Monday, April 30, 2012

Second Time Around: David Southwood's Milnerton Market

Second-hand objects enjoy a currency in Cape Town that is unrivalled elsewhere in this country. Kitsch items from bygone eras adorn interiors of trendy shops and eateries in that conurbation. Second-hand clothing is coveted and forms a substantial part of any Capetonian hipster’s attire. The trend is part of a wider postmodern movement involving recycling the past in the recognition that invention is no longer possible or relevant. It also intersects with the rise of “bad taste” as a prized aesthetic.

David Southwood’s Milnerton Market, a photographic essay compiled by the photographer over a decade, which is now in book form (published by Fourthwall Books) –  initially it was exhibited at the AVA gallery – offers insight into the trade of second-hand items; the point at which they are exchanged and before they are reabsorbed into another social milieu driven by different values. Such as in Karen Dudley’s Woodstock restaurant, The Kitchen. A Week in The Kitchen, a cookbook by Dudley which has been reprinted by Jacana, is full of photographs documenting the quirky décor of this eatery. The walls and shelves are colonised by a cornucopia of second-hand knickknacks.

The photographs in Dudley’s book map the (after) life of objects that could be derived from the Milnerton market. Certainly, this overlooked body of photography provides another perspective on Southwood’s study of the market, contextualising his seemingly obsessive interest in this desultory realm of informal trading within a wider drive to valorise, prize the disused over the “new”.

Essays in Southwood’s book by Ivan Vladislavic and Ivor Powell offer insight into the psychological and social dynamics that feed the desire for disused goods.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Balancing Act: Between Art & Fashion

When I find Clive Rundle in his Doornfontein workroom he is poring over a book on Steven Cohen, the France-based South African performance artist famed for wearing chandeliers and teetering half-naked on impossible stilettos in incongruent settings. Willing to take garments and accessories beyond their function, Cohen is the extreme fashion horse. Maybe an ideal one for some of Rundle's creations. The affinity between the two artists is real: Cohen has travelled the world with Rundle garments packed in his suitcase.

The image that Rundle is transfixed by is a close-up of Cohen from his Golgotha performance. Cohen's face is covered in make-up and moth and butterfly wings are fanned around it. He looks like an exotic creature from the domain of fantasy. I assume Rundle will be taking inspiration from the make-up for his upcoming SA Fashion Week (SAFW) collection but he later reveals that it is an area absent of adornment that holds his attention: the centre of Cohen's forehead covered in white paint - "it's as if part of his face, his skin has been erased", marvels the fifty-something fashion designer, studying the image through his oversized glasses. This act of erasure links up with the theme for his SAFW show: fragility. Or "Fr-agility" as he sometimes refers to it, placing emphasis on "agility."

Rundle had already settled on the theme a month earlier when I made my first visit to his studio. A number of adjectives and nouns - such as "fault lines" - alluding to the state of fragility were listed on a piece of paper stuck to a mood-board in the making. Rundle hasn't ever constructed one of these. He hasn't needed to keep track of the mood of his show with fabric swatches and an array of images summoning a particular theme. Until now he has held ideas in his head before delicately transferring them into the real world. "Sometimes a mood can be supplied in hindsight," he says.

Putting up a mood board is one of the many new processes the designer is embracing since Anne Chapelle, the Belgian fashion patron who steered Ann Demeulemeester towards financial success, spent a few weeks with him last year. She was here to share her fashion business-savvy with a view to guiding Rundle's business into a new era, which could see him exporting off-the-peg collections to Europe. Rundle is not exactly known for off-the-peg clothing in his native city of Joburg, though at the height of his retail, success - in the late eighties, early nineties - he did a booming trade from his Rosebank shop. His clothing, then, wasn't exactly off-the-peg stuff. With its white walls the shop was like an art gallery, the clothing, the art.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Lifecycle of an art collective: A decade of the Trinity Session

The building at 281 Commissioner Street is not in a state of utter dilapidation. Nor has it quite been absorbed into Maboneng, the name Jonathan Liebmann, the property developer,  has given his aggressive gentrification scheme on the east side of Joburg’s inner city. Water drips from the ceilings and there are holes in the floor. The aroma of car oil discreetly lingers inside but it is the signage – “Park Here” – and the raised ridges on the bare concrete floor that evoke its previous incarnation as a car workshop. Weeks before the opening of the 10-year retrospective of the Trinity Session, an art collective-cum-art management company, the floors, walls and windows had been caked in grime. Hard labour was required to extract the layer of decay.

The building was once emblematic of Joburg’s cycle of decline. Housing this exhibition marks the beginning of its regeneration and appropriation as a cultural art institution – it will be called the Museum of African Design, Moad for short – providing yet another playground for the city’s arts community and followers, who have been encouraged by the likes of Liebmann to reclaim pockets of the city.

It makes perfect sense that the Trinity Session’s exhibition, On Air Review, be held in a building on the cusp of a cycle of renewal; its work over the last six years has been focused on driving, managing and implementing public art in the inner city as part of scheme to regenerate it. The most recent contemporary art initiatives by the duo that make up this collective now, Stephen Hobbs and Marcus Neustetter, deal with this liminal period of transition when a building or place exists between two points of its evolution and how this impacts on identity.

Entracte (2010) was part of a project in Dakar, Senegal, that centred on a dilapidated building earmarked for demolition because it was deemed unfit (by Western standards) for habitation, according to a prescriptive set of rules. The artists were struck by the irony that the inhabitants were maintaining a construction that was slowly disintegrating and would be demolished. In response to the unseen future and past of the edifice, the duo laser-projected images evoking these states onto its exterior. Filmed footage of this “performance” is projected onto a screen hanging in the cavernous interior of Moad, among other screens showing these ephemeral works.