Thursday, January 28, 2010

Shadi at Goethe

From this blog you would think that January was Lerato Shadi month but it was kind of in Joburg. It definitely was one of the hottest shows on this month. Sean Slemon opened at Brodie/Stevenson but it was open for such a short time that it closed before I got to see it, which I am really dissapointed about, the images that David posted on FB looked fantastic. Minette Vari's Parallax opened at the Goodman and was there yesterday to check it out. She had some really cool video artworks (as usual), she really is one of a few artists who exploits the digital film medium. Will be reviewing for next week in the Sunday Indy so won't go into much detail. BTW: The Goodman Gallery in Joburg is expanding; Liza gave me a short tour yesterday. There will be permanent photographic section, with a sort of archive of photographic prints. There will also be a coffee shop and a sort of library area where members of the public will be able to peruse through the gallery's extensive collection of art books. This has to be a first for a South African gallery and I think it is a wonderful addition to the gallery, it will encourage people to spend more time at the gallery and it will hopefully encourage the public to read about art, a neccessary activity if they are to appreciate it to its fullest extent.

My Shadi review:

LERATO Shadi is an old-school performance artist in the sense that she is physically invested in her works. Her works are lengthy - Selogilwe (Setswana for "woven") is seven hours - and, therefore, require a high level of physical commitment. So, on a very basic level she explores perpetual actions and how they impact on the body. There is always a sense with Shadi's work that she wishes to identify those acts that are fundamental to human existence.

Shadi uses a neutral canvas for her performances by employing a white palette for the background (in the video performances), her outfit and the metal cubes, which she crawls through in Se Sa Feleng (reference to a Setswana idiom that refers to an eternal state of affairs). This decontextualises her actions, allowing them to exist as abstract expression. It also establishes an imaginative plain, encouraging the viewer to attach their subjective interpretations to the works.

The repetitiveness of her actions also locks viewers into a meditative state, which can simultaneously free them from thought altogether. No doubt, while performing Shadi too vacillates between serious contemplation and mindlessness - both equally empowering states that allow her to either completely inhabit her physical being or to altogether detach from it. And this is the dual function of repetitive movements.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Gavin Turk interview

As one who has always shown disdain for those who believe that products, creators, from Western centres are automatically superior I was kind of taken aback by my excitement at the prospect of interviewing Gavin Turk. I like to think that it wasn’t an ingrained response but rather one related to the fact that I was living in London during what I consider to have been the height of his career. A fact which he sort of acknowledged when he remarked during the interview that the lifespan of an artist’s career has shrunk; that it no longer lasts a lifetime. He partly blamed the, er, media for this. I am not sure I altogether agree with that: I can think of many artists who are enjoying life long careers. But I suppose his point was that the pinnacle of their career has perhaps been truncated by overexposure.
It’s doubtful that Turk got to read my interview but if he had I think he would have been most pleased by the way in which his artwork Blue Elvis was further distorted by being reproduced in the newspaper. My editor was concerned that the image had been degraded but I assured her that it would have been much to Turk’s liking.

Right, the interview: 

I don't have any nuanced non-verbal gestures to go on; only Gavin Turk's voice, marked by a British accent. Telephonic interviews are always a tricky business: a bit like eating with your eyes closed. But I can easily picture his visage; it is a signature motif in his art. Of course, it is disguised somewhat, as he characteristically superimposes it on images of icons such as Che Guevara, Andy Warhol and Elvis Presley or its likeness appears in lifelike wax self-portraits, such as Pop (1993). He by no means employs straightforward portraiture; in Pop he presents a portrait of a hybrid being, born at the intersection of popular culture and celebrity myth-making.
He fuses elements drawn from a variety of personas: Sid Vicious pictured singing Sinatra's My Way in the pose of Elvis Presley playing the part of a cowboy in a movie, an image which Warhol silk-screened. They are copies of copies of copies - public figures like Turk, who are not presenting themselves but are mimicking other figures. Their real identity is obscured by pastiche and stylisation, they have become caricatures of themselves and others.

