Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jacques Coetzer reflects on the futility of art

An infectious sense of naive playfulness infuses Jacques Coetzer’s latest exhibition. As the title New Adventures implies, the artist has allowed his fervent sense of curiosity to drive his art-making or escapades, which are inseparable from each other here. For Coetzer, art is about adventure. He perceives it as a zone of endless play in which any idea can be explored,  unravelled or upturned. The results of these activities are propelled by a purpose – Coetzer clearly plots out the reasons driving each adventure –  while similarly it is implied that they serve no actual function – they do not shift anything.  Consequently, his adventures are both significant and futile. This paradoxical notion of art underpins the central work of this exhibition, a video artwork, which contains footage of performances (for want of a better description) that Coetzer enacts in different destinations around the world.

These performances or vignettes are preceded by text and are related to one another only by the fact that they are compelled by the same kind of compulsion: to enact a fantasy of sorts. For all the acts that Coetzer performs are fantasies: dressing up like Elvis and playing on a beach or arranging for a musician to play drums on a concrete island on a busy highway – though they are not quite as whimsical as they appear. Playing music is a recurring action; not only does it allow him to mock the guitar-hero status, but it also introduces another vocabulary, which allows him to summon an abstract and sentimental quality. It also conjures that staple form of popular culture: the music video, which is most typically used to elevate the artist’s status.

Because each scenario reads as quite pathetic and pointless – the man who plays the drums in traffic doesn’t draw attention, the cars pass at the same high pace – this stylised form of expression is subverted or shown to be irrelevant. This is best illustrated via a vignette titled Playing Guitar for Goats, where Coetzer strums his guitar in the company of goats. Obviously goats do not make ideal audience members. Coetzer suggests that the significance of any act is inextricably tied not only to a witness to substantiate it, but also to one’s ability to transform that audience – if only temporarily. This idea is addressed in Long Live the Pacifists and the Activists, where Coetzer plays guitar in different locations around Barcelona – the home of the guitar. Significantly, Barcelona is also the city where Don Quixote’s journey concluded.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Life at a Subterranean Level

Peculiar things happen in nightclubs. It is in these dark spaces that social boundaries are challenged and temporarily dismantled and where individuals explore and advertise their sexuality. It is perhaps for all of these reasons that photographers gravitate towards them. Certainly photographers find more amenable subjects in these places; or at least the barriers have partially collapsed.

This might explain why within the past three years this exhibition of Billy Monk photographs taken at a club in Cape Town called Les Catacombs in the late 1960s is the third collection of photographs to document a club scene. Liam Lynch recorded the antics of his peers cavorting in trendy nightclubs in A Claude Glass, which showed at the Rooke Gallery in 2008, and last year at the Afronova gallery Musa Nxumalo exhibited photographs of the so-called “alternative kidz” – a young black subculture that embraces alternative rock music. Interestingly, as with Monk, who was a bouncer at Les Catacombs, both of these photographers were “insiders” – part of the scene they chose to document.

Thus there is a sense that these bodies of works are not only motivated by a need to record the fleeting comings and goings of these transient communities they belong to, but they are personally invested in claiming a place within society for these subcultures. It is quite extraordinary really that communities form in nightclubs; perusing Monk’s photographs one is immediately struck by the fact that they are quite dysfunctional spaces. Certainly the environment of Les Catacombs doesn’t at all appear to be conducive to any kind of socialising: the walls are dirty, stained and chipped, the floors are laden with rubbish and disused bottles. Even the sparse furnishings – mostly rudimentary chairs, of the sort you would expect to find in an impoverished public school classroom – are uninviting. These filthy and dilapidated areas of this club recall the backdrops of Roger Ballen’s images of maladjusted whites locked in their own psychological hell.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gimberg Nerf have expired!!

It seems that Gimberg Nerf have been resurrected simply for the announcement of their demise. I found this in The Star newspaper yesterday. Before any of you surrender to a false sense of grief, though I do believe they would appreciate it, this announcement in The Star does not refer to their physical demise. Physically they have never existed; they are a virtual entity that were endowed with a (virtual) corporeal presence on Facebook recently. So, of course, when they left Facebook, they no longer had a visual sign that referred to their presence, barring their signature, which they do seem to leave on all sorts of peculiar objects.

Who would have thought that they would have turned to an almost outmoded form of communication (the classifieds) to announce their inactivity? I think many artists will take comfort in the notion that inactivity is worth declaring. For those like me who have been following the curious behaviour of this hybrid artistic persona, they will note that once again Gimberg Nerf’s appearance has shifted somewhat. Gimberg Nerf certainly is a slippery chap. The black rimmed glasses – a characteristic that could be ascribed to a number of folk in the art world – are still in place but he has a fresher, younger appearance.  This must be Gimberg Nerf’s late summer/autumn 2011 look. I do like it.