Gallery MOMO, Cape Town
A pop-up video exhibition was staged at Gallery MOMO, opening on 7 October and lasted for only two weeks. Its short duration supposedly attests to the nature of pop up exhibitions, inviting curiousity to viewers. Titled Demo Tape to imply demonstration, the exhibition featured five artists each represented by one video work. Conceptualised as demonstration, the exhibition was an introductory teaser and a way of preparing for more video shows to come. It is demonstration in the sense of sampling, taster or trial. Ideas and the medium of video art are presented as provisional explorations.
My interest is in the art of video as a time-based medium that can be played in constant rotation mode; it can be paused, stopped, forwarded and rewound. This indicates human desires for possibilities of manipulating life ideals and experiences, to restage, accelerate and slowdown some moments in our lives. Video, in this regard, is a medium of artistic expression that seems to provoke the artist to explore conceptual realms that result into the manipulation of the medium and its technology as well as human thoughts and aspirations.
I viewed the exhibition more from the use of the (video) medium although I do analyse the (contents of the) videos. Demo Tape consisted of various videos, documentary and art, shown in different spaces of the gallery. One video was presented through a televesion monitor, other four projected in large frames on the wall. The television monitor seemed to call for an intimate engagement whereas the projections were offering cinematic experience.
Accomplished filmmaker, Kurt Orderson showed his documentary, Not in my Neighbourhood. Orderson’s video is a trailer that focuses on the legacy of spatial violence under the disguises of gentrification in places like Cape Town and New York. It is short documentary of somewhat journalistic investigation with a selection of archive pieces from histories and memories like that of District Six removals. This film brings to view the importance of documentaty which began as a way of cinematic essay, especially short films which are based on reality and telling a (true) story. Orderson’s work, in my opinion, poses a conflict of interest in its relevance as an artistic concept and documentary film; it seems to blur lines of cinema viewing and gallery showing.
The blurring of lines seems to be a contradiction that lies on how the work is viewed and reviewed, especially in a commercial gallery. Another example of such contradictory viewing is filmmaker Amirah Tajdin’s Walls of Leila. Although the quality of the film is remarkable, especially its colour and light resolution, camera angles and editing, its contents are more like a Hollywood romantic love story, so cliché and cheesey. It also gears towards a musical video.
Admirable though is the fact that filmmakers like Tajdin are in many ways taking advantage of the video medium to capture unique locations that are familiar and relevant to our time. I should also mention that, in the case of film, which is an experience of cinema and television, the South African film industry has been growing its reputation and competing internationally. Added to this development are screenings in film festivals, an industry that has successfully maintained its momentum and audiences.
Revered photographer Roger Ballen presented Asylum of the Birds, a documentary short film that reveals somewhat unscripted real-life situation. Resembling his photographic works, the documentary is like a diary that Ballen opens up for his audience to take part in. It transports people to places where they might experience an environment that they would never be a part of. The artist, is the main character but his subjects become the main source of curiosity because of the way in which they can be looked at as “freaks”, a term used by Jörg M. Colberg in relation with Diane Arbus’s photography. Ballen’s film brings to view David Bordwell’s ideas that, the filmmaker may control the setting, with options on selecting already existing locale in which to stage the action or choosing to construct the setting.
Visual and performing artist Maurice Mbikayi’s Web Jacket plays out an experience of being restrained when in a mental state and posing harm either to yourself or others. In this video art, Mbikayi performs in a straitjacket design, made with keyboard parts that the artist intended as a “portrayal of schizophrenic mental-ritual practices that render us into digital slaves.” The work integrates the real and the virtual worlds, which is something that makes sense in terms of the history of the video medium and its association with technology; from the making to the distributing. Mbikayi uses the video (camera) as an extension of his body that interrogates these two worlds. His performance of the Web Jacket is extended and taken out of its real three-dimensional aspect, wearable sculpture, into digitally played video object that makes use of the notion of time; manipulated by the artist slowing down one sequence.
Another slowing of time and a time paradox that took me back and forth in existence of things and their demise is The Weeping, by visual artist Christine Cronje. She says “in this video, the thresholds are between seemingly opposing modalities—material/immaterial, form/formlessness, presence/absence, life/death—are explored through a body-soul analogy.” Being the only video presented in two channel television screens, Cronje makes use of a high speed video camera that captures an excessive number of frames at high speed. Although the video is recorded in normal time, it can be played back in slow-motion; appearing much slower than in real time/life. The artistry of this video brought to my attention a sense of stillness, inviting me into a calm space of meditation. I stood there looking, trying to think through its meaning, yet my mind was taken to a state of being silent.
Viewing the exhibition was a time well spent, as I delved in an audio visual medium that has been stretched and manipulated creatively and insightfully. The videos are individual pieces presented as a genre that demonstrate the importance of this medium and its capabilities for producing complex and perceptive representations. The relation of the videos to one another was well curated. No video was more important than the other, instead they were like a chorus made of different voices that advanced artists’s ideas and uses of technology in telling tales of changing trends.
I concluded that the exhibition was a good treat and beneficial to a gallery visit experience. It was a good creative thinking on the side of the gallery, especially since few galleries show video artworks. Even the gallery space is very well suited for large video projections that could be challenging and entrancing.
Michaelis Gallery. 2015. Masters Graduate Exhibition – Christine Cronjé – On Breath and Ash. Available at: http://www.michaelis.uct.ac.za/exhibitions/masters-graduate-exhibition-christine-cronje-on-breath-and-ash/ [Accessed 28 September 2015].
McCann, L. 2015. Featured: Maurice Mbikayi Creates Thoughtful Beauty from Junk Tech. Available at: http://10and5.com/2015/08/11/featured-maurice-mbikayi-creates-thoughtful-beauty-from-junk-tech/ [Accessed 28 September 2015]
Christine Cronje The Weeping – https://vimeo.com/118327630
Kurt Orderson’s Not in My Neighbourhood – https://vimeo.com/110700349
Amirah Tajdin’s Wall of Leila – https://vimeo.com/36246400
Roger Ballen’s Asylum of the Birds – http://www.rogerballen.com/videos/films/
Maurice Mbikayi’s Web Jacket – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWbeCBCWczc