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Simon Gush

By Chad Rossouw
In the Company of

Simon Gush
In the Company of, 2008. Single-channel video shot on HD, 10-channel audio Duration 32 min 27 sec.

Simon Gush is an emerging artist working with a wide variety of media. Moving from contracts with potential buyers to meditations on the histories of trade unions, his conceptual concerns are equally varied. His work, however, seldom reads as chaotic, as it is unified by consistent interest in left-wing politics and a clean, understated aesthetic. He is a meticulous researcher and many of his works are particularly concerned with the communication of information, from the politics of display and ownership to the dialectic logic of Soviet montage film theory. Often his work focuses on micro-histories, such as the chance encounter between a basketball team and a ballroom, or the minutiae of a specific place, such as the gentrification of a neighbourhood.

As an occasional curator he has been particularly interested in other emerging artists, and in challenging the exhibition norms of the South African art world. The Parking Gallery was an experimental space literally in an underground parking lot in Johannesburg. It emphasized alternative practice and project space experimentation.

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MODUS OPERANDI

Simon Gush works over a variety of concerns, so his modus operandi more often reflects the needs of the particular work rather than a general thematic. However, his work is characterized by two streams of activity.

The first is a vigorous conceptualism, the second is a concern with montage. Conceptualism implies an interest in thoughts, words and meaning over form. However, Gush’s take on this is vigorous, as in lively and engaged. The form reflects the concept, and the concept is emotionally or politically charged. An analogous practice would be that of Felix Gonzalez-Torres. In Untitled (2010), Gush juxtaposed a metronome and a wristwatch. In a direct homage to Gonzalez-Torres’s Perfect Lovers, here the two objects keep time with each other, but the function of that time is radically different. It seems to refer to the fundamental difference between people: The impossibility of knowing one’s lover, no matter how closely aligned. In Anticipating Ever (2008), Gush replaced a window in the gallery, with a wooden frame of hand-blown glass. The hand-made is contrasted with the slick finish of a white cube space. The glass itself distorts the view out onto the road, a view of the rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood of Woodstock. This produces a complex play between the desire for authenticity, and the distorted reality of the spectacular gentrification.

The idea of montage in Gush’s work started with the juxtaposition of elements in order to create a new, complex meaning. In Underfoot (Vooruit) (2009), Gush places a dancing couple onto a floor mopped with Coca-Cola. This intersection of elements tells a narrative (Gush mentions the idea stemming from a travelling American basketball team unable to get a grip on the floor), but also points to an unstable relationship between cultures. Similarly, in In the Company of (2008), a football game is played between teams of immigrants in Belgium. The game is located across a set of railway tracks, creating an almost impossible game. Here the intersection of elements creates a metaphoric and physical clashing of sport, transport and the politics of globalization.

Gush’s more recent works have begun to deal with the film theory of montage, literally working with the contrast of filmic elements. Taking its cue from Sergei Eisenstein, and other Russian avant-garde film makers of the early 20th century, is Four for 4: A speculative montage for David Oistrakh and Sergei Prokofiev (2010). In a four-channel display, Gush contrasts a violin sonata, the sky above the famous stairs in Odessa (the scene of the climatic scene in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin), a remake of a David Copperfield illusion, and an unmoving shot of a glacier. The ‘speculative’ of the title implies an openness to the relationship between these four shots. Eisenstein theorized montage as a way of communicating politically, and Gush talks about the possibility of this open-endedness to speak politically.

ARTIST'S STATEMENT:

'The focus of speculative montage is a process of a continual rethinking of the act of speaking politically. In order to approach this subject I first started by producing a working definition of what the most basic form of political speech might be. I decided upon the act of speaking for more than oneself. Thus in my definition the shift from "I" to "we" in speech is the first political shift'.

WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID:

'Outwardly, Gush is similarly disdainful of beauty (or “aesthetics” in the narrow sense of that word). His work is conceptual play, fueled by a commitment to finding a future for left- wing politics. Yet [...] underneath his ideas, Gush is a formalist. If one looks at the conceptual aspect of Gush’s work, it is highly controlled. Every reference is researched, footnoted (sometimes literally), and distilled to its essence. Yet, much as LeWitt would leave room for interpretation in his instructions for murals, Gush in large part relinquishes control over production. If beauty does in fact matter, so does chance, because it is chance that often leads to beauty in his works. Chance occasionally also infiltrates the conceptual aspect of Gush’s work'. (Joost Bosland in NKA, Journal of Contemporary African Art, Fall 2010, pg 76-81)


'The recomplexifying of history, institutional critique, are some of Simon’s tactics for cutting up big ideas into more realistic fragments. The moment I find most exciting in his work however, are when he plays those "strange forms" and awkward inequalities back into the systems that have generated them and puts both parties to the test'. (Liz Haines, 'Uneasy Encounters', Code Magazine Issue 9, Spring 2009, pg 4-7)

 

CURRENTLY:

Simon Gush is currently a fellow at the Gordon Institute for Creative and Performing Arts, a prestigious year-long fellowship at the University of Cape Town. He’ll be working on a video piece called Faith: a speculative montage for COSATU.

 

PREVIOUSLY:

Simon Gush studied at HISK in Belgium. He has put on several solo shows locally and abroad, most notably '4 for Four: A speculative montage for David Oistrakh and Sergei Prokofiev' (2010) and 'Sidestep' (2009). He has also appeared in group shows in Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada and South Africa.

 

UP NEXT:

Simon Gush will be exhibiting Faith in Cape Town in September (date and venue still to be confirmed) and then in Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg on the 17th September.


