Ridder Thirst by Abri de Swardt explores the restorative agency and limits of queer
youth, facing white supremacist denialism with an inventory of its continued effects.
The exhibition, comprising new work in video, photography, sculpture, sound and
performance marks the South African artist’s first solo exhibition in Johannesburg
and the launch of the Ridder Thirst 12’’ LP.
As the exhibition’s starting point, De Swardt turns to photographs of Afrikaner student
couples captured at the First River in Stellenbosch in the sixties and seventies by
Alice Mertens. The Namibian-German ethnographic photographer was the first
tertiary tutor of the lens in South Africa and Lecturer in Photography at Stellenbosch
University from the mid nineteen-sixties.
Mertens’ images capture a moment of historical incongruity, as De Swardt notes:
“whereas today’s Fallist movement exposes the fallacy of the generational
designation ‘Born Free’, Mertens’ white ethnography spotlights students ‘Born Just
Before’ or ‘Born Into’ apartheid”. The exhibition takes its title from De Swardt’s
video, Ridder Thirst (2015-2018), in which the artist fantasises the Stellenbosch river
into disappearance, perceiving that “if the ocean is the space of coloniality, the river
is that of settlement”. By snaking from the mouth of the First River at Macassar
Beach – a former separate amenity for people classified as ‘Coloured’ under
apartheid, and named after the 17th century Eastern Indonesian exile, Shaykh Yusuf
of Makassar – to Stellenbosch, named after Simon van der Stel who set it aside for
settler colonial burghers distancing themselves from the Dutch East India Company
at the first river he encountered after Cape Town – the work takes the span of the
river as marker of extreme socio-political discrepancies.
For De Swardt, these geographic tensions cannot be extracted from the shifting
status of tertiary education, specifically the teaching of photography as a discursive
framing of subjects. As such, the artist approaches the sites of Mertens’ images
along the banks of the river, inserting motion-tracked contemporary media from Die
Matie student newspaper and advertising for the aspirational clothing brand Stellies
amongst others, as mediations on spatial traumas which raise questions of land
ownership, and of landscape, in relation to the lens. Here the vagaries of the archival
gaze is met with the insatiability of eroticism as De Swardt occupies and inverts the
‘straight’ canons of documentary photography and essay film, asking how we
can unlearn historic images that seek to define us.
In his photographic series, Streams (2015-ongoing), De Swardt relocates a darkroom
to a riverbank, staging differentiated technologies of queer visibility as intransigent to
notions of water as ‘natural’, and photography as ‘neutral’, phenomena. De Swardt is
drawn to the ‘Stop Bath’ in film processing – when images ‘stop developing’, a
procedure which could be understood as the violence of fixing the fluid emergence of
The Ridder Thirst 12’’ LP foregrounds listening as decolonial act. The double vinyl
record includes commissions by artists, student activists, academics, musicians and
writers Stephané E. Conradie, Metode en Tegniek, Athi Mongezeleli Joja, Pierre
Fouché, Khanyisile Mbongwa, Rachel Collet, Abri de Swardt and Alida Eloff. As
sonic forum, the record approaches collective voice with desire and disassociation,
proposing an ‘unwriting’ of space.
Words Beneath Bridges, a 40-minute performance first developed and realised at
The Centre for the Less Good Idea, featuring performers Quinton Manning and
Danie Putter, invokes graffiti scrawled beneath overpasses and along rivers as
bardic writings at, and of, the margins. De Swardt draws from text he saw in 2014
spray-painted beneath Coetzenberg Bridge at the Eersterivier in Stellenbosch – a
site documented by Mertens – reading Real EYES Realize Real Lies.
Ridder Thirst will feature a programme of events devised in collaboration with Abri de
This project is supported by The National Arts Council of South Africa
Abri de Swardt (b. 1988, lives and works in Johannesburg) is an artist and writer
who works across video, photography, costume, sound, sculpture, and performance.
He is concerned with the difficult visibility and audibility of queer and Southern
subjects as proxies of what Michael Taussig terms “effervescent”, “no sooner
emerged than” disappearing, the “exact opposite…of monuments”. De Swardt holds
a MFA in Fine Art with distinction from Goldsmiths, University of London (2014), and
a BA in Fine Art from Stellenbosch University (2010). De Swardt has realised solo
exhibitions at White Cubicle, London (SPF Matthew Barney, 2015); MOTInternational
Projects, London (Catapult Screensaver, 2013); and blank projects, Cape Town (To
Walk on Water, 2011). Recent exhibitions and screenings include writing for the eye,
writing for the ear, The Centre for the Less Good Idea, Johannesburg (2018), These
Rotten Words at Chapter, Cardiff (2017), Blend the Acclaim of Your Chant with the
Timbrels, Jerwood Staging Series, Jerwood Space, London (2016), Bloomberg New
Contemporaries, One Thoresby Street, Nottingham, and Institute of Contemporary
Arts, London; Sightings, KZNSA, Durban; Poetics of Relation, Point of Order,
Johannesburg and LiveInYourHead, Geneva; and Men Gather, in Speech…, Cooper
Gallery, Dundee (all 2015). Forthcoming exhibitions include Coded Encounters,
Gallery Graça Brandāo, Lisbon, and a residency at Rupert, Vilnius.
POOL is a not for profit platform for curatorial and artistic production,
experimentation and research, founded in 2015 by Mika Conradie and Amy Watson.
POOL is organised through the frames of self-organising and self-instituting and
emerges out of an identified need to nurture experimentation within, support the
professionalisation of, and broaden public engagement with, curatorial and visual art
practice in South Africa. These aims are achieved through the medium and
production of exhibitions, commissioned artworks, summer schools, discussions and
symposia, residencies and exchanges, public talks and educational programming
and print and radio publications.
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