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.

As Shadi navigates her petite body around the metal cubes in Se Sa Feleng one could surmise that it is not just the manner in which architecture shapes movement or our experience of reality, but refers to the psychological/emotional and ideological boundaries in which humans operate. The cube's structure is reminiscent of a jungle gym, alluding to a type of playful action that becomes habitual, ingrained and eventually banal. Selogilwe and Se Sa Feleng both consist of repetitive actions but they are never uniform. Over time the simple movements Shadi employs gradually transform as she becomes weary, implying that even the most mundane actions undergo an evolution - or devolution of sorts. This obviously has ideological significance vis-224-vis human existence, which primarily consists of recurring actions and behaviour patterns. These patterns, from cleaning our teeth to the kind of relationships we are locked into with ourselves and others, undergo subtle changes. But the illusion of uniformity they create suggests they offer control and set order in the face of external chaos.

In Selogilwe, a video performance work, Shadi is pictured knitting a long red string. Every moment of this seven-hour-long task is captured for posterity - as such, no ordinary moment is overlooked: Shadi suggests that it is not in the dramas of life that the human condition is best observed but in those quiet everyday patterns that appear insignificant. This is one of the characteristics of Shadi's brand of performance: she creates art from futile activities. This lends an air of absurdity to her work but one that underscores the senselessness and irrationality of self-constructed and/or socially imposed rituals. Her work does not follow any obvious narrative. Yet because her performances are so drawn out and physically demanding, the subtle changes in her movements are designed to discreetly assert a beginning, middle and end. Of course, it is only a patient and devoted follower of her work who might detect this inconspicuous transformation.

Most interesting is the temporal relationship between Selogilwe and Se Sa Feleng. The red string which Shadi is seen knitting in the former is used in the latter performance: it is released from a discreet pouch that is part of her white outfit. So, while we see the red string being made we also see it in its finished state and serving its intended purpose. In this way Shadi collapses time as the past and the present occur simultaneously. It is an interesting proposition given that her performances are so time-bound - in terms of the way that they mark time passing. The red string has much importance too in expressing a central characteristic of her work. A string has no in-built ending to it; it can be as long or as short as the maker deems necessary. In this way the string refers to a perpetual action that has no predetermined conclusion. Thus Shadi's act of releasing and tying the string around the cube also has no real end to it - albeit that the performance ceases after three hours. The string is looped over the bars of the cube to form another pattern - hinting at the way in which one pattern gives way to another and another. Thus existence is simply a series of interlocking patterns.The string is housed in a back pouch, which summons all sorts of metaphors: most obviously emotional baggage comes to mind. But it's more stimulating to think of the red string as a life-line that unravels over time and whose length no one is able to truly ascertain. Another interesting aspect to Se Sa Feleng is the manner in which the work exists after the performance: the cube and string are in installation that convey the residue of performance, action and existence.

This is an invigorating exhibition from an astute artist, whose work is becoming more and more visually refined. Those who missed Mmitlwa, which Shadi performed at Brodie/Stevenson early last year, will be able to view a video recording of the work, which in this format repositions the work in an interesting way, making the point that video recordings of performance art bring a different element to the work, while silencing some of its other more visceral characteristics. - published in The Sunday Independent on January 24, 2010. 

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