The Wits Young Artist Award (WYYA) is an important event in the South African art calendar, as it sets the stage upon which new emerging talent showcases, and can potentially influence, the contemporary art scene in future. The exhibition comprises a body of work created by senior students at the Wits School of Art, on display at The Point of Order (TPO), the department’s ongoing exhibition project space. Their experimentations with materials and ideas are made manifest in videos, textiles, installations, mixed media and sound, sculpture and performance providing visual engagements from a variety of different contexts.
The 2022 iteration is curated by Tammy Langtry, under the banner of Asymptotic Convergences. According to the curator:
The artist students were invited to respond to the mathematical theory of an asymptote, a theory which represents how a numerical value might get closer to a limit, value or line but never reach it; it suggests continuities, intersections and meeting points, accumulations and trajectories. How has the student body considered their work as a convergence of collective ideation and memory? Artists explore a multitude of responses to this; lineages in record and mythology, existentialism and community, and importantly, the value of social education through institutional education.
Conceptually, the show steers clear of the notion of a hyper-polished “finished product.” Instead, the focus is to think about the constant divergences that happen in a space like a university. Everyone is pursuing something from a different angle, from a different context, but can those things converge? What are the convergences? And so, the exhibition is thinking about civil imagination and art, and art-making. And thinking about a school as a fundamental space for gathering, convening, and testing out ideas.
In considering the selected artists’ processes, one might think about, how does one birth this into the real world? How do you show it to people, and how do you strengthen the concept? How do you resolve some things that may have been unresolved before? How do you look at your material anew? In talking with the curator, I found that I was much more interested in the process than I was in the finality of things. How she and the artists navigated the curator/artist relation, particularly considering that this was a student show after all and the dynamics are different. Development and guidance are central, particularly in thinking about what an art award might mean for a student or emerging artist.
Through this process, notions of ‘resolution’ come to signify that ideas and/or their execution have the potential to expand the artistic practice, in that one never thinks of their work as ‘complete’ or resolved by it being in an exhibition space. What is interesting is that one gets to see, walking around the show, how the artists might have worked through an idea, their materiality, and the thematic concerns in their work to shape something that is now on display.
More so, it is important to consider how the individual artists are adapting or have adapted, because a lot of them maybe had to contend with a hybrid learning system, one physical and one remote. We know the potential difficulties that a practice that is inherently studio-based can face when one has to now translate to a virtual world.
One of the strong elements of the show is the relatability of the material, things that strike one as familiar, such as Ntsako Nkuna’s work MPS Deluxe, a mixed media piece with fabricated metal. It seems video is emerging as a very strong medium for this group of artists, not just because of its versatility. The quality of the video work’s execution and manipulation was impressive. Looking at the show, one can start to see how the students are shaping themselves and finding their radical identities.
Ropafadzo Chimusoro’s Winnowing Herstory, a melodic video piece, speaks to the subjection of black women to a current of separating – as with grain – heavier and lighter components, of their (her)stories, to acknowledge moments of their struggles, weariness and weaknesses. Kamogelo Kgaswane’s performance monologue, Who am I, hauntingly questions one’s life journey to self-discovery, as he stumbles, trips and fumbles through his words. In the video piece, he is emulating the twists and turns in one’s life journey.
Into the Insula, a 3D sculpture by Marumbo Mughogho, is accompanied by video, sound, collage and found objects. From one angle is a shiny globular disco ball on a figure clad in black and white from another, a screen and objects are scattered on the floor. They remind one of dystopia. The work approaches migration and displacement through the liminality of science fiction narratives and space travel, although, at times, the relationship might seem to be purely aesthetic.
Matsi Wa Lesego’s installation of organic material, largely made of wheat and grass, is heavily ingrained in questions of the afterlife and ecology. She translates the work in a useful manner, rather than making it completely existential, which was incredibly absorbing.
Included in the show is a text piece performance by Sehlorana Kekana. The performance is written on the street-facing wall of TPO, a repetition of the artist introducing herself. The work uses text as a means to confront and highlight the traumas that never go away, that are enacted on women by the society that we live in. Subsequently, the piece, in a more technical manner, asks us to consider the following: when one speaks about an artwork, writes about an artwork, and encounters the artwork, how do those worlds work together in creating one’s perception of it?
Phumla Dhlamini brings her advertising training to her digital art-making practice. Her work Mirageofmypath-01, a video piece accompanied by brown noise, started as a two-dimensional piece. Each curved stroke represents a labyrinthine path taken on different dimensions upon which she walks with her “gifter.” However, what one sees as a final product is how a physical space can intercept an artist’s practice.
Vidya Chagan’s work II o Clock [new(sense)] considers some of the existential questions of student life. It rallies to think about the heaviness of being a student during these times. Her “end of days board” is on the edge of comical and satirical. It makes a move towards social education and implores us to think about whether these things ever converge.
Sudhata Jarakan’s work titled Healing and Hurting, a hanging of sari falls, serviettes with thread and brown paper, concerns itself with how hidden familial objects become artistic practice. This is done in a meaningful, sensitive way.The possibility to interact on multiple levels allows one to find a balance between highly conceptual work and playfulness. The inclusion of students at different levels of study (some with more experience than others), under the guidance of an established curator, the diversity of skill, knowledge and experiences have created a vibrant and dynamic display of work. Asymptotic Convergences as a conceptual underpinning was capacious enough to accommodate how the artists want to be seen and how they want to approach the show, where different practices have found a confluence but also a divergence of thinking.
My only critique is that the show leans heavily towards installation, although something can be said about the need for work that requires a certain kind of physical labour and interaction from its audience: an intimacy with the work that wasn’t afforded to many an art lover because of the isolation that we had to go through in the past two years.
I find that the show echoes past sentiments of previous awards, wherein it is about centring/excavating an “aesthetic language that advocates for the development of creative practices that go beyond “exhibition-making.” This allows us to revisit critical questions such as, does the work of art have a beginning or an end? How does it materialise? Where must it be located?
For the students, perhaps this WYYA show marks a break, an end-point with their ideas. In reality, the situation can be viewed as much more fluid, messy and unresolved. There is a power in transmitting ideas that might echo, creating new forms of knowledge that can resonate beyond a site of learning.