24.02 - 01.04.2021
“. . .Third Space, though unrepresentatable in itself, which constitutes the discursive conditions of enunciation that ensure that the meaning and symbols of culture have no primordial unity or fixity; that even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, rehistoricized and read anew.”
-Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture
We could, by way of Bhabha’s above generative intervention into the relationship between cultural production and locale, approach the group show ‘The thing itself exists everywhere’, currently at blank projects, through two critical portals. In the first instance, the moments of convergence and divergence in the works must be read within the context of the politics (or rather the conceptual capacity) of the satellite initiative SOUTH SOUTH1See the SOUTH SOUTH official website , a global network/inter-regional infrastructure of art practitioners; the idea of a south-south paradigm indicative of “innovative forms of knowledge exchange, technology transfer”2 UN News, 2019. What is ‘South-South cooperation’ and why does it matter? Accessed here. (with)in the so-called Global South and productive and creative responses to the demands of the non-Western world, as well as the initiative’s intentions of providing a platform/space for generative cooperation, encounter, and exchange of ideas among art institutions and practitioners.
In the second instance, the show, ‘The thing itself exists everywhere’, can be entered by way of Homi Bhabha’s Third Space, so we can better understand the extent to which it expounds and augments Bhabha’s thesis (with all its radical leaps and limitations) which it is invested in and stands on. We can read the show as a unit, a non-dualistic and dynamic unit, in service of the radical shifts in meaning-making processes, and as an interdiction of what decolonial historian and theorist Sabelo Gatsheni aptly terms “exhausted” knowledges that have “reached a visible crisis”, or, through theorist Boaventura de Sousa Santos, “can no longer generate new nouns”3Omanga, D. 2020. Decolonization, Decoloniality, and the Future of African Studies: A Conversation with Dr. Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni. Can be accessed here. .
This theoretical cul-de-sac prevalent in civil society necessitates what Homi Bhabha has called a “conceptual vigilance” as a “necessity of heterogeneity”4Bhabha, H. 1994. The Location of Culture. Routledge.. It is at this conceptual level, or rather the fidelity to this conceptual “in-between”5ibid that the show was conceived. (Understanding this helps us make sense of what each piece by the ten artists brings to the whole). Lerato Shadi’s video RE MAOTWANA GONYELA is a kind of vibrational center that ‘embodies’ the conceptual aspirations of the exhibition; a wandering red-figure (racial ambiguity?) representative of resistance moves uncertain of itself and the space it occupies. Alina Cohen, writing about radical painterly abstraction, notes “suggestive, beguiling, and transcendent compositions”6Cohen, A. 2021. 11 Emerging Artists Redefining Abstract Painting. Accessed here. that could fittingly refer to this short video.
The inclusion of Sabelo Mlangeni’s work pushes the show towards more important critical avenues. Art critic Athi Joja has noted how Sabelo’s images “intimately and charmingly indicate a complexity in the Zion church”, a negotiation with the syncretic nature of Black religious practices which are always already “politically charged and also theologically ambivalent”7Joja, A. 2018. Sabelo Mlangeni’s Umlindelo Wamakholwa. Can be accessed here. . When the chance of identification is thrown out the window (KwaMaseko Eshabalala), one looks helplessly at the monochrome world of Umlindelo wamaKholwa and the uncertain landscape upon which its figures float.
Because of the pictorial mysticism and healing-as-motif in Sabelo’s contributions to the show, you immediately pick up on the affinity it shares with Donna Kukama’s Sizobaloya kwa Mai-Mai. The latter plays productively with the slippery nature of meaning/language. Kukama’s mark-making and radical abstraction of the community of Mai-Mai allow us to re-read it anew, as Bhabha suggests in my epigraph, to appropriate it, translate it and rehistoricized it.
Kyle Morland’s delicate aluminium piece operates at what Bhabha calls a “place of hybridity”, where shapes have become neither this nor that form, betraying our expectations, where it refuses, at a representational and semantic level, to become recognizable and thus escapes the pigeonhole.
There’s an interesting critical dialogue between the pieces on show, presenting compelling political parallels between what they are saying and the exhibition’s curatorial intentions, despite its suspicious pursuit of political “alliances and partnerships”, that might unintentionally flatten irreconcilable structural antagonism internal to civil society.