SMAC Gallery, Cape Town
05.05 – 09.06.2018
“But I told you so, didn’t I”.
Halfway through its run, it would appear that ‘Shady Tactics’ – the razor sharp group show curated by Thuli Gamedze at SMAC – was prophetic. Resounding with provocative language and subtle (and some not so subtle) jabs at the state of the South African art world, there was a sense of affirmation when on May 16, it was announced that Mark Coetzee, Executive Director and Chief Curator of Zeitz MOCAA, had been suspended and promptly resigned.
‘Shady Tactics’ aptly coincides with the mushrooming of arts establishments which all claim to address the issues of space and access in Cape Town, despite their expensive entry fees and illusion of free entry to Africans; on certain days , and at certain times, when most Africans are…hard at work.
The conversations around these artworks echo the sentiments of many industry folk to the point that you feel the dialogue within the SMAC show may have been lifted from our lips. I remember a phrase used frequently by a manager at a large bank to silence detractors while I was his subordinate …”Career Limiting Statements”. Shady Tactics is filled with them because the shots fired are the sort we art practitioners usually avoid publicizing for fear of “biting the hand that might POTENTIALLY feed us”. It’s like the fear of god has gotten into us. The pool of opportunities in Cape Town feels THAT small and so we remain silent or content to have our concerns shared only within our peer groups.
Not this show.
The works stop just short of mentioning names. Yet, no mental summersaults are required to indentify the culprits referred to in the artworks. The work which probably goes straight for the industry jugular must be the video by Mitchell Gilbert Messina in which the plinth for the projector is made up of piled-up reclaimed bricks (like a reclaimed historic grain silo maybe?) In his video all and sundry come under fire by way of a satirical story featuring (they’re fictitious, right?) art stakeholder characters. At different points it becomes obvious that he is referring to Zeitz MOCAA, Norval Foundation, the Cape Town Art Fair and A4 foundation with its dubious links to the profits of warmongering. At least those are the ones I can spot. Let me know if I have left anyone out? Institutes come under fire for their obscene mausoleums, treatment of ‘artefacts’/objects and treatment of practitioners. The misbehaviours (spot the euphemism) of those positioning themselves as Oligarchs of art and culture are nothing new. But we’ve seen this behaviour before – anybody remember AFAI (which no longer exists) and Mike Van Graan’s copy pasting of Arterial Network structures? How about when Sharlene Khan called out similar industry practices in “Doing it for Daddy”?
We, the art writers and critical thinkers, don’t escape the aggressively playful poking either. Katleho Mosehle’s video piece simulate the online actions and mouse clicks of an art critic who switches back and forth between windows on a computer. The piece is a nod to the Carrie Bradshaw character from Sex and the City which unmasks our true carnally driven reasons for crafting clever little think pieces and attending Thirst Thursday.
Neither do art audiences escape Mosehle’s piercing gaze as she puts newspaper headlines on sawn-off street poles. The poles showcase regular doom ‘n gloom newspaper headlines we pore over while sitting in peak hour traffic. We wonder to ourselves how we will cope with the next new madness – and as if to answer the rhetorical question Katleho presents us with the answer in the form of the First Thursday headlines on interspersed poles.
A close friend and curator has had a short and sharp statement as his Whatsapp status for the longest time. The statement is– “Unionise the Art World”. The call is clear – formalise the art ‘industry’ to stop the exploitation of the people around whom all of this writing, fan fare, museums and academic-ing is built. But will industry formalization serve as the panacea or produce more of the same…safer grounds for oligarchs to hide behind the safety of administrative bureaucracy?
In the absence of industry formalisation we will settle (moments before we start burning the whole thing down) for a support group. Support groups to do the work of ensuring ourselves that we are not, in fact, going mad. But I ask myself the question “One day when they come for me and buy my silence will I still be able to criticize this loudly? Or will I settle for a nice little mini SUV and sufficient proof of income with which I can get some of the land.