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Archive: Issue No. 47, July 2001

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MONTHLY ISSUE NO. 47 JULY 2001



Cape
10.07.01 Kevin Brand and Holly Birkby at Bell-Roberts Contemporary
26.06.01 New Media Art Exhibition at the MTN ScienCentre
05.06.01 'Exchange Values' at the National Gallery
Nieu Bethesda
10.07.01 'Mazungu Masai' at the Ibis Art Centre
Grahamstown
03.07.01 Willie Bester - 'Who let the dogs out'
03.07.01 Standard Bank Young Artist Walter Oltmann
03.07.01 Fringe exhibitions at the Johan Carinus Art Centre
03.07.01 Dina Belluigi and Brent Meistre at the Power Station
Gauteng
24.07.01 Absa Atelier Art Awards 2001
26.06.01 Jeremy Wafer at the Goodman Gallery
KwaZulu-Natal
24.07.01 'Egazini', Siphiwe Zulu and Helen Clara Hemsley at the NSA
19.06.01 'Fokofo' at the Durban Art Gallery
International
24.07.01 The 49th Venice Biennale
24.07.01 'Authentic/Ex-centric' - praise from the world press
17.07.01 'Authentic/Ex-centric' at the Venice Biennale
17.07.01 William Kentridge retrospective tour in the US
10.07.01 Kendell Geers at Delfina Project Space in London
03.07.01 'Zulu Beads' at the Axis Gallery in New York


Kevin Brand

Kevin Brand
Landscape, 2001
Bronze



Holly Birkby

Holly Birkby
Hot Water Bottle, 2001




CAPE

Kevin Brand and Holly Birkby at Bell-Roberts Contemporary
by Paul Edmunds

The banal has been done to death - but then, I guess that's what makes it banal. By titling their joint show 'Balm of the Banal', Kevin Brand and Holly Birkby on the one hand pit themselves against everyone else who has ever approached this idea, from Warhol to Koons; and on the other hand risk producing work which doesn't transcend that which it critiques. They both manage to pull it off in the end, but not so much by original approach as neat side-step.

Brand has produced 30 moderate-sized bronzes, all simply cast from everyday objects - polystyrene cups, balls of string, padlocks. These are arranged in a variety of ways and finished in a highly seductive fashion. Unlike his best known work, there appears to be no narrative here nor any political content. As in all of his work, the sense of surface, form, finish, material and colour is impeccable.

It's not surprising that the more you look at Brand's pieces, the more you pick up references, conscious and subconscious, to earlier works. Tableau, Scene and Vista consist of three bars of Dove soap, arranged in different ways on bases whose texture is derived from patterned perspex. The "soap" is finished in a warm grey oil paint, while each base retains its steely bronze colour, coated with a clear varnish. In their configurations the works recall Brand's well-known Klop, klop, klop and the textured base recalls his more recent pixelated works.

The works all take their titles from typical art historical terms and thus carry with them the weight of history and institutionalised education. The terms are, I suppose, pretty "banal", but it's interesting how much sway they hold, shaping our vision to see something in a plain object which wasn't there before it was given this name and granted the status of art object; cast in bronze, no less. The names of each are visible in cast Dymotape.

In earlier works such as 19 Boys Running, Brand was certain of the power of object, image and the formal elements that hold an idea together. He has no less authority here, constructing, casting, finishing and naming a pleasing arrangement of objects not nearly as loaded as the imagery in his earlier work. He has the same formal elements at his command and perhaps also a nagging feeling that art may not be the most effective medium for political change. Nevertheless Brand manages to muster his forces and produce a series of works which may provoke cries of "escapism", but ultimately question the authority we grant an artist and only go further to demonstrate Brand's mastery of form, material and finish.

A series of four works made from pulped paper eggtrays are entitled Landscape, Seascape, Vista and Figure and Ground. Each square tray sits flat on a uniform base, distinguished from the others only by slight colour variations. Seascape is a darker tone than Landscape and is finished in a rougher, more gestural fashion. The two halves of Vista are painted in a slightly different hue, suggesting land and sky divided by the horizon. One is willing to see the nodes and recesses as crests and troughs, hills and valleys or even as pixels describing a two-dimensional form. The works are a demonstration of the power and freedom of the artist, as well perhaps as a comment on how much power art does and doesn't hold outside the confines of a comfortable art world.

Jeweller Holly Birkby has produced a series of pendants, military dogtag-like objects and several charm bracelets. She has dedicated the works to a friend who "died in action" in Swaziland in 1998. The dogtags make obvious reference to this as do the recurring images of submarines, in light of the Russian disaster of earlier this year. The three charm bracelets, executed mostly in sterling silver, entitled Guns, Buns and Subs, consist respectively of small cast pistols, rabbits and submarines. They are as much Monopoly as menacing, each having both a certain charm and an implicit violence. The pistols are self-explanatory, the submarines have an aggressively blind look to them and the rabbits are so numerous as to seem disposable. The bracelets are beautifully finished and are, along with the rest of the work, displayed on small stacks of synthetic carpet atop tall tapered bases. Through the use of pretty vernacular items of jewellery and skilfully manipulated images, Birkby manages to evoke both the magic and futility such objects ultimately offer in the face of mortality.

Although it is a slightly unsettling combination, there is an integrity to the exhibition, consisting as it does of beautifully crafted metal objects. Both artists avoid the weightiness that the title of their show implies, but at the same time put a charming and effective twist on objects and processes that are not so far from the everyday as to be alienating.

Closing: August 4

Bell-Roberts Contemporary, 199 Loop Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 422 1100
Fax: (021) 423 3135
Email: suzette@bell-roberts.com
Website: www.bell-roberts.com
Gallery hours: Mon - Fri 8.30am - 5pm, Saturday 10am - 1pm


MTN

New media art at the MTN ScienCentre




New Media Art Exhibition at the MTN ScienCentre
by Sue Williamson

"It's always better on the big screen" is just as true of new media works as of movies. This fact became very obvious at the launch of the MTN Art Institute exhibition of new media work, when invited guests, including Dr Ben Mgubane, Minister of Arts and Culture, and Dr Yvonne Muthien, the MTN Institute's Group Executive: Corporate Affairs, viewed some of the work in the well-appointed Ericsson Auditorium. Good sound and large-scale projection do full justice to the works, and guests could get the full measure of Can't forget, can't remember, my interactive piece based on two TRC cases; Abrie Fourie's assortment of screensavers, collectively titled Philippians 4.8 (download these from the MTN website) and other works by overseas artists. Fourie has given value to the sightings of every day, finding everything worthy of consideration, and offers up views of traffic, the edges of bibles, plastic bags caught on barbed wire in quick sequences.

Outside the auditorium, 22 work stations on rocket styled pods in the body of the ScienCentre give visitors the opportunity to play for hours on computer monitors. If you want to experience something on the big screen, ask for Ryan Bruton, who has helpfully said that if he possibly can, he will load it in the auditorium for you. My own recommendation, apart from the work mentioned above, might be a piece by Australian artist Bill Seaman which invites the viewer to participate in ordering the sequence of words and images to compose poetic sentences, which will always seem coherent even though they are the result of a shuffled deck. One finds oneself trying to understand the significance of a sentence such as "An ingenious investigation merges with an indefinite perception to elude the uneasy concept of a transcendent vision", even when you know that there is no author for the words you are looking at.

Since you will be paying to enter the ScienCentre, give yourself time to play with the other scientific offerings (if you can push the kids aside) and visit the Camera Obscura, which gives a new view of the mother city.

Until June 30.

Opening: Thursday June 21 at 3.30pm
Closing: June 30

MTN ScienCentre, 407 Canal Walk, Century City, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 529 8100 or 083 376 9507

Entrance 5 on the upper level near Woolworths provides the easiest access. Guests are welcome to arrive from 1pm onwards, as a viewing site for the eclipse will be set up on the roof car park. Case Rijsdijk from the South African Astronomical Observatory will be in attendance. On arrival please register at the MTN ScienCentre information desk.


Shelley Sacks

Shelley Sacks
'Exchange values' 1996
Banana skins, fabric, iron, soundtrack
Installation view



Shelley Sacks

Shelley Sacks
'Exchange values' 1996
Banana skins, fabric, iron, soundtrack
Installation detail



'Exchange Values' at the SANG
by Sue Williamson

"I began drying banana skins 25 years ago, not for any specific purpose, but because I found it hard to throw them away. I would stand with a skin in my hand, wondering where it had come from, who had grown it, what the life of this person was like. Each skin still had so much life in it, it seemed a pity to throw it away. So I stretched strings across the wall of my room, where the skins could hang to dry. As they dried, blackening, twisting, stiffening, they began to speak through their silent forms."

So Shelley Sacks describes the beginning of a project which would eventually grow into 'Exchange Values', an installation or. as Sacks prefers to call it, a social sculpture, which currently fills one large gallery at the SANG. What you see: a floor carpeted with dried banana skins, more densely laid at the centre, some with little blue labels still attached. Round the walls are minimalist rectangles of skins stitched on to backings and stretched on small frames above galvanised iron boxes, each numbered, with a set of headphones attached. The colour of the skins is a deep, matte, browny black, and the rectangles, like black holes, seem to absorb all the light. As one leans close, the faint fragrance of banana can still be discerned, and the textures and curved shapes of the stitched skins can be fully appreciated.

It is the number on each box which is the key to the whole piece. Sacks, once a collaborator with Joseph Beuys and now Head of Art at Oxford Brookes University in England, has a long history in grassroots cultural and political organisations both in England and her home country of South Africa. Her interest lies in exploring the way art can lead to a sustainable and democratic society, and in questioning consumerist practices. In a supermarket one day she noticed a "grower identification number" on a box of Windward Island bananas, and slowly conceived a plan to track the bananas back to their source. On two Saturdays in June 1996, 3 000 bananas were distributed to passers-by to eat and give back the skin - a process which in itself led to street discussions on fair trade and consumer responsibility.

