‘If you want to know what lies beyond, then that’s a matter of conversation.’
– Dada Khanyisa, 9 More Weeks
While words may not be their medium, the artist says it best. 9 More Weeks, which follows 9 Weeks (2015), is firmly rooted in the practice of the artist interview, a format favoured by Hans Ulrich Obrist, and the modus operandi of publications such as BOMB Magazine. Produced by Stevenson, the book is a collection of interviews with nine artists, guided by Sinazo Chiya, the volume’s interviewer and conversant. The book is described as taking place over ‘several more than nine weeks,’ during which time the artists are met at various junctures in their careers.
In the book’s introduction Chiya states: ‘The following texts snapshot the elasticity of artists’ perspectives and practices in a particular time.’ Following this line of thought, it becomes useful to think of the interviews in 9 More Weeks as time capsules; recording and marking the thinking of nine artists over a distinct period. Most compelling is the inclusion of young voices, like Dada Khanyisa, whose interview took place leading up to Bamb’iphone, the artist’s first solo show with Stevenson in 2018. Very rarely are these early, and defining, career moments captured in such detail.
In our own interview, conducted over the phone, Chiya described the motivation to include younger voices, such as Khanyisa, Bronwyn Katz, and Simphiwe Ndzube, in the publication: ‘The urgency to have young artists is to make a record of what they were thinking, and how they were thinking. I think it would be phenomenal, five or ten years down the line to see how a practice develops over time.’ Their inclusion is recognition that their processes are important, and will continue to have value in the discourse of South African art in posterity.
The current moment, so fraught in its constant political and social shifts, upsets and upheavals, is a linking thematic current in the publication. Simphiwe Ndzube, succinctly articulated this preoccupation with change: ‘I seem to be obsessed with things transitioning and inhabiting multiple dimensions of being and becoming.’ This statement, made in response to a question about magical realism, resonates powerfully throughout the book. The tumultuous nature of contemporary life – be it in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Senegal, or France – preoccupies and affects all of 9 More Weeks’ artists.
‘Beyond anything that I would have tried to force, it’s something that just recurs,’ explained Chiya. ‘The sense of flux and confusion, but also a willingness to embrace the unknown, and to follow intuition. To just journey into unknown terrain. There is a sense that all of us, young and old, are in uncharted territory.’ Chiya leads the reader through an exploration of the artist’s guiding light in such times: as described by Portia Zvavahera, dreams offer crucial direction. For Bronwyn Katz, the voice of grandmothers and great-grandmothers offer a link to the ancestors, as alluded to in Grond herinnering (2015). Harder to describe is the intuition which compels one to make the right thing for the moment, as explained by Kemang wa Lehulere.
In addition to the intangible, 9 More Weeks details the trajectory of the artist’s employment of objects, materials, and the processes which shaped them. Material is described as something personal; alive and in conversation with its artist, and sometimes the guiding force of the work itself, as described by wa Lehulere. Via the interview, these idiosyncrasies of the studio are made evident. As observers to the artist’s world, we are let in on the secret – at least in part.
Chiya’s work within the volume illustrates the value of an intermediary voice which is able to draw out the detail of an artist’s work, which was undoubtedly present, but hidden from public view. More specifically, it is Chiya’s voice, unfalteringly incisive, dexterous and generous, that allows these revelations to become possible. When asked about the role of the writer, Chiya elaborated:
‘I’ve always preferred to think of the role of the writer as translator or conduit of some sort, rather than an authority that pontificates about what a work is; a vessel to help facilitate the visual, so that another person can better access the artist, and their intention. It’s about their work and their practices, so for me it was about research and just listening.’
Listening, as Chiya described, is freed from the temptation of art historical theorising, and instead makes space for the artist to describe their working schema on their own terms. In conversations about family, education, astronomy, literature, and loss, the artists reveal, too, the inner workings of their practice. In so doing, 9 More Weeks offers readers an opportunity to revel in the voice of the artist through a brief window to their lives.