Arts on Main
11.09.2015 – 13.09.2015
The regular phenomenon of a creative fringe hanging on the back of a more marketable art festival has a number of implications, usually amongst those is the idea that a fringe operates as largely artist-run, and that the modes of exchange are creative first, and monetary second (not always by choice!). This idea lends fringes an aura of ‘authenticity.’ However, what happens when we present ‘honest’ art, in an inherently inorganic space?
Maboneng seemingly possesses no history, but plenty of culture–its spatial conversation revolves around capital in its over-acknowledgment of the present, and its clear ideals for the future. It was interesting to note this site in relation to the Joburg Fringe 2015, an event proposing to link artists to one another and further extend our creative community.
Elgin Rust’s Trading Daisy, a work that formed part of the main show, keyed into this notion of community. The work is essentially an auction in which the artist proposes an exchange with the viewer –her sculpture, a carved wooden version of an inflatable sex toy, for anything that the viewer might be equipped to provide. Rust was offered ‘massages for a year,’ ‘accommodation in Johannesburg,’ ‘her work photographed for a year,’ amongst other creative propositions. In humorously engaging the less glamorous state of affairs for most artists, this work tends to speak in a way that subverts the kind of trade that a precinct like Maboneng buys into. However, at the same time, we’d do well to acknowledge the position of those of us with access to this kind of playful exchange of post-capital, understanding that this non-monetary trade as purely an act of art begins to speak to larger issues of access in South Africa.
Land was a dominant theme throughout the show, and in many cases –from Twenty Journey’s documentary photography, to Themba Khumalo’s (The Collective) stormy and electrified seas– looked into the violence of site in South Africa. The work spoke to an awareness of history, and in this regard it was interesting to try to make sense of how it might situate itself in a gentrified space, which is characterised by re-imagined violences of post-1994 South Africa. As those contributing to the space, we all in some way become complicit in this democratic system, and our addition to this conversation between art and site therefore becomes important. The Fringe’s collaboration with Maboneng made it a space of confusion. It created room to ask important questions around the lie of the land in South Africa, while bringing with it the demons of its own siteness.
‘Revisiting the Latent Archive in Sites’, a small exhibition curated by Khanyisile Mbongwa, addressed the ‘storage’ potential of site. Using artworks as new, re-imagined sites, the exploration in this exhibition was important in pushing the idea that while notions of the past, of memory, and of trauma are often forced into the representative struggle of art world rhetoric, they exist as tangible realities in South Africa now.
Robyn Pretorius’s Safe Haven, an acrylic painting of an African gospel church situated in a small shack, and surrounded by what seems to be arid and empty desert, spoke to these ideas in alluding to a number of historical modes of representation of Africanness and land.
Pretorius subverts the usual western gaze upon the African, which reads the black body (and often commodifies it) as oppressed exclusively by material conditions and poverty. Using the title Safe Haven in relation to a space of material poverty, the artist exposes the fickle nature of a reading of blackness as oppressed purely by poverty, and engages with epistemological oppression, which necessitates the creation of conscious culture, and conscious religion, regardless of wealth status. Pretorius’s Safe Haven reads as a black conscious site –a school of liberation theology, or a space of subversive imagination– that offers safety.
In conversation with other works in the show, like Rory Emmett’s Colourman triptych, which similarly subverts an oppressive construct –the apartheid designation of ‘colouredness’– Pretorius’s work speaks quite poignantly to the main themes of this exhibition. ‘Revisiting the Latent Archive in Sites’ is a show that reveals a resistant undercurrent in present South Africa. a current that is inherently connected to the physical conception of land. However, as Mbongwa’s exhibition implies, the idea of site is fluid, and extends from land, to bodies, and to that which is not understood traditionally as tangible.
This more intimate exploration of site is present in the work of photographer Nocebo Bucibo. As part of an exhibition entitled ‘Invisible Borders,’ curated by Charlie Motale, Bucibo’s work documents living spaces in present day South African migrant hostels. No Sex Here is a small square format colour photograph of the empty interior of a hostel. The graffitied instruction/restriction on the wall, reading ‘NO SEX HERE,’ becomes associated with physical control, and power dynamics associated with the body.
Here, we can understand the site of the physical body, the body of sex and of sexuality, as one that can be moved, can be controlled, and can be violated. In this sense, the absence of bodies, the absence of sex, becomes the representation of these ideas. In reading this narrative, one might reflect on its interaction with Maboneng as a site of tension too, that is saturated with parallel and unequal narratives of the visible versus the invisible. Fringe exists because it occupies the space of those who have become invisible here, those who used to live here, used to have sex here, and used to raise new generations here.
Along with the gentle works of Jabulani Dhlamimi that explore the playfulness of childhood, and notions of the ‘used-to’, ‘Invisible Borders’ is important in further exploding the ideas of body and memory as holding multiple narratives that go largely unseen- and are actively hidden.
As part of Fringe’s central show, Chiedza Nyebera Pfister’s work also deals with notions of the double narrative. Engaging her subject matter through paint, she creates humorous and imaginative images that are offset by her titling which is translated into English from German. In The forest of the double-headed animals (Der Wald der zwei Köpfige Tiere), we are presented with an image of blue trees, and a futuristic looking two-headed striped brown beast flying overhead.
The conjunction of this fantasy, this fleeting rendition of imagination, with its title, (also implying a parallel two-headedness in its bilingual nature) begins to allude to a third space. This allusion, in referencing the artist’s own journey in learning German later in life after leaving Zimbabwe, becomes very interesting in adding a fresh layer to our understanding of site. Pfister’s work proposes that the ideas of land, in all their tension, and in their ability to ultimately store us, might be navigated through a lens of fantasy or imagination.
This playful and humorous work introduces a third space- an acknowledgment of here, of there, and also of self– where self-reflexivity is actively used in conjunction with a re-imagination of how we might situate ourselves now. Joburg Fringe 2015 was an interesting space, full of push and pull and creative exchange that lead me to believe that it is only through very deep awareness of the environments that art often operates in that we might begin to be subversive, and begin to grow.