Assistants started to cure the skins in salt water and flatten them before stitching them onto the cloths while Sacks left for the Windward Islands, and for a month travelled up and down the volcanic mountains and valleys of the island. Supported by the St Lucia Banana Growers Association, she tracked the growers one by one in order to conduct interviews. It is these interviews one hears when putting on the headphones. The stories are on the whole dispiriting and probably reflect the problems of small farmers worldwide. G 060323, George Delice: "I am 64 years old. Forty years I've been planting bananas. Right now the bananas are nothing. It's only a waste of time - there's no money. I raised all my childen before on a smaller income but now there's no satisfaction. I can't ever pay someone to work with me." M 320637 John Patrick Mathurin: "My father died and left me his bananas. I like to plant my bananas and also to eat them. After work I buy brandy and a pack of cigarettes and I dance. You don't get enough encouragement to work. It's just the salary, but apart from that there really are not any problems."

As Sacks points out in the information leaflet available at the side of the room, 'Exchange Values' "is not only about bananas, but of everything we buy, use and produce every day." The strong and meaningful social message of Sacks's work, her plea for us to examine the way we live, does not take away from the aesthetic pleasure of the organic carpet of skins, and the stitched rectangles, as beautiful as any African textile. Already installed in five different venues in England, the piece will travel next to Rotterdam as part of the City of Culture events.

Opening: April 21
Closing: August 26

South African National Gallery, Government Avenue, Company Gardens, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 465-1628
Fax: (021) 461-0045
Email: sang@gem.co.za
Website: http://www.museums.org.za/sang


Jane Burt and Richard Kilpert arrive in Nieu-Bethesda



... and set up camp in the Ibis Art Centre gallery




NIEU BETHESDA

'Mazungu Masai' at the Ibis Art Centre
by Antoinette du Plessis

In a benign form of exhibitionism they call 'Mazungu Masai', Jane Burt and Richard Kilpert have set up base camp in the gallery space of Ibis Art Centre in Nieu-Bethesda after an extended journey through several East African countries. They join their artworks - a technically uneven assortment of works consisting of photographs, collages, constructions, postcards, travel brochures, drawings, paintings, installations, a video, music, food, performance, etc, as exhibits in what amounts to an interactive, ongoing chronicle of their trip. Throughout the duration of the exhibition, they will be updating their website (c/o www.ibisartcentre.co.za) and interacting with visitors, turning the exhibition into a continuous artwork with few boundaries.

Not for them the intellectual effort of mindfully dealing with issues like commodification of artistic traditions, intervention and appropriation, exploitation and uneven power relationships. Nor the grim face of Africa - disease, poverty, overcrowding, warfare. They present travelling in Africa as a dreamlike activity filled with fun, with street vending as a creative pastime, with wild animals as humorous anthropomorphs and with tourists behaving badly as yet another form of visual delight.

The dreamlike quality is underscored in Big 6, an installation filling a smaller room adjoining the main gallery space. This work is the only one on the exhibition which, in my opinion, could stand on its own, and could bear some intellectual scrutiny, though not too much. Under a romantically draped mosquito net, a lone sleeper lies, neon heart beating in sync with electronic deep breathing, just this side of snoring. The net protects the sleeper from a plethora of insects - exquisitely and lovingly crafted from copper wire and beads - denoting beauty rather than the dreaded reality of malaria. For the sleeper, the village of Nieu-Bethesda, itself a tourist destination of note, is but a dreamlike setting for fantasies and illusions, such as serious art and travellers on their way to and from Grahamstown.

An enjoyable exhibition, despite, or perhaps because of, its levity.

Closing: July 31

Ibis Art Centre, Nieu Bethesda 6286
Tel/fax: (049) 841 1623
Email: ibis@intekom.co.za
Website: www.ibisartcentre.co.za


Willie Bester

Willie Bester



Willie Bester

Willie Bester
'Who let the dogs out'
Installation view



Willie Bester

Willie Bester
'Who let the dogs out'
Installation view




GRAHAMSTOWN

Willie Bester - 'Who let the dogs out'
by Mark Hipper

A few weeks back there was a three or four line news item in the Grocott's Mail, Grahamstown's local advertiser and newspaper, with the headline "Who let the dogs out" In the middle of the night someone had woken the residents and dogs of Oatlands, a suburb of oak-lined streets and richly restored homes, by meandering down those streets shouting these words at the top of his voice, inciting and taunting the dogs to their cacophony. Someone surely was announcing this installation by Willie Bester, invoking its everyday echo.

'Who let the dogs out' is an extraordinary and powerful piece. The Gallery in the Round where it is on show is an extraordinary space, and used by an artist sensitive to its possibilities, it has come to seem to belong to the piece as one of its constituent components. Indeed, with the coming to an end of the "name giving" sponsorship of the Grahamstown National Arts Festival by Standard Bank, one feels that this work should ideally find its permanent home here in the underbelly of this monument. A permanent reminder and gift.

Two figures and a dog welded out of engine parts and other scrap metal form the single group of figures lit up within the gloom of this circular space. Larger than life, these gleaming silver-coated figures conjure up all the menace of Japanese science fiction mutants and Manga monsters. They are eerily unreal, fictional, a hyperbole of the very real scene we know and which they act out here. Their haunting presence is more real for the exquisite exaggeration they have been moulded to. Bester subtly echoes much of the language of past resistance art - powerful works by artists such as Paul Stopforth and David Brown come to mind - and by doing so he invokes so much of our recent past and discourses and art. What Bester is pointing out to us with this referencing alone is how little that language has dated, and how shallow are the foundations of our upbeat optimistic present. A soundtrack fills the space - dogs are barking - and sooner or later one is drawn to the peep hole behind which the video footage of police dog squad members setting their dogs onto three defenceless Mozambicans is playing on a television screen. As we peep through the hole each of us becomes a voyeur, implicated in the scene we are witnessing.

I do not watch much television and therefore had only seen snippets of the footage that was televised nationally and I found myself riveted to the scene playing on the monitor, immobilised and made speechless by the inconceivability of this home video making loud the silence of the frozen group of figures. The footage and the barking dogs echo beyond those round walls and I carried their outrage with me away from the exhibition. We bemoan the violence of our present and forget that it was forged into being by us. We are going to have to do a lot more to forge new and kinder generations to change this. Willie Bester has conjured up the past to speak of our present.

Venue: Gallery in the Round, Monument

Mark Hipper is an artist and curator who lectures in the Department of Fine Art at Rhodes University


Walter Oltmann

Walter Oltmann
Moth Drawing, 2001
Pastel on paper
102 x 152 cm
Photo: Cliff Shain



Walter Oltmann

Walter Oltmann
Centrepiece, 2001
Aluminium, copper, brass wire
220 x 160 x 160 cm
Photo: Bob Cnoops




Standard Bank Young Artist Walter Oltmann
by Mark Hipper

Standard Bank Young Artist of the year is Walter Oltmann, an artist whose work may well soothe the souls of those who ventured down to Willie Bester's installation piece 'Who let the dogs out?' in the Gallery in the Round. A complementary show, as Linda Givon suggested, which bears testimony to all that is rich and hopeful and potentially possible in a hybrid cultural future. These monumental wire pieces - for example, a disarticulated flower, a glove with a praying mantis, and an African mask with insect-leg-like feelers radiating from its sides - undo all one's expectations in regard to craft being used to make art. These are exquisite, filigreed jewels reminiscent of the gold jewellery of the Akan of Ghana, or of what has survived of the Aztec gold. Here they have become monolithic emblems, enigmatic, almost mystical/magical symbols of some other order. Windmills and the like profane products of weaving spread out on every pavement in South Africa find no visual echo here. Woven by Oltmann, wire becomes gleaming precious metal. And yet, despite this, it is the craft that holds this exhibition together where there might have been, so easily I feel, something more. For someone who threads wire so finely, another finer thread is missing.

The various pieces on show neglect to cohere, to establish interrelations with one another which would have made it a potentially mesmerising, indeed stunning show. The mask and the glove resonate in similar magical accord. The coloured drawings of butterflies, however, seem amateurish in comparison to these sculptural pieces, and, for that matter, out of place. At least the oversized drawing for the Larva Suit is interesting in regard to the artist's process towards the making of one of these pieces, but it remains this, rather than an absorbing art work in its own right. Another suit, of a net-like quality, sounds a discord, and seems less suggestive of a beekeeper's protective attire (this is an association Walter offered) than something someone has for obscure reasons sown out of a fishing net.

The artist has put together a show which is representative of the various types of sculptural pieces he is known for. It is a sort of retrospective in the sense of revisiting past groups of works, and yet that, sadly, undoes the show and inadvertently reconnects it to its craft origins. The artist making what sells, decorations for corporations.

One of the pieces, the disarticulated flower, seems to beg for, while at the same time hint at, the possible rewards of this show's deconstruction by the artist himself.

Venue: Monument Gallery

Mark Hipper is an artist and curator who lectures in the Department of Fine Art at Rhodes University


Linda Jones

Linda Jones
'Inside: Looking In'
Installation view at NSA Gallery



Linda Jones

Linda Jones
'inside: looking in'
Video still



Brent Meistre

Brent Meistre
From 'class___'



Brent Meistre

Brent Meistre
From 'class___'




Fringe exhibitions at the Johan Carinus Art Centre
by Gerhard Schoeman

Some of the most exciting art at this year's Grahamstown festival can be seen at the Johan Carinus Art Centre. The school houses six exhibitions, five of which have been curated by Mark Hipper and DART, the Grahamstown Visual Art Forum. Due to constrictions of space I shall mention only a few.

Leora Farber's video of chocolate setting and melting, entitled Corpus Delecti, continues the artist's fascination with the body: with restriction, form and formlessness. Hand-made wax chocolates, which link up by detour with the wax memento mori of Beatrix van der Walt, coagulate and deshape in an endless loop of beginnings and returnings. Form becomes formlessness and formlessness congeals into form in a painless process of phantasy that is lightly beatifying. Rather than alluding to the body in death, the endless and free dissolution of the chocolate alludes to the body eternally transformed. It suggests a Buddhist principle, older than any of physics: nothing is created or destroyed, but everything transforms us.

