26.03 - 07.05.2022
An audience’s varied interpretation of an artwork is a testament to the multiplicity of meaning. Instead favouring one perspective above all others, or “some universal assumption,” Lerato Shadi recognises the opportunity for reflection and recognition, and the key role her body plays in this complex equation. Occupying the space of interpretation –the body, the exhibition, the gallery, the institution, or the room that collects reaction – Lerato Shadi’s practice is “an ongoing conversation.” She connects her thematic and intuitive pursuits across the timeline of their realisation. Now, she returns to close the six-year distance between herself and her last solo exhibition in South Africa to present Di Sa Bonweng.
MMK: How would you describe the role of the audience in an engaged relationship with artworks such as the photographs in I know what a closed fist means?
LS: I don’t assume I have a ‘universal’ audience or one kind of audience member. I also don’t assume that people interact or consume work in the same way. I think I expect that some people will have a superficial experience. I also think there are people who give the work more space, more time. I think that, when you do that, it reveals itself more to you. Then, when you give it even more time, you reveal yourself to the work. Where –hopefully– you understand that the conversations you’re having about the work have more to do with you than it does with me.
MMK: How would you describe the impact of ‘digitisation’ on the use and sense of the ‘image’ in the context of these works?
LS: I know what a closed fist means is using the image, the language of photography and, somehow, the language of social media as well. Seeing the postcard and being in the exhibition space are two different things, for example. Then again, experiencing something at a distance – or, in this cas,e digitally – is that not ‘normal’ in a way? Some only ever see the Mona Lisa on a television screen. Or a Rothko, which is a huge work, some are only experiencing it on a page. In this way, you are aware that you’re not in physical proximity with the work; you’re seeing it differently, or ‘digitally.’
While new ways of navigating our proximity to art find digital purchase, Shadi’s images welcome new avenues for the audience to experience access. From the title of the collection, to how the images utilise and thus directly challenge an audience’s reaction, ‘I know what a closed fist means’ continues to animate itself through each of its renditions. Returning to South African audiences in 2022, the images are layered now with the context of our present tense. Whatever these terms are – and their range of influences – while they provide evidence of the evolution of meaning, there is still the matter of the series’ connective tissue. The body.
By centring her/the body as ‘subject’ across mediums, she is proactive in her interrogations of representation. For Shadi, as a performance, video and installation artist, bodywork fashions form out of the unfathomable.
MMK: In the context of your process for Series, could you elaborate on the physical undertaking that preceded the woolwork?
LS: I think I need to do a few more of them to figure that out. In part, I’m interested in the idea that the body has two brains, including the gut. Your stomach consumes a lot of energy digesting, etc. I work with my gut. I feel with it. When something feels right, I feel it. It’s how I know something is ‘working.’ With this series, I was interested in finding out if I could play with that intuition, and access that intuition, in terms of fasting or having a strict diet while I’m doing the work. I was also interested in the idea of my body consciously knitting the artworks. I’m not even sure what it means to ‘consciously knit with the body,’ but I do know that the body has a memory.
It’s hard to explain, because I’m still in the process of researching, and figuring out what that means in practical, everyday terms. What does it mean when we say the body has a memory? There are times when you can understand something mentally but not experientially. So, how does it feel to know the body has a memory? The process has been hard because I wasn’t working with words. But, I’m also okay not working with words.
MMK: How would you describe your dedication to your process?
LS: My work jumps between mediums, and the processes adjust. There is no discernible, structural approach that I can see, but that’s not to say there isn’t one. I don’t feel mine is a ‘dedication to process,’ but rather a dedication to living, to being. In one of my very first performances, Hema, I used 792 balloons. On my out-breath, I exhaled only into the balloons. There’s an important element in that, for me. The honesty. There’s no way for the audience to know that that’s what I did. But, I know, and that’s the important thing.