Monday, January 14, 2013

2012 in Review

At the end of the year I am inevitably asked to list the art highlights. Anyone who has shared a bottle of wine with me will know I am not averse to reminiscing, but I am uneasy with making pronouncements, though this is what I do for a profession. So, for the SA Art Times I sidestepped this activity altogether, preferring to look at the "lowest common denominators" - the works, events, art world players that had mass appeal, were supposed to have mass appeal or didn't measure up to preconceived notions. For the Daily Maverick I submitted this list and below is my latest review of 2012 in The Sunday Independent, which reflects some of my more idiosyncratic interests.  Sometimes, works hold some appeal for the simple fact that they coincide with what I am researching or where my head is at, at the time. Sometimes the work just turns something on in my head.

Installation shot of Wa Lehulere's works at Fiction as Fiction
Best Group/Curated Shows 2012: 

Trade Routes Project: Stevenson Galleries, Cape Town and Joburg.
This series of exhibitions reflected on the last Johannesburg biennale, held in 1997. The first, Trade Routes Over Time, presented works from some of the artists that participated in the biennale. The second, If a Tree… curated by Clare Butcher, contained a few remarkable works – James Beckett’s Berea in Soap and Kemang Wa Lehulere’s 30 Minutes of Amnesia – and expressed this dislocation between time and place. Finally in Fiction as Fiction (or, A ninth Johannesburg Biennale) Joost Bosland meditated on the mechanics of imagining that arises from the desire to reclaim the past and speculate on a future the event may have enjoyed.

A Fragile Archive by Nontobeko Ntombela: Johannesburg Art Gallery
Yes, the (historical) archive, investigating it and allowing its gaps and flaws to be made visible, is terribly fashionable, and maybe Ntombela took an easy route by not making any definitive pronouncements about the work of Gladys “Nomfanekiso” Mgudlandlu and her first exhibition. However, it was an interesting premise, this attempt to restage a moment in art history. Ultimately, Ntombela revealed the contradictions and mechanics of white patronage during the apartheid era.
An Installation view of Trinity Session's retrospective at Moad

On Air Review: Trinity Session Retrospective at Moad, Joburg.
This new Maboneng venue suited this collective’s preoccupation with the liminal period of transition between entropy and gentrification,  but  it is the way in which Stephen Hobbs and Marcus Neustetter have turned the documentation of their psychogeographic-architectural performance films into independent products that evinced such a fascinating dialogue around the relationship between film, performance, entropy and architecture.

Best Solo Exhibitions 2012:
Wim Botha's A Thousand Things

Wim Botha’s A Thousand Things: Stevenson Joburg
This was one of the most outstanding solo shows of the year. It mostly consisted of sculptures, but it was an experiential show; an installation of sculptures that fixed you in an indefinable temporal state. The work was about art, history, politics, iconography and how they intersect, but what was remarkable was what was omitted; the architectural and formal qualities that were suggested but were not fully present.

Mikhael Subotzky’s Retinal Shift: Settler’s Monument, Grahamstown (the display at the Iziko Gallery was not as successful or meaningful – this is a site-specific show in some ways)  This exhibition came as a surprise. I had not been a fan of his work; his execution and subject-matter always seemed so predictable. It is significant that his most interesting, or should we say, conceptually sophisticated exhibition was for a non-commercial project. He turned the lens on himself, embracing a form of self-reflexivity that propelled a realisation that manipulating existing imagery can be more interesting than generating them. In the film work, Moses and Griffiths, not only does he move into a new medium of image production but assumes to play with the documentary form.

Deborah Poynton’s Land of the Cockaigne: Stevenson Johannesburg.
Poynbton's Land of the Cockaigne 2

When I reviewed this show it formed part of a short dialogue around this new formalism I have been observing, particularly in painting, though Blank Project’s recent Form with Attitude clearly shows it is evolving in other mediums too.
Superficially, Poynton’s work appears to sit outside this trend, but the sense of “emptiness” that belies her highly detailed neo-baroque style brings to mind the level of vacuity that other painters – Georgina Gratrix, Carla Busutill, and Jan Henri Booyens – aspire to, except she conceals it beneath the veneer of realism. This is what makes her work so interesting. It doesn’t overstate its emptiness, or rather, ironically, it is expressed via abundance. In other words you don’t have to reduce forms to revel in their physical values.

Best Performance Art Works 2012:

Jay Pather’s Qaphela Caesar!: Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Dance Umbrella. 
This wasn’t a critics’ favourite, with many finding it too dense, too long. However, these are the very characteristics I enjoyed in this abstraction of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. It is the density and excess of Pather’s work that ensures its ephemerality and his desire to hold/relay the weight of reality. However, it was the installation work in the vacated offices of the former JSE before the spectacle that left a lasting impression. A dancer sitting paralysed in a vacant office filled to the brim with shredded paper, succinctly captured the erased, absent history that haunts this building, and country.

Boyzie Cekwana
Boyzie Cekwana and Panaibra Gabriel Canda’s Inkomati (Dis)cord: Dance Factory, Danse L’Afrique Danse.
This is an old work that explored the traduced accord between South Africa and Mozambique during the apartheid era and the inability of these two young producers to access history. It remains remarkable for the fact that Cekwana and Canda created a truly interdisciplinary work that operates at the intersection between performance art, dance and theatre.

Murray Kruger’s Business Day Part 2: Joburg Art Fair. 
Murray Kruger posing as a businessman-cum office employee

Kruger is one of the most principled and brightest performance artists, which in some ways has proved something of a burden; he can talk his way out of a work, quicker than he can into one. In this 4-day performance Kruger came to terms with and articulated what it is to perform and not to perform as he moved from posing as a businessman (the anti- or non-artist) to immersing in an intimate and personal “performance” of a different kind.

Ruga's  Future White Women of Azania
Athi-Patra Ruga’s The Future White Women of Azania: Live Art Festival Cape Town.
Ruga finally has named his “balloon” character, after bringing it to life during the X-homes project in Hillbrow. The performance of this character in the shop window of his Cape Town studio saw it evolve into a being that embodies the function of clothing. It certainly builds on what Ruga has done before and hints at what is to come. - published in The Sunday Independent, January 13, 2013. 

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