Linda Jones's 'inside: looking in', relating well to Farber's thematising of oceanic dissolution, makes the intimate strange, the close-up both repellent and fascinating. The key concern in Jones's work is the aching desire to know the self and the ultimate impossibility of self-knowledge. For Jones the interior of the house reflects the interior of the body, digital close-ups of domestic detritus such as dust and insects reflect the microenvironment of one's own body. Walking around the exhibition - which includes a video within a video of a view inside the artist's mouth - one is literally walking inside the body. Strange and intriguing photographic close-ups of orifices reflect the inside out, as do the Cronenbergian cysts covering the floor. Here one is a voyeur in someone else's home, a foreigner in someone else's body; and by extension, the strangeness of the other's body echoes the strangeness of one's own. The same questions one might have regarding the inside goings-on of a stranger or a stranger's house are stirred up in the context of one's own body. What is in there, what is it doing, what relation does it have to me and I to it?

In Brent Meistre's 'class___' the desire for self-knowledge takes a sharp turn into the abyss. Photographic signifiers lose their signifieds in an endless chain of signification. Meistre exhibits photographs of various spaces denoted by way of fragmentary signs such as "Trap" or "Permanent", together with children's ABC books, which he has taken apart and rearranged so that words and image relate only arbitrarily. For example, one page has a picture of a girl throwing a yellow ball into the air, and the text accompanying the picture reads, "She's clearing the table". That the installation is situated in the classroom where the artist studied secondary school art history demonstrates intricately and playfully the delirium of language and the abyss of knowledge - deconstructing as it does the artist's own education and art tradition. Words and images become allegorical. And in allegory, wrote Walter Benjamin, "any person, any object, any relationship can mean absolutely anything else".

Beatrix van der Walt and Zach Taljaard's 'Fragile' continues the thematics of the desire for self-knowledge. Van der Walt has created exact and intimate renditions of domestic items such as a bottle-opener, a Bic pen and refill, a box of matches, a needle and a spool of thread out of wax. Each tiny object - its original utilitarian function becoming metaphorical and fragile - has been placed in a small glass box, suggesting both transience and restitution. Like lost property, each little item evokes an array of what Christian Boltanski calls "small memories". Zach Taljaard's contribution to the exhibition consists of various child-sized figures, moulded mainly in terracotta, together with textiles, and an assortment of various small and personal items made from clay. At the beginning of all the work there is a kind of trauma: something happened. The theme of the traumatic embarrassment or shame at the core of a person's development is embodied in the resin cast figure entitled It Will Blow Over. The little boy, wearing a sparring helmet, has his arms and gloved hands pushed backwards, his face lowered, a slight blush on his cheeks. The trauma of refusing to fight or be a man is shown here as a crucial moment in the development of a boy's identity, and the delicacy with which the figure has been rendered, coupled with its life-like presence, makes it a striking artwork. It is of a piece with an exhibition which as a whole is characterised by sensitivity and fine craftsmanship.

Venue: Carinus Art Center, Beaufort Street, Grahamstown

Gerhard Schoeman is Art History lecturer at Rhodes University


Dina Belluigi

Dina Belluigi
'Mneme'



Dina Belluigi and Brent Meistre at the Power Station
by Gerhard Schoeman

An impressive group of works on the fringe can be found at the apposite old Grahamstown Powerstation. Dina Belluigi and Brent Meistre (whose 'class___' is on at the Johan Carinus Art Centre) have utilised a spacious double-storied building to display their final MA work completed at Rhodes. Belluigi's 'Mneme' hangs downstairs and consists of paintings and photographs of found snapshots, which in their fragmentariness and state of erasure thematise and literalise the im-possibility of anamnesis - that is, the process of recollection, or making whole. Like the mournful and self-critical paintings of Gerhard Richter, Belluigi's 'Mneme' represents an unremitting doubt. Doubt as to painting's adequacy to the task of remembrance, but doubt also as to memory's adequacy to the task of making whole or retrieving what has been lost. And yet this self-doubt is what gives these carefully construed and often sophisticated images of images - both private and collective, appearing at the interface of clarity and obscurity - their quiet and unsentimental appeal.

Meistre's 'Rode' can be found by climbing the steep metal staircase leading to the room upstairs. It consists of mostly large, elegant photographs in b&w and colour, composed thematically and formally by way of repetition and the grid, of various aspects of the road - from close-up photographs of roadkill and discarded condoms, to bullet shells and skid marks on the tarmac. According to Belluigi's catalogue essay 'Rode' functions as a metaphor for a journey through South Africa's past. In this way it resonates with her own work, thematising and literalising mnemonic fragments and inscriptions - making conscious what has been unconscious or repressed. One can add that the photographs in 'Rode' function as allegorical representations of the desire for the origin: as "that which emerges from the process of becoming and disappearance", according to Walter Benjamin; as the uncanny, according to Freud. The series of photographs of single coloured condoms on the tarmac, arranged in a grid, would then relate to the origin in both a metaphysical and sexual sense. And given the political debate around the issue of safe sex and AIDS today, this work would find a perfect home in the Minister of Health's office.

Gerhard Schoeman is Art History lecturer at Rhodes University


Stefanus Rademeyer

Stefanus Rademeyer takes the Absa Atelier 2001, on stage with the other top 10 finalists



Stefanus Rademeyer

Stefanus Rademeyer
Mimetic Reconstructions
Mixed media



Daniel Hirschmann

Daniel Hirschmann
Suicide
Still from video



Natasha Christopher

Natasha Christopher
Tomas
Colour print



Kathryn Smith

Kathryn Smith
Silver Screen Searches #11 #12 February 24, 2001 10:04 - 10:56
Ink on paper



Merryn Singer

Merryn Singer
Vlakplaas
Blood and water on paper



GAUTENG

Absa Atelier Art Awards 2001
by Terry Kurgan

Stefanus Rademeyer, a young Johannesburg-based artist, scooped the generous and sought after Absa Atelier Award for 2001, it was announced in Johannesburg last week. His prize? Well, hold your breath - R60 000 in cash, a round-trip ticket to France and six months' accommodation at the Cité des Arts in Paris. Viva Absa!

The four runners-up, who received prizes of R10 000 each, were Brent Meistre, Daniel (watch this spot) Hirshmann, Marco Cianfanelli and Merryn Singer. Another five artists received certificates acknowledging their places in the top 10: Joni Brenner, Frederick Eksteen, Collen Maswanganyi, Henk Serfontein and Doreen Southwood.

Absa produced a lavish, highly entertaining opening ceremony with stand-up comedian Solly Philander as the gorgeous and charming MC. Centre stage was a huge back-screen projection featuring close-ups of speakers, prize-winners and their work. A fair amount of anxiety and tension was generated by the fact that initially all 10 winning artists were given certificates, then five of the 10 were awarded R10 000 prizes, and then finally, finally, Rademeyer was pronounced the overall winner.

Rademeyer's winning work, titled Mimetic Reconstructions, consists of a deep-blue rectangular wooden box that allows viewing from about chest height through a rectangular window located in the top face. The interior consists of a set of mirrors and fluorescent lights that create and reveal an infinity of seemingly unconnected cascading words in the shape of a halo spreading out endlessly. It reminded me visually and spatially of how it feels to be very little and gaze up at the sky on a clear and starry night.

In Rademeyer's words: "The work celebrates the endless play of ideas that never rests on one particular word. The 'halo' of words has an empty centre, suggesting that there is no idea or word that is the essence of language and art. The work contains endless textual reconstructions and references, allusions to ways in which the world is described."

Rademeyer explains that his intention with this work is that it should challenge ideas about objectivity, subjectivity and the meaning of representation: "the common notion that art mirrors the world; that it is merely a passive agent of representation". I'm not so sure that this is a commonly held notion these days. But nonetheless, he has produced an exquisitely rendered and thought-provoking piece that is endlessly open to interpretation. The work resonates with ideas surrounding theories of visual representation, and on top of that (and not unimportantly in the view of this writer) is absolutely, exquisitely beautiful. Every viewer takes an entirely different route through the text. And this route, of course, has no beginning or end.

The scale (83 artists) and format of the Absa Atelier exhibition make it very difficult to view and review the works as they are presented in the gallery. In my opinion Absa should invite artists to submit documentation of a body of work to the judges, and then consider scaling down the number of artists selected for the competition by half. In this way the final show would reflect a more substantial view in to the work of each artist and also a more in-touch feel for contemporary art practice and display. Too much of the work exhibited felt as though it was weakened or undermined by such close proximity to an unrelated "neighbour" and also by being so completely contextless. The result is a kind of fruit salad of idiom, medium, format and more, which shows nobody off to their best advantage and inevitably does battle with the aesthetic of the moment.

In spite of this there were some works that stood their ground. Daniel Hirschmann's two and a half minute video piece which he made as an undergraduate student at Wits pokes fun at the artworld and its critics. Natasha Christopher's luscious, painterly, soft focus, large format colour photograph of the delicate red smear of a baby's mouth is another quietly powerful and resonant work. I would have loved to see more of these alongside each other, for example. The same goes for Joni Brenner's work, which struggled to make its presence felt in the context of this large group of disparate works.

Kathryn Smith, in a concise, elegant and highly conceptual work, addresses this absence of context ingeniously making Absa Bank itself the context for ther work. She titles it Silver screen searches #11 & 12 February 24, 2001. 10.04 am - 10.56 am. This is part of an ongoing body of work that she makes by feeding key words or phrases (always site-specific) into a global movie database. Says the artist: "Recognising cinema's unique potential as a social anthropology research device that has spanned three centuries (it reflects the social climates and mores over time), I have begun using film titles (both mainstream and independent) as a kind of barometer to track decade by decade trends, or what people want to forget by public omission".

For this show Smith has generated a list of all films made since the invention of the moving image that carry the word "bank". At first glance this may seem arbitrary, but by arranging the films chronologically, patterns are created. It is a fascinating study in the use of titles, which have become increasingly designed for strategic marketing.

Lastly a word about Merryn Singer's prize-winning submission - a small and delicate watercolour painting that particularly engaged my attention. This painting is part of a series of works in which the artist uses her own blood as her medium. The works have been primarily centred around the trauma of the findings of the TRC where the absence of bodies became an overbearing presence.

Singer states: "I became interested in the sites where atrocities - interrogations, torture, assassinations - had occurred, almost as if the land itself could bear witness to what happened on it, testify to the blood spilt upon it."

