Archive: Issue No. 87, November 2004

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'a city' by Dean Henning and Rike Sitas
by Michael Croeser with Gabi Ngcobo

'In the city centre. Prowling movements, moving sounds, people on the move. Crowds and isolation, shrill effects, quiet vistas. The proximity and distance of squares, sights. Possibilities lurking everywhere; someone discovers one, no one expects any nowhere, they are all on the look out for them... Structured spaces, unstructured worlds, everything finds its place and gets lost in the search for sites. There are all directions, fall on the familiar in the strange and catch sight of the strange and searches in progress. Fleeting glances reach out in the familiar.' Katharina Kerpan.

Durban based artists Rike Sitas and Dean Henning collaborated to create a playful interactive experience with their new montage of images and sound entitled 'a city', in the Multimedia Room at the NSA. This presentation is the latest installation in the Young Artists Project (YAP), a curated initiative set up in 2002 as a platform for new and experimental work, giving young artists opportunities for first solo projects that are experimental in nature.

Over the last decade South Africans have been witnessing rapid shifts of spaces in the cities allowing people's movements to keep on shifting and leading to the renewal of many spaces. Borders are blurred, limits are stretched and migrations occur as an everyday thing. Tensions rise as the city becomes an unpredictable space.

In 'a city' the viewer is invited to take the helm of a B-grade sci-fi-looking metallic control panel of mysterious assorted red buttons and switches on a pedestal standing before a projection. By tinkering with these, a series of mysterious silhouetted characters/animals with comic speech bubbles floating atop a background of local urbanscapes appear to change - as does the brooding atmospheric sound layer - in response to the buttons you choose to push.

According to Henning and Sitas, artists always make up their own stories. In 'a city' the viewer makes up the story, playing with the random script as it were, depending on which buttons they press, different combinations of characters with speech bubbles appear and disappear, creating an ethereal uncertain narrative.

The characters inhabiting the changing urban landscapes seem lost like stray dogs. There seem to be patterns, though, in amongst the chaos. The patterns and the images are in essence found objects, whether they are silhouettes of strangers and animals they have filmed walking along the beach or images cloned from old books as well as images recycled from some of their earlier work.

In 'a city' are expressed the moods within the changing, throbbing, thriving cities. The artists have been successful in creating a process of re-imagining the city and themselves in the spaces. The work is free of the tired clichéd issues surrounding and weighing down most conceptual installation art. Instead, the artists appear to be creating something purely for their enjoyment and that of the viewers.

Although beyond the apparent whimsical nature of the installation is an obviously carefully considered and designed work of art. Much thought has gone into the aesthetics as well as many hours of editing and playing around with the circuitry behind the array of red buttons and switches.

Henning admits he enjoyed watching peoples' reactions in the space, learning more about the piece and expanding his own ideas through peoples' playing around with the controls - some timidly pressing one button at a time and others pressing everything at once - creating various possible narrative streams of the complexities of urban existence.

Henning and Sitas have been working together on similar projects for about three years, Henning concerning himself primarily with the sound and Sitas, the images and video. They have recently been invited to take part in an exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in early November and they intend publish a limited edition of 'a city' CD-ROMS which will be available through the NSA gallery.

Closed: October 26