Sunday, January 15, 2012

My top ten cultural highlights of 2011

1. New Adventures by Jacques Coetzer (Goethe Institut in Joburg) Coetzer might have proved that goats do not make ideal audience members for a guitar solo, and amused viewers with images of himself dressed up as Elvis while strumming a guitar on a beach in Zanzibar, but this flippant and self-deprecating exhibition parodying the status of the artist (and art) was extraordinary for the fact that it made the act of art-making transparent.
It was not the process of making a material object or documentation of a performance that he presented but rather, via a narrative which plotted the mental associations he explored as he clicked links on web pages, he revealed how the internet has impacted on creative thought patterns, leading to absurd results. Because his filmed performances were amusing diversions, he redirected attention to the formation of ideas, though he showed that the realisation of them lacked any monumentality. In this way the exhibition was both entertaining and provocative.

2. More, More, More Future choreographed by Faustin Linyekula (Dance Factory. Part of New Dance 2011 and über(W)unden: Art in Troubled Times)
Watching this work was like slipping into the back of a nightclub in downtown Kinshasa and viewing the revellers who seek an escape in these darkened and debauched havens only to discover that in these sorts of liminal spaces they are confronted with the true weight of their existence.
Each frenzied movement of their dancing read as an attempt to shake off the burdens of reality, but gradually and quite seamlessly their gestures evolved into a contemporary dance vocabulary that mined the fundamentals of identity rather than just functioning as an expression of identity – as is the case with conventional dancing in a nightclub. Famous guitarist Flamme Kapaya’s performance, the rocker-cum-seventies-glam outfits, the bond between the musicians and the dancers, the reference to Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Gods, and the sense that the audience and the players were locked into a never-ending performance, made this production a multilayered, multimedia orgy of sound, philosophy and movement.

3. Palace of Bones, written and directed by Claire Angelique (premiered National Arts Festival)
This daring filmmaker turns the culture of self-documentation on itself in this unique feature film which plots a documenter’s attempt to discover the truth about a young woman she has filmed who was alleged to have killed a number of people.
In essence, the film is a retrospective view of footage re-edited by its creator, an amateur who hides behind the lens of a camera. She is an invisible witness who despite her scrutinising gaze was unable to really come to grips with the action she captured, the truth. In this way the apparatus she was using to see was the impediment to seeing. Palace of Bones is a sophisticated and layered indie whodunit that probes a debased and immoral society, where drug dealers marvel at the corruptible nature of the police. A remarkable film.

4. State of the Nation by Kudzanai Chiurai (a warehouse in Newtown and Goodman Gallery Projects at Arts on Main)
This  Zimbabwean artist took Joburg by storm with an impressive solo exhibition that spanned two galleries, included a substantial body of painting, photography, a few film works and two performances.
The opening was a social event, but under the bright lights of an empty gallery the work had substance. Most memorable was his Revelations series, a collection of staged photographs that mirrored scenes from the western art canon to images of Chinese Communist posters transplanted in a generic and contrived African setting. Chiurai therefore reconstructed an idealised past through an African lens. He presented a comical and subversive rereading not only of Western and Eastern visual and ideological rhetoric but of pivotal moments in African history. This collection is conceptually strong and intriguing, and matched by its visual impact. In certain respects this exhibition builds on the work of Michael MacGarry and the staged photography that local artists have been embracing from Tracey Rose to Mary Sibande. It’s always thrilling to observe a shift in an established discourse.