And so by engaging in what can be construed as a fairly violent act - the drawing of and painting with blood - Singer made this entirely conventional in form (and structure of meaning) watercolour painting of a landscape. Except that its title is Vlakplaas and it's painted in her own blood. The subversiveness of the work is further emphasised by the fact that it was specifically made for a watercolour exhibition.

The Absa Atelier 2001 is a mixed bag with some highs and some lows and could certainly do with a facelift in format. But, as Wilma Cruise emphasised in her opening address, in South Africa today business and artists really need each other, and this year's show is once again evidence of the mutual benefit that relationship provides.

Terry Kurgan is a Johannesburg based artist and winner of the 2000 FNB Vita Art Prize

Closing: August 17

Absa Gallery, Absa Towers North, 161 Main Street, Johannesburg
Tel: (011) 350 4588
Email: juliemc@absa.co.za
Hours: Mon - Fri 9.30am - 3.30pm


Jeremy Wafer

Jeremy Wafer
Untitled 9 (Cape) and 10 (SA), 2001
Stamp ink on brown paper
185 x 105 cm



Jeremy Wafer

Jeremy Wafer
Untitled 14 (triptych), 2001
Enamel on glass
26 x 62 cm each



Jeremy Wafer

Jeremy Wafer
Untitled 1, 2001
Resin and wax



Jeremy Wafer

Jeremy Wafer
Untitled, 2001
Vinyl, wood, oil paint



Jeremy Wafer

Jeremy Wafer
Untitled 8, 2001
Paint on glass




Jeremy Wafer at the Goodman Gallery
by Kathryn Smith

A series of very small, framed, black and white photographs of individual, crude fence posts in Mexico breach the back wall of the pristine Goodman Gallery. Two large lozenge-shaped brown objects hang quite squat on a wall, one spotted with raised bumps, the other with undulating edges, resembling anything from an oversized pod or caterpillar to something rather scatological. Opposite: similar objects, this time thin cylinders. Striped paintings on glass; the stripes varying in thickness resemble too-regular bar codes. Photographs of numbered and plotted patterns of scattered stones in one side gallery and Rorschach-like doubled and quadrupled coats of arms of the provinces of our ex-Republic painted in purple stamp-pad ink on brown paper in the other. Another very plain lozenge in the window that prompted a friend to ask whether the current exhibition had a snow theme "'cos there's a snowboard in the window". And a very tall, square rod leaning against the wall with seemingly non-specific consecutive numbers on all sides.

Eclectic? Not really. It's Jeremy Wafer, steadily breaching new ground. Without relinquishing familiar strategies and forms, his work is beginning to reveal things about itself that were previously present but elusive. In doing so, it now has as much to do with revealing absent "bodies" as it continues his intensely considered, intimate forays into geographies, seriality, form and observation.

Three familiar, small ovoid works hang in the foyer, a small reminder of his previous exhibition, which was a virtual sell-out and from which he garnered many new fans. The inclusion of these here act as a point of reference, but also as if to say, "Well, that's that then - let's move on."

What is within the gallery is by no means as portable or as silent as those ovoids. Not that they are without content - by no means. Those celebrate tactility, form and colour, and are concerned with finding points of conflation and separation between material culture, empirical investigation and a sameness that is never quite the same. His sculpture has now shifted - lengthened - to reference "landscape" more than "body".

Entering the space, one is confronted with two small, glass panels. Vinyl letters spell "Eendragt" and "Magt". They are lit to cast a shadow on the wall behind. Alongside are two large, perfectly round photographs. From a middle distance, they could be of anything - the inside of an oyster, a swatch of fabric. On closer inspection, pixellation is evident. From far, you begin to make out geographies - uninhabited areas of forest in one, and smallholdings, tended land and a river in the other. They turn out to be aerial photographs of the region near Wafer's family farm in KwaZulu-Natal, but behave like so much of his other work, seeking out what he refers to as "fundamental forms" and "non-unique objects", made unique by subtle shifting of surface textures.

The central area in the gallery is pared down. With large fields of white wall between objects, each work has ample space to breathe. A triptych, hung next to the measuring staff, features quasi-algebraic and geometric equations on two and on the last, hundreds of arrows all pointing different directions, as if seeking out invisible order in molecular chaos.

But the main action seems to happen in the wings - off centre - with the ink paintings and stone pictures. The paintings speak to disenfranchised or mutant bodies of power and legislation. The stone photographs operate in similar ways to the geometries and equations.

If there is a point of criticism here, it is perhaps to do with a sense of fragmentation in the exhibition as a whole, and I'm ambivalent about how this comes about. It's either to do with a sense that the series shown here are not quite complete, or too "lean". But I tend more towards the sense that the main space should have been filled with the new and unfamiliar, with the side galleries containing the sculptural pieces and thus acting like buttresses or support structures, bearing the constant thematics of edges and borders, typology and binary spaces where meaning is constantly being produced.

Wafer's latest body of work is more "representational" in the sense that more and more, whether it's ant holes or fence posts or stones, he is using images to speak about how form and arrangement are encountered as "raw material". It's less about creating minimalist abstract objects that, by virtue of their existence, speak to formal concerns. But there's a strange contradiction, as while his conceptual concerns are manifesting as recognisable images, as aspects of our surroundings that are banal, arbitrary and often forgettable, unless someone - Wafer - points them out, the intellectual intensity of the work seems to have heightened.

Closing: June 30

Goodman Gallery, 163 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood
Tel: (011) 788-1113
Fax: (011) 788 9887
E-mail: goodman@iafrica.com
Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 9.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. ; Saturday 9.30 a.m. to 4.00 p.m.


Violet Booi

Violet Booi
No Spirit Fails to Go Home



Nomathemba Tana

Nomathemba Tana
You Will Indeed Be Clever to Come Through Fire with Water



Helen Clara Hemsley Helen Clara Hemsley
Storm in a Teacup



Siphiwe Zulu

Siphiwe Zulu
Church, 2001



KWAZULU-NATAL

'Egazini', Siphiwe Zulu and Helen Clara Hemsley at the NSA
by Virginia MacKenny

The NSA is currently hosting three very different exhibitions that engage the notion of history, place and identity in diverse ways.

'Egazini', the place of blood, was the site of the 1819 battle where between 5 000 and 10 000 Xhosa warriors fell to a rain of British bullets after the prophet/leader Makana erroneously predicted their triumph. This exhibition, a collaboration between Dominic Thorburn of Fine Line Press, Giselle Baillie of Underpressure Agency, the History Department of Rhodes University and various community projects in Grahamstown, was conceived to "recast", in the democratic medium of printmaking, the history of the Battle of Grahamstown, given that history, generally the terrain of the victors, leaves the vanquished mere footnotes to the tale.

The organisation of such an exhibition is intensely process-orientated, its benefits not always directly visible in the finished works but residing within the participants. Thus the community-generated works are generically similar and take second place to the established printmakers who attempt to push their media's parameters. The exceptions are Violet Booi's powerfully decorative lino No Spirit Fails to Go Home and Mirriam Mazungule's lino Umthi uphamb' inyangi (The Medicine Man has Tricked the Medicine Man) where, like an angel of death, the image of Makana straddles a hillside of graves, his "wings" a blazing row of the crosses of the dead.

The medium is the message in Dominic Thorburn's subtle Salt in the Wound, a silkscreen with dusted gunpowder referencing the story of Elisabeth Salt, who conned the Xhosa warriors into letting her cross the battlefield carrying a decoy "child" bundle to supply gunpowder to the British troops. Similarly, Gabriel Clarke Brown's White Islands of Albany is printed in the blood of a Xhosa speaker mixed with soil from the area. Lean and abstract, it depicts the map of Albany (a town poetically connected to the British motherland), its rusty surface, under threat of obliteration, evoking the violent contestation of terrain. Jacobus Klopper's silkscreen Exit Entry comprises a lattice of digitally generated images. Originally an image of the battlefield cut up and reconstituted, it reflects the endless possibilities of reconvening history. The show as a whole is a thoughtful, timely attempt at engaging issues of revisioning and reclaiming the past in order to reinvigorate the present.

Helen Clara Hemsley, the NSA's artist-in-residence from Denmark, engaged with local artists Georgia Kotretsos and Liza du Plessis in a collaborative project titled 'being (t)here', this time exploring issues of personal history, identity and place.

Hemsley, originally from Durban, has had a peripatetic life (documented in a series of ground plans of her abodes between 1970 and 2000). Her residency was an interactive engagement with Durban, its people and her own identity as defined by her location. Under a half-knitted Danish "flag", visitors filled in questionnaires, were invited to build or reconstitute stories and images and asked to participate in "word searches" constructing their own narratives while revealing Hemsley's. Each activity provoked thought on "here" and "there", revealing the conundrum that one helps constitute the other.

Liza du Plessis' Missing Helen, stamps with the young Helen's image on them, and Looking for Helen, a composite of computer-generated images of the five-year old Helen morphed with the image of Du Plessis, Kotretsos and the adult Helen, looks at identity's uncertainty and interdependency on context. Kotresos' contribution to the exhibition was a series of quirky reconstructions/reconstitutions in Lego and collages of verbal and visual information from Helen drawn on the floor and walls. Such playfulness is the hallmark of this whimsical exhibition in which silhouettes, shadows, cut-outs and missing pieces subsume the individual makers into a collective identity as they share ideas and images. Avoiding the intellectual browbeating of much contemporary art, it remains complex and thought-provoking.

While 'being (t)here' is constituted by a white middle-class sensibility, it is the township that defines Siphiwe Zulu's identity and his artistic concerns. Occasionally producing abstracted images of mesmeric beauty, constituted by surfaces overlaid with countless dots and stippling influenced by both Zulu beadwork and Impressionism, he is, however, also prone to awkward figuration. This exhibition, lacking rigorous selection, exhibits only two works of power. Out of Lamontville is an optic adventure depicting a road that, tree-like, runs up the middle of the painting, between rows of sub-economic housing, until it branches into the sky, while United in Love depicts two amorphously defined, purple-splodged figures haloed by red dots enveloped by a yellow-dotted aura. Evocatively enigmatic, here Zulu's power exists.

Closing: July 28

NSA Galleries, 166 Bulwer Road, Glenwood, Durban, South Africa, 4001
Postal address: P.O. Box 37408, Overport, Durban, South Africa, 4067
Tel: (031) 202-2293
Email: iartnsa@mweb.co.za
Website: www.nsagallery.co.za


Fokofo

Installation view of Fokofo: Umen and Fokofo: Uyephina (Where has he gone?)



Fokofo

Installation view of Fokofo: Uyephina (Where has he gone?) and Fokofo: Wall of Men



Fokofo

Installation view of ethnographic items in glass cabinets

Photos: http://fokofo.s5.com



'Fokofo' at the Durban Art Gallery
by Virginia MacKenny

'Fokofo' is not a user-friendly exhibition. Conceived as a means of exploring the different ways in which we record, present and represent the world, it takes as its arena of scrutiny the "material manifestations" of the Mabaso tribe near Msinga. Part anthropological study (Dieter Reusch), part artistic endeavour (Michael Mathews), the rituals, customs and artefacts of the tribe are displayed in a variety of ways to underscore that the way a thing is exhibited affects the way we read it.

Whether the average viewer walking in cold would "get" this is difficult to know - the few I questioned patently didn't. This is due, ironically, to the way the whole exhibition is displayed. There are the usual glass museum cases full of beadwork, clay, clothing with annotated photographs of various events within the tribe's life juxtaposed with video footage (referencing contemporary installation and therefore deliberately unaccompanied by any helpful commentary) and a whole series of large grids of laminated computer prints depicting blown-up scans of woodcuts of various heads and a "virtual" museum on a CD-ROM available on a nearby PC. The whole effect, instead of being visually rich and engaging, is somewhat predictable and cold and tends to keep the viewer at a distance.

Museum displays have reached such a level of sophistication these days that simply laying things in the bottom of display cases, particularly ones with grubby material at the bottom, with annotated cards all askew, looks like a throwback to museum design of the Fifties. It was unclear whether this was deliberate referencing of a generic tradition of exhibition display or just put together by someone with a poor sense of window dressing.

The most accessible part of the display was the series of monumentalised woodcut heads; these engaged at a distance and then, on closer inspection, dissolved to provide fresh information, overlaid as they were with transparencies of texts and artefacts. Such juxtapositions provided food for thought. Transformation of material leads to new readings so a laminated computer scan of a rubbing of an incised drawing on a clay pot of a machinegun, interspersed with text that read "art as a social activity contributes to the stable and harmonious functioning of the community", encouraged one to question the relationships set up. Placed sideways to scramble easy comprehension the text information is seen as fragmentary, breaking any sense of a completely comprehensible picture. At close range the images become pixelated - a pixelation visually paralleled by the images of beaded objects; the beads, like the pixels, encoding meaning.

It is through such "material manifestations" that the conceptual concerns of the exhibition are effectively visually supported. The CD-Rom (available for R50) represents a museum of immaculate surfaces, a sort of sci-fi space where the viewer can navigate through rooms, clicking on objects to gain information. It replicates many such information stands in sophisticated museums with large budgets the world over, only this time the unsuspecting viewer will occasionally be confronted by the sudden appearance, in a doorway or behind a display case, of the kind of figures found in arcade games where you gain points by being quick on the draw. Viewer - be on your guard.

Closing: June 30

Durban Art Gallery, 2nd Floor, City Hall, Smith Street, Durban
Box 4085, Durban 4000
Tel: (031) 311 2262
Fax: (031) 311 2273
Gallery hours from 09:00am to 12:00pm


Sunday Jack Akpan

Sunday Jack Akpan
Chief, 2001
Concrete, acrylic paint and flatting



Tracey Rose

Tracey Rose
Ciao Bella, 2001
Film performance installation - DVD



Magnus Wallin

Magnus Wallin
Exit, 1997
3D animation, still from video



Anri Sala

Anri Sala
Uomoduomo, 2000
Still from video - DVD



Do-Ho Suh

Do-Ho Suh
Public Figures, 1998
Resin, glass fiber, steel structure
173 x 275 x 285 cm



Masato Nakamura

Masato Nakamura
QSC+mV, 1998
Acrylic resin, fluorescent tube, steel frame, stainless steel



Luc Tuymans

Luc Tuymans
Lumumba, 2000
Oil on canvas
62 x 46 cm



Mark Wallinger

Mark Wallinger
Threshold to the Kingdom, 2000
Projected video installation




INTERNATIONAL

Welcome to the Pearly Gates: The 49th Venice Biennale
by Emma Bedford

The 49th Venice Biennale opened in June to the usual clamorous press previews with 14 000 people a day crowding through the Giardini, the Arsenale and environs. Having negotiated a deal whereby he would curate the central show for the 1999 and 2001 biennales, director Harald Szeemann roused much curiosity as to what he would deliver in his central exhibition.

His 'Plateau of Humankind' begins in the Italian Pavilion with what he calls the 'Platform of Thought'. On an enormous pink mound Rodin's Thinker, that paragon of Western Humanism, sits pondering the surrounding figurative sculpture which is, significantly, erotic or, more pointedly, phallic. From Africa there are simplistic painted wooden figures several of which draw attention to the scourge of AIDS, from Asia beautiful Indian temple friezes writhing with copulating figures, and from Europe primitivist sculptures. What can have been his intention? If this is the director's idea of the West contemplating the arrival of artists "from different cultures, which have moved from their exile", as Szeemann puts it in the catalogue, it is an embarrassing and offensive display of the most patronising arrogance and ignorance.

It is unfortunately the above tableau that sets the scene for the much-vaunted 'Plateau of Humankind' (formerly Mankind) and not "the positive, utopian spirituality of Beuys" with which he had intended to launch this biennale. Aside from the "African idols" (Szeemann's words) on the 'Platform' the only other artists from Africa are Tracey Rose, Minnette Vári and Sunday Jack Akpan, the latter exhibiting one of his cement sculptures of Nigerian chiefs. The oddly named Sarenco l'Africano turns out not to be African at all but an Italian "art merchant" (amongst other things) who last exhibited in 1972. This only served to heighten the impact of 'Authentic/Ex-centric: Africa in and out of Africa', the exhibition featuring artists from Africa and the African diaspora. As associate curator of that project I can't review it, but can mention the overwhelmingly positive response we received in Venice. As the doors opened on the first day of the press preview the deputy editor of a leading US-based art journal was there to see the show and interview artists, and our press conference the following day was packed to capacity with international journalists. In addition politicians - a minister of culture, the mayor - pledged their support in future. Glowing reviews are beginning to appear internationally (see highlights below). This enthusiastic feedback is essential for the sponsors, in particular, if this project is to continue as it was intended, giving African curators and artists the opportunity to participate in the Venice Biennale on an ongoing basis.

From Ron Mueck's five metre high crouching boy at the entrance to the Corderie to Richards Serra's 12 metre wide forged spirals at the end of the Arsenale, the message is clear: not only does size count but it is everything. The sheer scale of the exhibition is overwhelming. Vári's small video piece Mirage, eventually placed at the entrance to the Italian pavilion after a protracted series of setbacks, hardly stands a chance. Her two larger projections, Oracle and REM, fare better in the Arsenale and prove that Africa can deliver work that is complex and draws on cutting-edge technology. (See June News.)

Similarly Tracey Rose's three-screen projection not only holds its own in terms of scale but its beauty, humour and technical innovation ensure that it shines among many indifferent videos from the world's richest nations. In contrast to the apparent simplicity of her earlier TKO, this ambitious work is a tour de force. Entitled Ciao Bella, like the famous Italian song, it presents a table akin to that of the Last Supper surrounded by characters all played by Rose herself. Each is astonishingly transformed in costumes made by the artist, whether a mermaid's tail from bubble wrap or a Marie Antoinette in fabulous décolletage fashioned from bin liners. From the demure schoolgirl, to the deliciously leather-clad La Cicciolina exposing and flagellating herself, to Saartjie Baartman, made whole again from her dismembered parts in the Musée de l'Homme and here seen ascending to heaven, Rose has gathered the stereotypes of women from history and revels in these many guises. But the boxer catatonically beating herself up with alternate black and white gloves while intoning "Love me. Fuck me. Love me. Fuck me" gives the lie to any of these women who might have imagined that they are free from the bonds of sexism, racism and a broader global oppression whose ranking order is as ruthless as it ever was. And all this is interspersed with the delicate strains of Panis Angelicus, making the work as beautiful and funny as it is hard-hitting. While the work could have benefited perhaps from more rigorous editing it is undoubtedly a major work in her oeuvre. In the opinion of Dan Cameron, senior curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, it is one of "the most exciting installations by young artists" at the Biennale (read his diary on www.artforum.com).

Given the broad theme of humanity it wasn't surprising that numerous works explored historical, social and political issues. Many were powerful, stark and moving but none so beautiful as Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi's films. The March of Man utilises ethnographic footage slowed down to a majestic pace, overlaid with splendid colour and punctuated with penetrating texts. The robed and turbaned figures moving slowly across a sepia ground on the first screen are drawn from an 1895 film entitled Homme Negre: Marche. The text reads: "The great scientific and human hopes in knowledge". The footage on the second blazing red screen is drawn from a 1910 film showing a great white bwana shooting a pelican and then pushing a cowering black man into the water to collect his bounty. Other scenes show groups of black men semi-naked but sporting top hats. The text: "Is he passive? Is he suffering? What does he feel? Is he compliant? How long will he be submissive?" The final searing yellow screen shows 1960s footage of a man handing a token to Ndebele maidens whose offended expressions indicate their distaste. The text: "The subject is considered insensitive, studied like an insect, sexually available". Projected on three screens one after the other they force one to walk at a slow pace through them and consider one's own movement through and complicity in these kinds of scenarios.

Ken Lum's posters against xenophobia are immediate and arresting in contrast to Stan Douglas' haunting double projection of a black woman searching a dark house with a torch as if returning to a scene of some terrible trauma. Other impressive videos included Magnus Wallin's terrifying images of stunted humans struggling in urban nightmares and Chris Cunningham's explorations of auto-eroticism, desire and brutality, as compulsive as they were nauseating, but always full of eager watchers. By contrast the modest monochromatic work of Anri Sala, born in Albania and living in France, is poignant. Uomoduomo presents an impoverished old man asleep on a cathedral pew. With extreme economy of means this solitary figure encapsulates the urban terror of superannuity, garnering for Sala one of the Special Awards for Young Artists.