"I hope that people are able to see and not see what my images are. That they can recognise an image but don't quite recognise it. I think that art should somehow check people's preconceptions, that somehow it suggests that things aren't quite what you thought. There should be an inbuilt awkwardness with images," explains Turk.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shadi's show kicks off 2010

Blogs are like pets they need to be fed every so often to stay alive… so here is just a little titbit to keep it rolling. Last week was the opening of Lerato Shadi’s show, Mosako Wa Seipone (A Circle of Mirrors) and it was a great start to the year  (my review will appear in the Sunday Indy this coming Sunday). So glad that the Goethe Institute have given Shadi the chance to do a solo exhibition – its unlikely that a commercial gallery would give her the space to create this kind of work (her 2007 Michael Stevenson show was in the side gallery). As Liza Essers pointed out to me during an informal chat there isn’t much of a market for video work here – granted she was referring to more filmic products but my guess would be that video performance works don’t exactly fly out of galleries. Sometimes I feel quite depressed about the fact that the art scene here is dominated/determined by commercial entities and that our public institutions play a fairly insignificant role in terms of determining what kind of art is being shown and how it is framed. The Joburg Art Fair is simply the apotheosis of this status quo. A state which might have seen the likes of Shadi pursue a career abroad – might still occur. We shouldn’t have to rely on foreign cultural institutions to support non-commercial endeavours - they have an agenda. Of course, every patron has an agenda: several artists have confided to me that the only visual arts projects that the NAC (National Art Council) funds are those with some kind of outreach spin-off or those that tie in with the prevailing political schema.
As I expressed in the latest issue of Art South Africa the Goethe on Main gallery has shown a slew of PC exhibitions that address some kind of socioeconomic issue, so it was refreshing to see a show that simply allowed Shadi to simply further develop her artistic trajectory. There was big turn-out too, everyone and their dog wanted to come have a look at Shadi’s drawn out live performances, Se Sa Feleng, which lasted three hours. It was gruelling work for Shadi, who had to navigate her body around a metal cube. When I spoke to her the next day she said she was exhausted and her body was covered bruises. She said she quite enjoyed the bruises though; they were a tangible residue of the performance, accentuating which parts of her body came into contact with the metal bars.

RIP Dinkies Sithole

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Marcus Neustetter: Observatory in the Making at Art On Paper

When viewing a Marcus Neustetter exhibition, it is always worth bearing in mind that he does not create art to be exhibited. What often goes on display are simply the products or by-products of performances or artistic and conceptual experiments driven by an ideological trajectory that he has been pursuing. As such, many will find that his latest exhibition is not terribly thrilling in a visual sense - well, except for the photographs that support or document his process, which are unusually alluring, given their practical function.

Photographs documenting Neustetter's journey to find the Northern Lights in Tromso, Norway, present evocative banal, barren snow-covered landscapes infused by an eerie tangerine light. But Neustetter is not concerned with the end-product of his physical and conceptual expeditions but the journey itself, the process.His journeys may be driven by a calculated set of ideas, but when he has arrived at his destination, Neustetter immerses himself in the experience at hand. In the drawings at the Vela Spila site (an archeological site in Croatia), Neustetter doesn't attempt figurative representations of the site; rather he undertakes making what appears to be meaningless markings on paper. They are more than a testament that he was there; they are evidence that he has engaged in the act of viewing. Drawing is used to simply heighten his awareness of the space he is inhabiting.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Durban exhibitions, Gavin Turk and hitting the ground running...

Decade 210x225
The first weeks of January are usually a quiet time for a Joburg-based art critic, aside from a few shows on at JAG (Johannesburg Art Gallery). It is probably totally un-PC to admit it but I am in no rush to go and review/view Remembering the Black Consciousness Movement, which is on at JAG. Resistance art had its place and function but it’s no fun to write about, besides which I am a little tired of the sanctification of artists who worked in this genre.  I usually enjoy a bit of a hiatus from art over the silly season: by the end of the year I feel saturated and start to find the art I view less and less engaging.
Nevertheless even when I am on holiday I can’t help nipping into to art galleries. Over Christmas in Durban I went to view Vaughn Sadie and Bronwyn Lace’s Unit for Measure, which I had seen in Joburg (my review is posted on this blog), which was showing at the Durban Art Gallery (DAT). It was like viewing a different exhibition altogether: it included a really stimulating and tightly curated show (that wasn’t staged in Jozi) that questioned museum politics and their installation pieces exuded quite a different ambience in this new staid setting. Sadie’s cables criss-crossed the large exhibition room, disrupting one’s line of vision, one’s movements and above all sought to redefine the gallery space on spatial and ideological levels. I also had a peek at Decade: Highlights from 10 years of collecting for the Sanlam Art Collection, which was also showing at DAT. There were several cool works in the collection such as pieces by Wim Botha, an old Tracey Rose, Leora Faber and Alan Alborough but there were lots and lots of horrors: traditional oil portraits and landscapes that one would expect to find for sale in one of those dreadful “art galleries” you get in shopping malls. It’s hard to think what informed the collecting ethos. The haphazard manner in which the artworks were arranged around the circular gallery made it was hard to believe that the exhibition was curated at all. Grim. Grim. I needed a large G & T after surveying that ghastly show.

