02.03 – 06.05.2017
When you live in a world where every day you wake up, scan the internet and feel your jaw dropping to the floor in amazement at the latest actions of everyone from ‘the leader of the free world,’ the leader of Russia, and the leader of your own country– you’d be forgiven for wanting to pray for bigger hands in order to deliver the appropriate sized face palm.
When the news is a joke, how do you satirise it? That’s the problem facing every American late night show comedian: while the scripts may write themselves, reality is so gob smacking that saying anything that everyone isn’t already saying seems like an impossible task. Despair and outrage have become the status quo and it’s hard to tell your audience anything they don’t already think.
The problem of the satirist in the time of the rise of the idiots is the central one facing South Africa’s artistic agent provocateur Brett Murray and if there’s one work from his newish show ‘Again Again’ at the Everard Read and Circa Galleries that sums up the sheer absurdity of how far things have come since the Spear debacle in 2012 it’s The Visionary: Portrait/Self Portrait. A black bronze depicting a figure mimicking Murray’s own short, round form the sculpture shows the figure with his head against the wall – banging his head in eternal, immovable ‘what-the-fuckedness.’ A new national mascot for the age of the looking glass we seem to find ourselves passing through on a daily basis.
In 2012 a chubby Julius Malema had stopped willing to die for Zuma and – as leader of the EFF – opposed the call by the ANC for everyone to stop buying the City Press after the paper published a picture of the painting although he thought the work in poor taste. Five years later and Julius is dieting up a storm while taking every opportunity to insult his former master and turn parliament into the country’s favourite television reality program. Meanwhile social media has unleashed all those feelings we were supposed to have dealt with back in the halcyon days of the Rainbow Nation, showing that divisions run deep and we all must fall. However the one thing there seems to be more agreement about is dissatisfaction with the ruling party and its bobble-headed laughing leader. This means that Murray’s barbs are falling not on deaf ears but on ears which are receiving messages they want to hear – leaving no room for shock and outrage but rather shrugging shoulders and nods of agreement. Works about Zuma and the blood on his hands from Marikana echo the sentiments you hear every day from exasperated talkshow callers – ‘I told you so,’ rather than ‘did you ever stop to think that…’
Murray’s visual jokes are no less artful and slyly hilarious but there’s certainly a feeling that unfortunately his work will always be considered within a pre- and post-Spear division and that post-Spear he has reigned himself in insofar as the execution of his attacks on the powers that be is concerned. That said it’s hard to see how being any more shocking now would prompt the same rabid response as then.
There is a foreboding sense of the seeming impotence of the little man in the face of the increasing callousness of power that pervades the work, especially in the centerpiece bronze Again Again which occupies the main room of the Circa Gallery. They loom imperviously peering down, unmoved by the exasperation and despondency which audiences bring to the room.
Murray is no longer the Bart Simpson, cheeky kid at the back of the class mooning the teacher. He also seems to have reached a point of despair at the situation and that’s reflected in the darkness of much of the works. They provide a sadly ironic counterpoint to the glitz and marble of the Sandton nightclubs and nouveau riche gangster chic of mafia houses in Bedford View but whether or not the targets of their angry arrows will ever give a shit seems increasingly unlikely.
As many artists of his generation who believed in the ANC in the 1980s, celebrated the bloodless transition of 1994 and are now confounded by the runaway looting and corruption of the state by Zuma and his cabal – Murray is worried about the future but also confounded by the blatant disregard for truth and logic which is defining the present moment both here and every where else. In these dark days then there’s nothing left to do but laugh even if you may find that more often than not you end up crying.