There were pockets of welcome relief from the predominance of video such as Do-Ho Suh's glass floor supported by thousands of tiny men and women fashioned in fine social realist style. Likewise outside the Korean pavilion his colossal empty plinth supported by minute figures was a powerful (and humorous) comment on the subjugation of the individual to the collective. Also highlighting the power of the state was A1-53167, the nom de guerre of a Guatemalan artist who needs to protect his identity. He displayed a series of small photographs documenting his guerrilla tactics. Under cover of darkness he deposits charcoal on the roads on the eve of significant military parades. With its associations of burnt land and razed towns, the charcoal is trampled underfoot by the militia who spread the evidence of their complicity in these acts throughout the city.

In contrast an amusing approach was offered by Francis Alÿs who in his absence chose to be represented by strutting peacocks, encapsulating so much of the puffed-up pretensions of art stars one encountered daily in Venice.

Thanks to Cai Guo-Qiang, Rikrit Tiravanija and others the exhausted visitor emerging at the end of the Arsenale can relax in the shade of a refreshment station overlooking the open sea while waiting for the shuttle boat to take one to the Giardini di Castelli where the national pavilions are located.

That Szeemann's show failed to live up to expectations was confirmed when Frieze magazine's first SMS hot tip to subscribers on the opening day advised visitors to queue for the Canadian and German pavilions and to see Africa (in the show 'Authentic/Ex-centric'). This was corroborated when all three were amongst the prizewinners. In the Canadian pavilion Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures Miller offer visitors a cinematic journey saturated in sensual stimulation, which blurs the distinctions between fiction and reality. The Golden Lion for best exhibition in a National Pavilion was awarded to the German pavilion. Gregor Schneider managed to transform this epitome of Third Reich architecture into a discomforting warren of claustrophobic rooms and dead-end passages. Yinka Shonibare won a mention for Vacation on 'Authentic/Ex-centric'. The installation presents an imagined nuclear family, clad in African-print space suits, colonising the moon.

Pierre Huyghe in the French pavilion was the deserved winner of a Special Award for his video projections and participatory digital media that are as astonishing for their technical virtuosity as they are for their scale of production. In the Japanese pavilion Masato Nakamura captured in exquisite style both the seduction and the awful inevitability of globalisation through the repetition of yellow M-forms akin to those of McDonald's. Belgium presents a brave examination of its own colonial history through the medium of Luc Tuyman's paintings of Patrice Lumumba, allegedly murdered by Belgian agents soon after independence. The harsh white light of the pavilion washes out the pale paintings as if this history were threatened by denial or indifference.

And at the end of the Giardini's broad leafy avenue Mark Wallinger welcomed visitors to the British pavilion by erecting an Irish flag in front of it, typical of his unique and iconoclastic sense of humour. Within the pavilion works rich in biblical allusions include Threshold to the Kingdom, a video projection. To the rousing soundtrack of Allegri's choral Miserere weary disoriented travelers emerge through the doors at International Arrivals as if they were confused souls arriving at the "pearly gates". For anyone who has ever had to stand in those interminably long non-European Union queues, the experience of being excluded from "the Promised Land" is very real. As Kim Levin says in her incisive review, "The demographics of the biennale ... are as myopic as ever ..." (see "Panic Attack", June 25 2001 at www.villagevoice.com). I can't help wondering if it isn't going to be easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it will be for artists from Africa (in significant numbers) to breach the gates of the Giardini di Castelli.

Emma Bedford is a curator at the South African National Gallery and was associate curator of 'Authentic/Ex-centric: Africa in and out of Africa'


Berni Searle

Berni Searle
Snow White
Still from video



Willem Boshoff

Willem Boshoff
Panifice (detail)



'Authentic/Ex-centric' - praise from the world press

Lynn Macritchie, "Out of Africa into the limelight"
Financial Times, June 22 2001

"Some of the most interesting exhibitions at the Venice Biennale are often not in the national pavilions of the Giardini or the ancillary spaces around the Arsenale nearby, but in the assorted palazzi, churches and buildings throughout the city pressed into service to accommodate the ever-growing diaspora of Biennale-related exhibitions and events.

"This year, the Palazzo Fondazione Levi in San Marco houses 'Authentic/Ex-centric', a group show of seven artists from Africa. ... The black South African artist Berni Searle in her video installation, Snow White, makes a simple point clearly and well. As she kneels naked on the ground, her black skin appears to turn white as it is dusted by white flour poured over her head. It gleams black again as a stream of water follows the flour, washing it from her skin. Scooping the fallen flour and water into her hands, she kneads them into dough to make flat bread, a process she learned from her mother.

"Also using the metaphor of bread is white South African artist Willem Boshoff in his installation, Panifice. In the inner courtyard of the Conservatorio di Musica near the palazzo, Boshoff has laid out on the ground a circle of 'loaves' made of granite, each on its own granite 'breadboard'. Each breadboard is inscribed in a different language, African or European, with the Biblical quotation 'What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will give him a stone?' Reading these ever-varying words with the sounds of the voices and instruments of the music students at their practice floating down between the dark, crenellated walls of this usually inaccessible space is one of this Biennale's more delicious moments."

Kim Levin, "Panic Attack: Navigating the Venice Biennale's Sprawling Interzone", Village Voice, June 25 2001
Full review: http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0126/levin.shtml
"The demographics of the biennale ... are as myopic as ever, perpetuating stereotypes on all sides. Latin American artists are a long boat ride away, replicating their geographical distance. The few works from Africa are folksy or folkloric. 'Authentic Ex-centric', one of the best satellite exhibitions, provides an antidote with installations by nine artists of African ancestry, including Berni Searle, Yinka Shonibare, Godfried Donkor, and Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons."

Coco Fusco, "When in Rome (or Venice)"
The Thing - http://bbs.thing.net, June 26 2001

"... the parallel exhibition 'Authentic Ex-centric' showcasing by African and African diaspora artists was a remarkable first step toward establishing a permanent and serious presence for African art in Venice."

Christine Temin, Boston Globe, July 1 2001
"My favorite works outside the Arsenale and Giardini were two installations from the show 'Authentic/Ex-centric: Africa In and Out of Africa': Willem Boshoff's commentary on which of the world's languages are propped up by officialdom and which are slated for extinction; and Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons's Spoken Softly With Mama."


Willem Boshoff

Willem Boshoff
Panifice
Installation view



Willem Boshoff

Willem Boshoff
Panifice
Installation view



Berni Searle

Berni Searle
Snow White
Still from video



Berni Searle

Berni Searle
Snow White
Still from video



Maria Campos Pons

Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons
Spoken Softly with Mama
Installation view



Yinka Shonibare

Yinka Shonibare
Vacation
Installation view



Yinka Shonibare

Yinka Shonibare
Vacation
Installation view



Godfried Donkor

Godfried Donkor
Lord Byron's Drawing Room
Installation detail



Rachid Koraichi

Rachid Koraïchi
Chemin des Roses
Installation view



Zineb Sedira

Zineb Sedira
Quatre générations des femmes
Installation detail



'Authentic/Ex-centric' at the Venice Biennale
by Nic Dawes

The 49th Venice Biennale presents itself under the title 'Plateau of Humankind'. Biennale czar Harald Szeemann evidently has a thoroughly anthropological idea of art. That is to say, he believes humanity finds itself in art, a pose of gentle naivete that has a long and unattractive history in Western art history. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Africa finds itself once again literally on the sidelines, confined to the Biennale's 'A latera' section for exhibitions that cannot find room at Mr Szeemann's high table.

That this is an improvement over past years is probably explanation enough for the fact that the curators of 'Authentic/Ex-centric: Africa in and out of Africa' exert themselves so strenuously in the effort to claim a legitimate contemporaneity for African artists "working within a conceptual mode". The anxiety is understandable, but the strain is evident in a show that addresses the limits its title remarks on in only the most occasional way.

In a courtyard of the Conservatorio di Musica, Willem Boshoff has distributed some 20 rough-hewn loaves of pink granite. Each one rests on a highly polished breadboard of Zimbabwe black granite, and bears an engraved inscription from the gospel of Matthew: "And what man among you, when his son asks for bread, would give him a stone". The phrase is rendered in a different language on each board, along with an enumeration of the places in which the language is spoken, and the remaining speakers.

In the anthropological fantasy of the Biennale catalogue the installation speaks to our "common humanity", the ritual of breaking bread, the translatability of languages, and the fullness of human speech. However, in the bright glare of a Venetian noon, resting on worn blocks of Istrian stone, the glossy black breadboards with their perfectly unbreakable loaves resemble nothing so much as funerary monuments, histories of the illusion on which the plateau of humanity supports itself. Boshoff's installation points downward to the decaying wooden piles and shifting mud on which the Academia rests, rather than upward to its ornate capitals and light-filled rooms.

Boshoff's work regularly makes itself available as an exhibit in trial of dominant and subordinate languages, epistemologies or peoples and it often displays a kind of pseudo-erudition that seems calculated to lend some mystical authority to the case he is making. With Panifice, in contrast, the artist has resisted the temptation to order the elements of the work in binary pairs of any kind. As a result the installation does not exhaust itself in the pathos of mourning or the flatness of argumentation. The granite lumps are too big to serve as grist for the dialectico-conceptual mill; at once shiny and dull, rough and smooth, they anchor Boshoff's field of linguistic and textual references, but their stubborn material insistence is tough to slice through, no matter how much you sharpen the contradictions.

Would that the same could be said of Berni Searle's Snow White. Indeed, as one stands poised between the two screens that comprise the video installation, a single question imposes itself: "And who among you, when the public asks for something to chew on, would give them a video of Berni Searle making roti?"

The loop begins with Searle naked and kneeling in a pool of light. Fine white flour sifts from above, slowly turning her white - a domestic Pentecost. After some time she begins to shake the flour off her limbs and water trickles from above, washing her skin back to brown. Searle now sweeps all the flour together and begins to knead it into a rough loaf of smooth, elastic dough.

This sequence plays out on two opposed screens, one providing a level view and the other an oblique top-shot. The action is slightly out of phase so that you can turn between two subject positions. This sets up a kind of disjunctive time that fools the spectator into thinking it might be possible to look into the future, or occupy both elevated and level positions at once, but in the end leaves you acutely aware of the fact that this simultaneity is impossible. Or rather this is the effect that would be achieved if you cared about what you were looking at.

