs
On Interesting Places 1997
Hi 8 video. 16 minutes
Hobbs's reference to Andy Warhol's 1964 film Henry Geldzahler is full of irony. Warhol's film documented Henry Geldzahler (art critic and collector) smoking a cigar. The process took 100 minutes - also the length of the film. Hobbs films himself and curator Clive Kellner smoking cigars and drinking cognac on a rooftop overlooking downtown Johannesburg. Hobbs and Kellner posture for the camera in black suits. The video image and sound is deliberately of poor quality, and the viewer is left feeling excluded.

DJ Bonanza
Larry the Inflating Sculpture 1998
VHS. 4 minutes
Bonanza uses his video as a commercial for his upcoming exhibition. Its plot line, like the forthcoming attraction of a B-grade action movie, uses images from his performance/sculpture Larry the Inflating Sculpture.

Jeremy Collins
Wake for Mr Pickle 1998
VHS. 1 minute
Jeremy uses traditional cell animation techniques perfected by Walt Disney to create the image, but then scans this into a PC where he manipulates the image further. These short animation loops were projected at the "Pickle Parties" in Cape Town.

Francois van Reenen
Suburban Mishap 1998
PC animation. 6 x 2 minutes
Van Reenen's mad suburban adventures are reminiscent of Beavis and Butthead but set in South Africa. Suburban Mishaps is reated on a PC animation programme and is presented on a website: http://www.suburbanmishap.co.za.

Joachim Schonfeldt
My Boy was a Beautiful Girl 1995
Beta. 3 minutes
This work was created for an exhibition in Porto, Portugal, called Mr Inbetween. The title is a reference to a traditional South African gumboot dance. The dancer, not unlike an aerobics teacher, explains the dance movements to the viewer. At the actual exhibition the audience was invited to put on gumboots and dance to the video. This is a tongue-in-cheek take on cultural relationships between Europe and Africa.

Lisa Brice
Identikit 1997
DVD. 4 minutes
This video was first created for an installation for the Smokkel show at the second Johannesburg Biennale. Four skin-coloured beanbags with huge Barbaparpa-like resin eyes were arranged on the floor around a TV monitor. The video image shown is that of a police identikit computer running through the varieties of eyes, noses and mouths.

Peet Pienaar
Vita Awards 1997
DVD. 4 minutes
Pienaar interviews the Springbok Rugby player, Mark Andrews, on the merits of creativity and innovative thinking in rugby. This work was presented at the Vita Awards in 1997.

Allan Munro and Jan Celliers de Wet
Jasper 1997
PC. 2 minutes
Computer animation on a par with Toy Story, featuring a virtual cartoon character called Jasper. See the surreal adventures of a teapot in a cape which thinks it's Don Quixote and spars with a pepper grinder.

The Processed Image II is available on Pal VHS at R120 for individuals and R240 for institutions. Broadcast rights are negotiable. Book your copy by e-mailing ArtThrob.



District 6 catalogue
Front cover



Clive van den Berg
Untitled 1997
fire, asbestos rope, paraffin,
metal bars, whitewash



Poste Restante

Strijdom van der Merwe
Poste Restante 1997
wood, paint

District Six Sculpture Festival

Paul Edmunds reviews the catalogue

It's difficult to review the catalogue of last year's District Six Sculpture Project without reviewing the project itself. The catalogue set itself the incredibly difficult task of bringing together a diverse collection of works and documentation in a way that was accessible and valuable to both ex-residents and "stakeholders" and the participating artists. The artists come from a vast array of backgrounds, experience and education, while the potential audience spans an even wider cross-section. With this in mind, the catalogue straddles the line between affordable coffee-table type book and expensive, well-produced pamphlet. Packed with colour and black and white photographs in a crisp matt finish, the book invites browsing again and again. It is elegantly designed and well-researched, consisting of an introduction, four covering essays by Valmont Layne, Tony Morphet, Neville Alexander, and Emma Bedford and Tracey Murinik, and documentation of all the artworks which were produced.

The essays encompass different entry points, from the imaginative and descriptive musings of Layne to the anecdotal yet profound ideas of Alexander. The nature of the project provides much fodder for fairly highbrow artspeak by Bedford and Murinik. Themes like absence, displacement, fragmentation, reclamation and healing are used to discuss a large portion of works from the project, as well as providing convenient springboards for the positioning of this project in contemporary artmaking and criticism. Broadly speaking, the project hung between the posts of permanence and ephemerality. The imminent redevelopment of District 6, Cape Town's unrelenting elements and the inherent value of employed materials marked this as a temporary project. The more lasting scar on the landscape and that in our collective psyche and history, mark the District 6 issue as something more permanent.

Clive van den Berg's fire drawings lasted only for the duration of their burning, but left a longer lasting carbon black scar on the bank where they were lit. Heads, twinned in a hierarchical relationship, houses, suitcase, church and a voters cross lapsed into darkness and history as did the flying or transcendent figure of the piece's finale.

Randolph Hartzenberg surrounded with bags of salt the bell of the beautiful sandstone St Mark's Church, itself now surrounded by the cold utilitarianism of the Cape Technicon's buildings (see Artbio). He effectively muffled the bell, which along with the peal of other bells and the calls of the muezzins would have marked the days and called to the spirits of former residents. His work, muffled by the present, calls out to the past and future. Ena Carstens, whose work Empties dominates the book cover, spoke of the particular and anecdotal nature of the history of District 6. A two-dimensional linoleum dog lies easily on wooden floorboards which mark the foundations of a destroyed house. This saddening image of domesticity and harmlessness is tinged with the possibility of awakening and arousal.

The catalogue and the project succeed in capturing the painful, enduring and remarkable history of District 6. The multiplicity of images and voices do justice to the unique project. All who contributed are deserving of credit.

Peet Pienaar and Barend de Wet
Dyslexics of the world untie!

Peet 'n' Barend again

Used as they are to seeing all kinds of placard bearers begging alms, early morning commuters had their eye caught recently by two white men dressed a little better than usual.

And their signs didn't seem to be of the PLEASE HELP variety, either. They read "DYSLEXICS OF THE WORLD UNTIE". Peet Pienaar and Barend de Wet were carrying out another art intervention in the daily life of the city.





Undergoing reconstructive surgery

Orlan comes to Wits

The University of the Witwatersrand has scored something of an art coup. One of the most controversial performance artists in the world, the French performance artist known simply as Orlan, will be a guest at the Fourth Annual Qualitative Methods Conference to take place on the 3rd and 4th of September.

Orlan's medium is herself. In the early Nineties she underwent, fully conscious, a series of plastic surgery interventions to change her face to a classical ideal. The surgeons would dress in silver rainment. Sitting on the theatre table, Orlan would quote from books, and hand out grapes before surgery, and of course it was all captured on video. The concept was not to become beautiful but rather to call into question notions of what is commonly held to be beautiful and thus acceptable. Recently, Orlan has reversed the process of beautification by having kidney-shaped protrusions inserted into her forehead, and is in the process of acquiring the biggest nose her face can sustain.

Concurrent to the conference, an art exhibition will run from September 2 to 11. See Exchange for calls for work.

...ZA@PLAY   MWeb

Email us

contents | listings | artbio | project | news | exchange | feedback | websites | archive | home