CURRICULUM VITAE:

Education:

2011 Fellowship Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts, University of Cape Town

2008 Laureate Hoger Instituut van Schone Kunsten (HISK)

2003 Bachelor of Arts, Fine Art, University of Witwatersrand

Solo Exhibitions:

2010 '4 for Four, A speculative montage for David Oistrakh and Sergei Prokofiev', SMAK, Gent, Belgium, and Michael Stevenson, Cape Town, South Africa

'1st and 3rd', Gallerie West, Den Haag, The Netherlands, (cat)

2009 'Sidestep', Michael Stevenson, Cape Town and Brodie/Stevenson, Johannesburg, (cat)

2007 'Salute' Michael Stevenson, Cape Town, South Africa, (cat)

2006 'She Loves Me, She Love Me Not', Outlet; Pretoria, South Africa

2005 'Thank You Johannesburg', Outlet; Pretoria, South Africa

2003 'Déjà vu', Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

Selected Group Exhibitions :

2010 'This is Our Time', Michael Stevenson, Cape Town, South Africa

'Halakasha', Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

'From Pierneef to Gugulective – A fresh look at a century of South African art', Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

'Culture Shock: video interventions at the Q.E.T.', Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, Canada (curator Stephanie Rebick)

2009 'If Only I Was More Like You', Amsterdam, The Netherlands

'Ename Actueel: Hoofdstuk V', Ename, Belgium (curator Thomas Caron)

'Polyfonie: HISK in Watou 2009', Watou, Belgium (curator Hans Martens)

'Lab09', Lulea Art Biennial, Lulea, Sweden (curator Jan-Erik Lundström)

'Korte Meten, Vooruit', Gent, Belgium (curator Eva De Grote)

'De Keuze van Koen van den Broek', Indian Caps, Antwerpen, Belgium, (cat) (curator Koen van den Broek)

'Self / Not-Self', Brodie/Stevenson, Johannesburg, South Africa (curator David Brodie)

'Bad Moon Rising 3', Boots Contemporary Art Space, St Louis, USA, (curator: Jan Van Woensel)

'Test Patterns: Recent Video Work From South Africa', SF Camerawork, San Francisco, USA, (curator Leigh Illion)

2008 'PERCHE REALIZZARE UN'OPERA QUANDO E COSI BELLO SOGNARLA SOLTANTO?', Universiteit Gent, Faculteit Ingenieurswetenschappen, Gent, Belgium (curator Philippe Van Cauteren & Thomas Caron)

'I Like Belgium and Belgium Likes Me', Conflict Room, Antwerpen, Belgium

'Disguise, The Art of Attracting and Deflecting Attention', Michael Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa (curator Joost Bosland)

'.za giovane arte dal Sudafrica', Palazzo delle Papesse-Centro Arte Contemporanea, Siena, Italy

'Perfect Lovers', Art Extra, Johannesburg, South Africa

'Bad Moon Rising', Silverman Gallery, San Francisco, USA, (curator Jan Van Woensel)

2007 'El Manifiesto De Santiago', Centro Cultural Matucana 100, Santiago, Chile

'Out of Place, Open Archive # 1', Argos, Brussels, Belgium (curator Vincent Meesen) (cat)

'Making Waves', The Castle, Cape Town, South Africa (cat)

'Temporary Behaviour, Marker IV Devine In.Tent', Unternehmenspark, Kassel, Germany and Chiostro di S. Giobbe, Venice, Italy (curator Jan Van Woensel)

'Pulse, Posi+ive Event', Sun City International, South Africa (cat)

'51% / 49%', Hoger Instituut voor Schone Kunsten, Gent, Belgium

'There is a Man Going Around Taking Names' (in collaboration with Dorothee Kreutzfeldt), Joao Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

'3 Point Turn' (in collaboration with Dorothee Kreutzfeldt), Point Blank Gallery / Twist Street, Drill Hall, Johannesburg, South Africa

'Follow the Arrows', World Social Forum, Nairobi, Kenya

2006 'Kazoo', The Premises Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

'Khoj Kolkata', Chaudhuri Bari, Kolkata, India

'saartsemerging.org', The Bag Factory, Johannesburg, South Africa

'Parking Gallery Cape Town 2006', Cape Platform Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

'Making Waves', Albany Museum, Grahamstown National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, South Africa

 

Selected Bibliography:

Gavin, Francesca, 2011, 100 New Artists, Lawrence King publishing, London, pg 98-99.

Bosland, Joost, 2010, 'Refracting Surfaces: Simon Gush', NKA, Journal of Contemporary African Art, Fall 2010, pg76 - 81.

Cornell, Lauren, Massimiliano Gioni and Laura Hoptman, 2009, Younger Than Jesus Artist Directory, New York, Phaidon Press Ltd, pg 205.

Haines, Liz, 2009, 'Uneasy Encounters', Code Magazine Issue 9 (Spring), pg 4-7.

O'Toole, Sean, 2007. 'Cutting-Edge Humour', Business Day quarterly Art Supplement (Summer).

Van Cauteren, Phileppe and Thomas Caron, 2007, 'Uncommon Ground', Art South Africa, Vol 6.2 (Summer), pg 36-37.


Selected Curating / Projects:

2006 Founder and Curator of the Parking Gallery

Co- Founder of SaArtsEmerging with Nathaniel Stern and Bronwyn Lace
 
2004 Co-founder of aThirdparty with Hanli Becker, Hannes Olivier, Rat Western and Lester Adams, in order to curate 'Negotiate, A series of four exhibitions in celebration of ten years of Democracy', Johannesburg Art Gallery, South Africa

2003 Curator of '20:20 Mapping Trajectories', University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, for the launch of the new School of the Arts.