Instead one simply sighs in affirmation: indeed race, gender and domestic labour cut across the body of the black but not-quite-black woman in complicated ways. Indeed woman's work has a transformative and even sacramental character, but how tedious the lecture, how dully the point is inscribed on tape, and how easily we could have read it in a book, mirror on the wall, wicked queen and all. The perfectly banal surface of identity politics, of a comfortable academic discourse on hybridity, smoothes everything over here. In the end we are standing in front of yet another video of a naked woman performing a repetitive task, and we are bored beyond words.

Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons' multimedia monument to the labour of mothers - a voodoo invocation through tombstone ironing boards, votary resin irons, and video projections - is more wrought than Searle's piece, but if anything its energy is more dissipated. The exception is a video trompe l'oeil in which a needle seems to embroider the folded linen onto which it is projected.

This small corner of the installation has a delicately elegiac beauty which is somehow lost when one turns to the major elements of the piece. What we are faced with is another invocation of the dignity of maternal labour which leaves no complexity and no abjection unrecuperated. The result is sentimentalism, even if it is sentimentalism with a richer than usual field of reference.

Yinka Shonibare has been playing with multiple meanings of wax print fabrics for more than six years now. He has created tableware, wax print high heels, and a race of alien beings from the patterned cloth that ordinarily clothes the sartorially Afrocentric from Lagos to Laguna beach and points beyond.

In some respects the joke should be played out. Anyone who is familiar with Shonibare's work knows that the fabric is in fact not African, but Dutch and English. The nationalist politicians and African-American roots tourists who have adopted these fabrics as a mark of pride are implicating themselves in the history of the colonial textile trade rather than making an uncomplicated reference to their African heritage.

Like all the best jokes this one cuts both ways - and Shonibare manages to make it continually productive. Mr and Mrs Andrews Without Their Heads - for which Shonibare created an immaculately tailored and headless reproduction of the Gainsborough painting - is a particularly good example.

For the Biennale he has installed a family of tourists in immaculate wax print space suits and dark, glossy Perspex visors on a floating platform in a dark room. It's a nuclear family glowing gently in the dark: two parents and two children, rendered raceless and sexless by the bulky suits and the impassive black glass of their helmets, are frozen in exploration or play. The effect is properly speaking uncanny, a set of familiar poses and references frozen into an utterly strange tableau. The work references psychoanalysis, anthropology, trade, tourism, tableaux vivants and science fiction, but it estranges all of them to leave behind an odd, embarrassed fear that resonates just beyond the edge of the available generic categories.

Godfried Donkor's rather more obvious historiography plays itself out next door in the site-specific Lord Byron's Drawing Room. Donkor is busy reconstructing the lost history of the 18th century by creating seamless digital collages out of illustrations sourced from the British Museum. In this installation he imagines Lord Byron's Venetian drawing room decorated with digital prints on canvas that illustrate black protagonists' part in the entertainments of a fashionable young Englishman (we are reminded of Shonibare's Diary of a Victorian Dandy photographs). We are presented with black and white pugilists facing off, black saloon patrons and a London mob at least as racially mixed as any you are likely to see in a newspaper photograph today.

Donkor's work is part visual excavation, part historical speculation, and part Photoshop fabulation. The prints have a flat, museum display quality which fails to completely suppress the graphic energy of the work, but nonetheless ensures that it achieves its success primarily at a narrative level.

The narrative arc of Rachid Koraïchi's Chemin des Roses, which occupies the long and light-filled central gallery through which the other installations are reached, is far more simple, to the extent that it is accessible to a non-Islamic audience at all. A row of Arabic glyphs etched out of steel marches toward the casement windows and the Grand Canal, the walls are lined with gold embroidered cloths, and the air is thick with the scent of the rose petals that float in densely inscribed ablution bowls. The piece alludes to Safahr, the Sufi journey to enlightenment, and the decorative surfaces which dominate the room speak to the task of writing, repetition and trance in achieving that state.

The piece inserts itself and its audience on a trajectory toward a specifically religious transcendence which it is difficult to engage without debating the place of mysticism in contemporary art. Is there a place for what is essentially a mystic praxis in an exhibition dedicated to African conceptualism? And would a Catholic mysticism be similarly licensed? These are not completely trivial questions, and without them Koraïchi's work rapidly devolves into pure exotic decoration.

Zineb Sedira engages with the decorative tradition of Islam in quite a different way. Her Quatre générations des femmes is a set of walls covered floor to ceiling by computer generated patterns on tiles. Sedira repositions the prohibition on representation in Islam by introducing photographs of four generations of women as elements of the pattern and repeating them ad infinitum in a determined mathematical transformation. It is as if the vague affirmation of Campos-Pons' piece had been given a thorough and rigorous working over, forced through the Islamic decorative mode into a far more productive and compelling performance of the space between religion, gender, and artistic discourse.

The accompanying video piece Don't do to her what you did to me attempts to achieve the same transformation: a woman's hands inscribe the title on photographs of a young girl. The photographs are dropped into a bowl of water, the ink spreading out like smoke. The emulsion slowly dissolves and finally the solution is swallowed - a charm against evil. The urgency of the ritual, its secrecy and power are somehow lost in the dilatory time of video; where Quatre générations des femmes has the force of synchrony, the unfolding of the video as narrative dilutes the concept rather than complicating it, but Sedira is hardly alone in this. The 49th Biennale is padded out with acres of stunningly mediocre video work.

No doubt there is room for debate on the selection criteria for 'Authentic/Ex-centric'. Some of the artists - notably Shonibare - have provided work that explicitly folds the limits of Africa and Africanness back on themselves; others seem to be present simply as representatives of the fact that there is an African Diaspora. Perhaps it is a mark of the curators' need to stake a claim - any claim - in the mud of Venice that the conceptual framework of the exhibition is so casually dealt with, but it is disappointing nonetheless.

Harald Szeemann has told the art world that the next instalment of the Biennale will be African in the same sense that 1999 was Chinese and 2001 Finnish. These are words to strike fear into our hearts, but however ludicrous the animating intention, 2003 may represent an opportunity to create an African presence that has more to do with the work and less to do with shoring up its claims to legitimacy.

Nick Dawes is a Cape Town based writer on culture who currently heads up the new media company Maverick Interface Design

Until November 4

Palazzo Fondazione Levi, San Marco 2893, 30124 Venezia
Tel: 041 78 6777
Gallery hours: 10am - 5pm (closed on Mondays)


William Kentridge

William Kentridge
Art in a State of Hope, 1998
Panel from triptych
Silkscreen on paper
160 x 100cm



William Kentridge

William Kentridge
Art in a State of Siege, 1998
Panel from triptych
Silkscreen on paper
160 x 100cm



William Kentridge

William Kentridge
Drawing from Sleeping on Glass, 1999



William Kentridge

William Kentridge
History of the Main Complaint, 1996
Video still



William Kentridge

William Kentridge
Drawing used in animation for Il Ritorno d'Ulisse, 1998
Charcoal on paper
66 x 50cm



Mainstream America meets William Kentridge
by Laurie Farrell

In the past four years, William Kentridge's work has received considerable exposure and acclaim in the United States. Sue Williamson summed up Kentridge's trajectory when she observed that 12 years ago, Kentridge walked around New York City trying to persuade art galleries to look at his slides without success. Things have changed considerably. In 1998, Kentridge held solo exhibitions including 'Drawings for Projection' at the Drawing Center, New York, and 'Weighing and Wanting' at MCA San Diego, and was a finalist in the Hugo Boss Prize Exhibition at the SoHo branch of the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York. Add to that the 1999/2000 Carnegie International Medal and a coveted slot in the MoMA New York Projects series (both of these exhibitions featured his film Stereoscope), and one could argue that the American art scene should know who William Kentridge is.

Curated by Neal Benezra, deputy director and curator at the Art Institute of Chicago; Staci Boris, associate curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and Dan Cameron, senior curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, this retrospective stops at major metropolitan museums across the States and ends at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town.

On February 28 2001, Kentridge's first major retrospective opened at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at the Smithsonian Institution in the nation's capital. With high ceilings, a clean installation, curving walls that helped the exhibition's narrative unfold, and an enormous space that seemed to have been created for this show, this opening installation really set the pace for what is sure to be a very successful tour. The exhibition included 11 films, excerpts from theatre productions, two film installations, line drawings created by the artist for this venue, and more than 70 graphic works.

One of the strengths of this exhibition is the connection between Kentridge's drawings and the films they appear in. In the exhibition walkthrough, drawings were grouped in series according to the film they relate to, and preceded their respective films. Experiencing drawings created for a film, and then watching the life of the print evolve through various stages of erasure and transition into film, created an organic bond between the drawings and films. After walking through several series of drawings followed by films, visitors were able to visually obtain familiarity with Kentridge's process, cast of characters, and an underlying sense of his artistic style.

The Kentridge show is currently on view at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City. Senior curator Dan Cameron gave a press tour on opening day that introduced the New York adaptation of the exhibition. The New York exhibition opens with Shadow Procession (1999), a seven minute film with music by Alfred Makgalemele that creates a liminal space between the ticket booth and the entry space of the exhibition. Turning the corner into a small room, a series of eight etchings from the Hogarth in Johannesburg series (1986-7) along with three other graphic works serve as representations of Kentridge's early period. Moving further into the show, the next space includes several series of drawings from Kentridge's first eight films that are screening continuously in one room in the back of the gallery. After watching over 60 minutes of film, the visitor must double back through the exhibition in order to continue on to the upper levels. Heading back towards the front of the gallery space, an intimate side gallery contains Medicine Chest (2000). This new installation piece projects through a small chest that has two glass shelves and a clear glass door as its vehicle of transmission. Accompanied by a soundtrack in DC, the piece is showing mute in New York City due to the artist's desire to avoid audio bleeds from other spaces.

Ascending the stairs to the mezzanine level, a series of three 1988 silkscreen prints on paper titled Art in a State of Grace, Art in a State of Hope and Art in a State of Siege are installed in a curious space above the front desk. Kentridge stated that these prints are the most politically motivated works in the show.

