Thursday, January 3, 2013

Land Issues: Transition

Can artists or photographers make work about the land without depicting it? This is the question I was interested in pursuing when I arrived at the Bus Factory in Joburg to view the Transition exhibition. It is the culmination of a project that saw six South African photographers teamed with six of their French contemporaries, as part of the French/SA Seasons 2012/2013, falling under the banner of the broader Social Landscape Project, which also included a display of snapshots by the public that were similarly centred on representations of "the land", probably one of the most loaded topics.

It's a kind of no-brainer theme but, because of this, it is tricky to say something new, to navigate it somewhere unexpected. Not that inventiveness or edginess is a hallmark of the French/SA Seasons projects; this cultural accord has more to do with exchange; in this context perhaps a visual conversation between local and French photographers, who appear to have been paired off, or chose to work independently, and were dispatched to different parts of the country that the curators, John Fleetwood, head of the Market Photo Workshop, and Francois Hébel, director of Les Rencontres d'Arles, had identified as sites linked to fraught historical legacies.

The title Transition attaches a caveat to these essays, alluding to the fact that these places are caught up in change or have been the catalyst for transformations of some kind. In this way the rural places or small towns, which are privileged in these works, are not static, or irrelevant in terms of illuminating larger national issues.