Archive: Issue No. 79, March 2004

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Berni Searle

Berni Searle
Vapour, 2004
Video projection detail

Berni Searle

Andrew da Conceicao, Berni Searle and Andrew Lamprecht

Sue Williamson

Securing the net for 'Messages' in the Cistern Room at The Castle

Sue Williamson

Sue Williamson
Welcome to the Jet Hotel, 2004
Video still

FEBRUARY 14 - 27

Saturday, February 14

Urban Set Design is a project which links European, Arab and African artists in undertaking group initiatives. For instance, last year, thirty artists spent three weeks working in New Bell, an impoverished neighbourhood in Douala, Cameroun, working with local residents and ending in three days of art events and festivities. I have not heard of the group before, but today an email comes from Jean Christophe Lanquetin, one of the founders, describing the project and saying he will be in Johannesburg for the Vita Dance Umbrella --he is a scenographer. He asks if we can meet to discuss a new workshop to take place in El Max, a fishing village near Alexandria, Egypt, in September this year. I email back: Sounds interesting! Can you come to Cape Town after the Dance Umbrella?

Monday, February 16

Applied for an artists' residency in Vermont through the Triangle Workshops programme some time ago. Respondents were supposed to hear results in mid January, but no news yet. Check their website The list of artists for 2002-4 is up - from South Africa it is Wandile Mafunda and Dinkies Sithole. Glad they made it.

Wednesday, February 18

The opening of Berni Searle's latest show - 'Vapour' - at Michael Stevenson. The artist's high profile ensures a large crowd to check out her latest work: a constructed performance shown as a video projection - her fourth such piece -,plus a suite of accompanying photographs. In 'Vapour', the artist strides between rows of simmering cooking pots set outside on a vacant lot at dusk. I will review the show for this issue.

Critic Tracy Murinik tells me that all the artists, curators etc who will be participating on a new exhibition in New York to be held in September, I think, will shortly be leaving on a week long trip to New York to check out the spaces - St John the Divine Cathedral in Harlem, and the Museum for African Art in Long Island City. The group will number about 25, and includes Berni, Clive van den Berg, and Churchill Madikida amonst others. The artists will receive funding to make new work, and return to instal it later in the year. A dream situation for an artist! The show at the MAA will be called 'Reflective Spaces/ Contested Stages: The Performative in South African Art'. Also involved on the organising side are Dick Enthoven of Spier, Rochelle Keene, ex of the Johannesburg Art Gallery, Art South Africa editor Sophie Perryer and gallerist Michael Stevenson. Tracy will be going along as a writer for the catalogue.

Friday, February 20

On Monday we will start installing Messages from the Moat in the Cistern Room at The Cape Town Castle. It is to be an adjunct to the SANG's 'Decade of Democracy' show. Although the National Gallery bought the piece two years ago, it has remained here, in the basement of my studio building, along with all the discarded building rubbish. The five massive wooden crates containing 1400 engraved bottles, a fishing net and a recirculating pump, have been unopened since they returned from Holland three years ago. The bottles are supposed to have been packed in wine boxes, but I am secretly terrified that when we open up the crates on Monday, serious breakages will be discovered.

Monday, February 23

The National Gallery truck arrives to collect the crates. As the crate lids come off, it's the moment of truth. Well, at least the bottles are in their cardboard cartons, as they are supposed to be. We will not open the sealed cartons up until we get them to the Castle. But where is the fifth crate? Eventually it is located under a massive pile of airconditioning vents. The screws in the lid have been removed and the crate has been opened. The net is there but the pump is missing. A new one will have to be ordered.

Tuesday, February 24

The main problem in installing a large art installation into a historic space is always that one cannot mark or put nails into the existing surfaces, which must be preserved exactly as they are. So how does one suspend a net carrying 500 kg of empty bottles from beams which may not be marked? The solution is two extra heavy duty clamps on either end of the net. Once clamped into position, the installation team can start putting bottles into the net. The bottles have all survived their ocean voyage, thank goodness, though one breaks as a helper lets it slide into the net too fast.

Late in the afternoon meet Swiss curator Karin Frei who has put together a show called 'Visions of Paradise' which will open at the Joao Ferreira Gallery on March 6. We discuss the installation of a very different piece (which I haven't finished yet) to be called Welcome to the Jet Hotel, a video. On the phone, Karin has told me she wants to locate it on the gallery stairs. The stairs! Why not inside the gallery? I come to the meeting prepared to argue, but Karin persuades me she is right, and the piece will look good as she has visualised it, on a wall monitor where it can be viewed from the landings either above or below.

Friday, February 27

Receive email from Brenton Maart, Exhibitions Curator at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, reading:

Dear People
Today is my last day at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. For correspondence on matters relating to JAG exhibitions, please email Pitso Chinzima, the Assistant Exhibitions Curator, on:
Alternatively, please email Veliswa Gwintsa, the Acting Chief Curator, on:

Quite a shakeup at the JAG. Rochelle Keene has already left, and I also hear David Brodie is leaving today too.