Located in an open walkway between the two main exhibition floors, excerpts from three theatre productions, namely Faustus in Africa! (1995), Ubu and the Truth Commission (1997) and the Monteverdi opera Il Ritorno d'Ulisse (1998) play on a single monitor as people traverse back and forth. As an open critique, it is interesting to note that the theatre installations at the Hirshhorn and the New Museum both placed these three works in walkways. In defense of both curatorial programmes, all institutions must address spatial constraints and make choices. It is interesting that these works which highlight collaborations between Kentridge and the talented Handspring Puppet Company are consistently placed in challenging spaces.

The top and final floor of the New Museum installation houses three separate viewing spaces for Ulisse: ECHO scan slide bottle (1998), the projection installation Sleeping on Glass (1999), and Ubu Tells the Truth (1997). Additional graphic works line the walls connecting the closed viewing spaces, allowing the drawings and prints to stand on their own.

Initially, after comparing the DC and New Museum installations, I felt that the strong connection between the drawings and prints that had been so effectively translated in DC was lost in the New Museum adaptation. However, after careful reconsideration, I recognised that Cameron's installation allows Kentridge's strength in each media to shine through. Also, Kentridge states that initially he felt the drawings were the art and were to be kept separate from the films. And sure, it is a lot to ask the average museum visitor to sit through eight films in one sitting. But you can be sure that the individuals who actually do so will walk away with an ability to connect characters, themes and reoccurring icons (both the obvious and the esoteric).

A noted commonality in both installations was the absence of extended label copy and timelines that tend to historically anchor artists. By abandoning over-simplified, "didactic" text, the curators have allowed visitors to experience common themes imbedded in Kentridge's work: issues of loyalty and loneliness, action and introspection, the teasing out of corrupt power structures, and larger human issues that seem rooted and local in almost every context. Furthermore, avoiding a directing narrative allows each viewer to find their own respective truths and connections with the art.

Visitors who want to feed additional intellectual curiosities can do so by purchasing the exhibition catalogue, a William Kentridge: Drawing the Passing video, or David Krut's William Kentridge CD-ROM (all which are valuable resources and recommended purchases). Another opportunity for information was made available at the New Museum through a public conversation held between Dan Cameron and William Kentridge. In an open interview that encouraged questions from the public, Kentridge revealed sources and ideas that have motivated his works. Carefully evading several audience members' attempts to categorise his artistic expressions as products of his Jewish heritage, or sympathies of white-guilt in post-apartheid South Africa, Kentridge articulated the complexities surrounding the weight of Europe in Africa.

Laurie Ann Farrell is associate curator at the Museum for African Art, New York

The New Museum exhibition closes on September 16 2001, then travels to the following venues:

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
October 20 2001 - January 20 2002

Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston
March 1 - May 5 2002

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
July 21 - October 6 2002

South African National Gallery, Cape Town
December 7 2002 - March 23 2003


Kendell Geers

Kendell Geers
Song of the Pig, 2000
Installation view



Kendell Geers

Kendell Geers
Image from the invitation to 'Where Angels Fear to Tread'



Kendell Geers at Delfina Project Space in London
by Sean O'Toole

"Crumpet. Knobnose. Fruit. Flower. Dick. Arsehole. Twinkletoes ..." For those who like to view the work of Kendell Geers through the prism of his personality (and there are many such persons), some of these words might aptly characterise the artist. But these are not the precise slurs I heard whispered in the courtyard outside London's Delfina Project Space, the venue of Geers' solo exhibition 'Where Angels Fear to Tread'. Rather, the taunts form part of the piece Silent Night, a 1 000-word catalogue of abusive terms randomly projected in red lettering onto one of the gallery walls.

Documenta 11 director Okwui Enwezor, who describes Geers as "an artist of quite some note," has also written: "Between apostasy and stridency, he has ranged widely, both formally and conceptually, across the fissures of high modernist deliquescence and lust for form and object, as well as in the ambient light of postmodernist thought processes, to build a critical oeuvre that is filled with brilliance, uncanny moments, and yet is difficult to classify." To someone simply buzzing around the cult of artistic personality, the import of these words will necessarily be lost, any appreciation of Geers' art corrupted by the effect of looking at his work through the wrong end of the telescope.

With the vagaries of personality offering an imprecise point of entry into the oeuvre of any artist, it is best left for the work to represent itself. 'Where Angels Fear to Tread' begins with a purpose built corridor lined with 13 pairs of neatly hung orange body bags. Throughout this confined space, the sensory perception of death is overwhelmingly one of a pungent plastic odour, a sanitised actuality in which death exists merely by suggestion. Song of the Pig, as the piece is titled, sets a strong tone for a show that deals variously with notions of death, disaster, distress - issues ingrained in Geers' work and a testament to his legacy as a white South African male.

I didn't notice the jibe "white male dinosaur" projected in amongst Silent Night's catalogue of hatred. An irrelevant observation? Far from his birthright disqualifying him as a commentator on the current cultural and political continuum, Geers proves that it can be a weapon of amplified perception. The video piece London Calling provides proof. A black anarchist flag is shown fluttering with slow unease in a clear sky, a barely audible and slowed down version of the Sex Pistols' song Anarchy in the UK accompanying the image. With its obvious punk references - London Calling is the name of a famous Clash song - the piece situates itself within the groundswell of populist resentment that is currently challenging the torpid inertia of the times. With London's recent May Day anti-capitalist protests also reduced to a feint bleat of populist dissent by the apparatus of the English state, London Calling offers a prescient snapshot of the distress lurking beneath the shimmer of a city presently reclining smugly within the comforts of a bloated financial boom.

Yet London Calling is far more than Geers fashionably appropriating the guises of the anti-capitalist movement. Speaking of his childhood Geers once said: "As a white kid from a working class Afrikaans family I felt very culturally deprived. It was like living in a cultural vacuum. Later I discovered the sounds of working-class England, bands like the Sex Pistols, and they made a lot of sense to me." Seen from this point of view London Calling is a deeply personal epiphany by an artist now living and working in London. Identifying himself with the revolutionary underclass that fired the imagination of his youth - "I was attracted to their energy and their mistrust of authority," he has said - the work demonstrates continuity and clarity in his artistic purpose.

This said, it was disappointing to see these strong works undermined by Geers' apparent willingness to clutter his show with overstatement and mediocrity. Jammed into the main exhibition room were five pieces: one video projection, one slide projected piece, one randomised wall projection and two static wall displays. The overall effect of this mass of media in the modest gallery space conspired to dilute the impact of Silent Night and London Calling, while allowing lesser pieces such as Emergency Series (London) and What does D.I.A.N.A. stand for? to clog the space.

Emergency Series (London) is a static poster containing an exhaustive list of helpline numbers, catalogued from A (Alcoholics Anonymous - 0845 769 7555) via the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard (020 7837 7324) to Thames Water (0845 920 0800). What does D.I.A.N.A. stand for? is a slide-projected piece, trite even in its London context. "Why did the princess cross the road?" one image asks. "Because she wasn't wearing a seatbelt." While Geers' trope as an artist tends to give precedence to confrontational bravado, a fact confirmed by his statement that "being rebellious can change the world", this particular piece seemed more banal than confrontational. Or is that just the nature of celebrity - banality?

Geers is an artist with insights of coruscating brilliance, a true "virus at the heart of the beast". But 'Where Angels Fear to Tread' demonstrates that brilliance can be qualified. For a show that promised a selection of new works, this cluttered "retrospective" hints at a certain element of dislocation. Cataloging chaos and tumult as he does with such acumen, Geers' show nevertheless reveals an artistic willingness at times to revel in death and disorder without any sense of purpose. The reality of mortality, irrationality, disorder, distress, freedom and oppression are however far from banal. Which brings me to my only real criticism of this show. Despite the dazzling critique it offers of these uncertain times, artistic ennui sometimes gains the upper hand. It tends to lessen the full impact of works that demand us to confront the true terror of entropy.

Closing: July 29

Delfina Project Space, 51 Southwark Street, London SE1
Website: www.delfina.org.uk
Gallery hours: Wed - Sun 11am - 6pm


Thabiso Phokompe

Thabiso Phokompe
Muthi We Mpilo (Tree of Life), 1999 Hessian, pigment, sticks, rope



Sudeka Bobson Mohanlall

Portrait by Sudeka Bobson Mohanlall
Bobson Studio ca. 1970




'Zulu Beads' at the Axis Gallery in New York
by Joy Garnett

One of the most interesting spaces to open recently [in New York] is the South African-run Axis Gallery, located on the top floor of a tiny walk-up at 453 West 17th Street in Chelsea. Its art-historian directors, Gary van Wyk and Lisa Brittan, have consistently offered up mini museum-like exhibitions that are exquisitely hung and historically informative; they also introduce a lot of South African artists to the New York market.

The current show entitled 'Zulu Beads' offers an astonishing array of objects and artworks, from traditional marriage capes, ceremonial spoons, beer pots, dolls, gauntlets and headrests to studio photographs and a contemporary wall piece in ochre and black burlap by Thabiso Phokompe, a young Zulu artist who made his New York debut in the 'Liberated Voices' exhibition at the Museum for African Art in 1999.

In this beautifully thought-out installation, associations hum between many of the works. Beaded dolls, hairpieces and other garments hang near a selection of contemporary colour photographs, portraits made at the celebrated Bobson Studios in Durban by photographer Sudeko Bobson Mohanlall (b 1928).

The subjects in these photographs make use of costumes and props available in the studio, and similar accessories hang on the walls beside them. The subjects pose themselves in ways that are thoroughly eccentric while very much in keeping with the well-established tradition of African studio photography. Several similar photographs by Mohanlall are on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Recent Acquisitions exhibition.

Resonant elements aside, there are also some interesting contrasts: pink and turquoise layered marriage capes, whose white beaded tassels proclaim a bride's virginity, hang not far away from metal-spiked wrist gauntlets worthy of Japanese anime's fiercest robot-demons.

A man's black leather backshirt, replete with brass studs, is likewise redolent with unequivocal machismo - fleeting images of pit bull collars and other S&M paraphernalia flit across one's mind.

This review was first published as part of New York artist Joy Garnett's 'Into Africa' column on artnet.com

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