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Posts Tagged ‘Contemporary South African Art’

Victory-etc-2015-web

‘A luta continua ( Victory etc.)’ 2015
Johan Thom
Medium: Site specific intervention in mixed media for the conference ‘Art of Wagnis: Christoph Schlingensief’s Crossing of Wagner and Africa’ held at Iwalewahaus, Bayreuth, Germany, 4-6 Dec 2015

This artistic intervention is based upon a creative re-reading of the political slogan A luta continua, vitória é certa (The struggle continues, victory is certain). Historically this political slogan is associated with Mozambique’s armed struggle for independence from Portugal during the mid to nineteen seventies. To be specific, the slogan is considered the political rallying cry of Samora Michel, the erstwhile leader of the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique or Frelimo.

During the recent student protests against the rising costs of tertiary education in South Africa this slogan was often appropriated by students and their various supporters, appearing in social media on handmade posters in shorthand form simply as ‘A luta continua’. In this particular form, the slogan does not make explicit the possibility of victory, leaving instead the rather dispiriting possibility of a never-ending struggle. However, I think it may well be argued that the obverse is also true – that contemporary South African students are deeply aware of just how naive any hope for victory singular and total appears today.

By replacing the second part of the slogan ‘é certa’ with the term ‘etc’ (‘et cetera’) I wish to playfully shift the meaning of the original slogan into a somewhat humorous even self-critical statement that encapsulate elements of all the aforementioned (the history of the slogan, its appropriation and conditional re-employ in the present post-revolutionary moment). Today victory is no longer certain and nor is it understood as being the sole outcome of any revolutionary, anti-colonial struggle: instead it is joined by a host of other possible outcomes and post-colonial narratives, some of which have become all too familiar. In this regard, although the term ‘et cetera’ is mostly understood as meaning something to the effect of ‘and other related things’, at least one of the more discrete meanings inherent in its usage is the idea that the unspoken, or absent, terms it stands in for are so well known that it would be a waste of time to include them in full. In this way, the modified slogan embodies a form of cynicism borne from our familiarity with the disappointing, even wholly fatigued socio-cultural and political narratives and realities that have become the hallmarks of the post-revolutionary moment (the debt-ridden, corrupt post-colonial regime, the contemporary neo-colonial, capitalist sell-out of principals, assets, land and services et cetera).

Lastly, this artistic intervention is a meditation on the possibility of art to defamiliarise otherwise commonplace, accepted ideas, forms and meanings. In this much the work seeks to celebrate the fearless capacity of contemporary art to generate creative space for imaginative journeys into an unfamiliar future, an ‘etc.’ that signals space to explore, imagine and complete existing ideas without reifying the familiar.

Art cannot pray in the church of fear.

In memory of Christophe Schlingensief (1960-2010).

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Roger Ballen, Cat in fish tank, Silver Gelatin Print, 40cm x 40 cm, 2000

Roger Ballen, Cat in fish tank, Silver Gelatin Print, 40cm x 40 cm, 2000

Johan Thom will be in conversation with inimitable photographer Roger Ballen tonight @ 18h30 as part of his book launch for the new and expanded edition of Outland (2001).

The selection of photographs on exhibition in the Collector’s Room was primarily curated around aesthetic concerns. These would include formal aspects of the work such as the use of line, light and dark tones, composition and so forth.

From a curatorial perspective we feel that the socio-cultural and political dimensions of the work have been explored in great depth. We implicitly accept and understand that Ballen’s work has a deeply political grounding and touches a raw nerve in the politics of representation in post-apartheid South Africa – especially where it concerns issues of whiteness racially speaking (of what it represents or should represent) and of ethics (of power relationship between the photographer and his subjects), for example.

The questions that Thom will touch on during this interview concern the particularity of Ballen’s artistic vision – the photographs as artworks the photographer as an artist. He says about the interview: “I hope to expose if only partially something of Ballen’s artistic working methods and processes, i.e. making; conceptualizing; selecting and generally creating the imaginative world that has become the hallmark of his artistic output since the time of first publishing Outland in 2001”.

