Archive: Issue No. 79, March 2004

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Feedback is an open forum for readers to share any comments and insights relevant to art practice in South Africa. We reserve the right to edit all submissions.

From: Zayd Minty
Subject: Mario Pissarro's article on Iziko
Date received: February 18

In response to Mario Pissarro's recent column on the Iziko CEO position, readers should note that, in fact, the current CEO is not a actually a Professor - despite Mr Bredekamp's insistence on using the title before his name.

From: Loki Sparks
Subject: Zachary Yorke's review of Edward Young's 'Asshole'
Date received: February 18

Yawn. Blah blah blah!. Why do academics take so long to say simple things? 'Asshole' worked for one brief moment when I received the invitation. I thought it was for real, that some idiot had sent me an insulting postcard. Then I realised that although Ed Young/ Bell-Roberts had just called me an asshole, in an indirect way, it wasn't personal... because it was art.

And that's all there is to it. We were the assholes for turning up at the exhibition. Ed is the asshole for thinking that he can get away with merely being clever. Young Ed's enfant terrible role-playing is indulged because nobody wants to mention the obvious: there's no substance to the art because there's no substance to the artist.

From: Brenden Gray
Subject: Ed Young's event
Date received:February 18

I've been to many exhibition openings, art events etc. And so much of the work attempts to encourage criticality. And yet the devices that frame the show often tend to negate the very intentions of the artists. The work finds itself being endorsed through opening speeches, eats, invited guests, invitations, monographs etc. This encourages a kind of consent that effectively prevents people at the show from saying what they really think. There are no opportunities at exhibition openings/ events/ happenings/ galleries etc. for real-time engagement other than the hidden monologue that takes place in the mind of the viewer (usually the fashionable art in-crowd).

Why aren't artists building real engagement strategies into their work so that people can dialogue through art, using art as the departure point to learn?

The problem with so much art produced in this country today is that it is turning into a kind of lifestyle branding/ consumer item/ fashion/ d�cor etc that is creating passivity on the part of the viewer. When will artists give us viewers the opportunity to become active social participants in the construction of meaning?

I think your broad strokes take in a number of issues. Firstly though, I would be reluctant to make such a generalisation about a diverse range of artistic practices - I don't think I could honestly say that things are as fraught with problems as you suggest. Secondly, I think the responsibility for the problems you see as ubiquitous lies as much with the viewers. When will they spend less time reading the blurb on the wall and more time looking at the work? I've got to be honest though, the kind of audience 'participation' you seem to desire sounds a bit shaky to me. Paul Edmunds.

From: Bonita Alice
Subject: [Complexity]
Date received:February 23

The participation of South Africa's art-makers and thinkers in the global visual arts field is something that has happened inevitably, organically and compulsively for some time now, and must surely be seen to have been hugely beneficial both to our own and the larger field. There have been criticisms within the context of the Euro/Afrocentric debate with accusations of South Africans aspiring to something other than the nurturing of the South African visual arts, or the general enrichment of a contemporary South African experience. Or the suggestion that aspirant players in the global contemporary art field look outside of South Africa and Africa for direction because they deem a "developed world" model to be the starting point for art production of any significance. For a number of reasons, I am one of those who believe this to be a dangerously narrow view of the situation.

I have a number of year's experience as a lecturer in tertiary arts education, mostly in the context of a Technikon department. For most of the students I encountered, the visual arts were not a familiar realm when they first registered. However, year after year, by their second and third years in the department, these students were independently and very successfully producing work within a contemporary (global) idiom. I don't believe that in assisting them in doing this they were being strong-armed or denied anything at all. They were not dictated to regarding either approach or content and, in most cases, despite a lack of prior exposure to global art making, they engaged with and became compelled by the products of contemporary art practice (SA and otherwise).

I can't remember a student working with content that was NOT directly related to his or her own experience. In fact, for many, their encounter with contemporary art making and discourse sent them searching for the first time for the art traditions of their own heritage, whether it were African or Taiwanese. Many of those students left the institution to continue making and exhibiting work independently here and abroad.

My point is that, within contemporary South African life, the arts represent a "COMPLEXIFICATION" of thinking and experience at a time when so much is oversimplified and reduced in the name of development and redress. Nor do I think that contemporary art practice alienates aspirant art students or artists from any community. I support the position that it is never necessary to dumb anything down in order to make it accessible. That's a sure fire way to guarantee that, in the longer term, everyone loses. Creativity and energy is required in the development of methods to facilitate access, and I reject the idea that this amounts to forcing engagement with an alien animal.