I have hit the ground running since I started back at the office this week with an interview with Gavin Turk, who is showing The Mirror Stage at the Goodman Gallery Cape. Though I haven’t seen this exhibition I have quite a long-standing relationship with his work, which dates back to when I was living in London during the 1990s, which I think was the apogee of his career. I was really looking forward to chatting to him and did some interesting reading in preparing for my interview, which included perusing High Art Lite by Julian Stallabrass, which surveys British Art in the 1990s. While I do think that Stallabrass has oversimplified art in Britain during that decade I found it an informative read and one, which, interestingly, had me pondering on the many South African artists whose art-making ethos could easily be categorised as “High Art Lite”, which is really a euphemism for art that parades depth but is purposively vacuous: think Avant Car Guard, Brett Murray perhaps even Gimberg & Nerf.  My Turk interview will appear in the Sunday Indy next Sunday and will blog more about the encounter then.

Jozi’s art circuit starts cranking back into action next week with two openings, which are, as usual, are both on the same night – WTF!! Sean Slemon’s exhibition opens at Brodie/Stevenson and Lerato Shadi has a solo opening at Goethe on Main. Shadi (pictured in the image above) will no doubt put on a live performance so I will have to attend the latter. Shadi is one of my favourite performance artists; I like the repetitiveness of her actions, which create tension and in some instances have a narrative quality. Will review next week.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Best of 2009

In my article I sound like I begrudge doing "Best of" lists but really I find the process extremely beneficial. I really enjoy revisiting (stimulating) work that I have already written about; I almost always find that a second reading throws up new insights. This was particularly the case this year with Colin Richards Parrot Parrot, which I think offers something new every time you write about it. I rushed my first review of his work: my mind was cluttered by all the other shows on during the Spring Art Tour and in usual fashion I had just an afternoon to do a write-up. I think that few readers grasp the limitations under which critics write – the short turn-around time, which doesn’t always produce the best results.
Before I give you my selection of the best 2009 exhibitions I would like to point out two important points: 1) Regrettably I didn’t get to Cape Town in 2009 so the absence of any Cape Town shows is no reflection on the quality of art shown in the Mother City 2) Interestingly, I only selected solo exhibitions; the standard of curating in this country remains uninspiring. Nevertheless in 2009 I did enjoy Storm and Liza’s Nation State at the Goodman (Us, curated by Njami and Malcolmness felt like a variation on the same theme) and Anthea Buys’ The Double Body, which showed at the UJ Gallery.

THERE IS a certain sense of futility if not naive arrogance attached to pronouncing some art products better than others. Intrinsically art is a contested field: as rapidly as definitive boundaries are erected to demarcate its character or purpose they are just as swiftly challenged and dismantled, ever widening and complicating the discipline. Within these fluctuating conditions works and ideas that are revered can just as easily be declared passé. Besides, how does one identify excellence in a field when those who challenge any criteria that may entail are prized for doing so? It is within these problematic and contradictory conditions that the art critic is forced to operate, constantly charting unmapped territory, committing our definitive pronouncements to paper, to history.

This year was a particularly bountiful year for the discerning art critic. While an economic recession might have seen some gallerists choosing to stick with tried-and-tested names, thus preventing unknowns from entering the local art circuit, three of the most exhilarating exhibitions were produced by artists who have yet to make a name for themselves: Mary Sibande, Vaughn Sadie and Alistair Whitton.

Sibande's Long Live The Dead Queen, which showed at gallery Momo in Joburg, was undoubtedly one of the hottest. Dressing up in a restyled domestic worker's uniform, Sibande would inevitably grab headlines; but there was substance behind the contentious images she created. Sibande didn't pose in any ordinary domestic worker's uniform. She transformed the outfit so that it encompassed the figure of a "madam" from a bygone era. In this way the fate of these two figures was inextricably bound to each other. It also allowed Sibande's discourse to be situated in the realm of fantasy, which proved the ideal context in which to unpack the politics of the madam/servant dichotomy without it degenerating into a clichéd tale of woe that would underpin the domestic worker's victimhood.