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  • Johan Thom Terms of Endearment 2007 Video still © Johan Thom, courtesy the artist

Little known outside of South Africa, the Johannesburg Free Filmmakers Cooperative was a loose association of filmmakers in the 1980s, among them artist William Kentridge. The very act of filmmaking as a vital outlet for self-expression caused Kentridge to recognise that ‘you yourself will be the film and the film will always be you.’ This three-day programme of screenings launches with Free Filmmakers’ experimental 1986 documentary and is followed by a selection of 25 contemporary artists’ shorts rarely or never before seen in UK. The Saturday and Sunday screenings will each culminate with artists in conversation, reflecting on the changing role of the moving image in art and how the medium expresses new subjectivities. The series demonstrates the substantial legacy of South African artists on screen.

Curated by Zoe Whitley, Adjunct Research Curator, Tate, supported by Guaranty Trust Bank plc, and Abrie Fourie, Independent Curator

Events in this series

The Film Will Always Be You
Friday 10 July, 19.00–21.00

The Film Will Always Be You: Points and Counterpoints
Saturday 11 July, 16.00–18.00

The Film Will Always Be You: Performing Selves
Saturday 11 July, 19.00–21.00

The Film Will Always Be You: New Subjectivities
Sunday 12 July, 17.00–19.00

Tate Film is supported by LUMA Foundation

This project has been supported by the SAUK Seasons 2014 & 2015, a partnership between the Department of Arts and Culture, South Africa and the British Council.

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/eventseries/film-will-always-be-you-south-african-artists-on-screen

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Artec1

Fetish: Traversing the occupied body.

1. The dark mass inscribed:
“There once was a lady from Ongar”

We approach the rough hued designation ‘Fetish’ with inveterate apprehension. The term marks a disturbed frontier between inside and outside, self and other, an elemental antagonism. Like the object it too is pocked and pitted with our near desires, fears and denials. The “Stereotype [Fetish]… is a form of knowledge and identification that vacillates between what is always in place, already known, and something that must be anxiously repeated (Bhabha in Hook, 2005, p13.),“the correct German word for the vicissitude of [this] idea would be ‘Verleugnung’ [‘disavowal’]’ (Freud, 1927, pp153.). It is through the subtractive synecdoche that the fetish gathers an excess of signification, desire providing the surplus in value and, thus, fantasy fills the anxious abyss between the self and the ‘other’. And yet; “as a power that transfers to beings, objects and agencies, it is universal and diffuse but it crystallizes at strategic points so that its flux can be regulated and diverted by certain groups or individuals for their own benefit” (Baudrillard, 1981, p88.).

2. Colonising fantasies or minding the business of others:
“Who had an affair with a Conger.”

The transference of this agency to the human body and its activities was first described in proto-psychoanalytical terms by Alfred Binet. (1887). Freud’s ‘fetish’, drawing heavily on Binet, functions both by constraining anxiety [through the activity of fantasy/ the anxiously repeated] and breeding anxiety through instability at the level of identification (there is, and, yet is not a phallus). Different objects and associate sets of practices become fetishised; the fetish must, however, be a construct, a fantasy that is frantically reinforced. “(‘I know that mother has not got a phallus, but still . . . [I believe she has got one]; ‘I know that Jews are people like us, but still . . . [there is something in them],)” (Žižek, 2008, pp12). Žižek further elaborates when he proposes that the prevalent Ideological edifice requires the fantasy of the ‘other’, a simple and concrete image to
constrain/fixate the imagination on in order for the image to become a mobilising agency. This valorised parody of our pleasures, the fetish, acts as an obscene bribe that coerces our oppressive and repressive drives into action. Performing a miraculous/fantasmic act of shifting signification, through disavowal, the fetishised makes the unknowable instantly identifiable whilst maintaining and even accentuating difference.
The contemporary commodity fetish acquires its magnified value through an analogous repetitive chant. For Marx the consumer’s ‘needs’ are mobilized within individuals by the strategy of desire and “although the commodity takes the shape of a physical thing, the commodity form” has “absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the article. (Marx in Stallybrass, 2011, pp184). The fetishistic resides in the illusory excess, an ideological agency, and not in any intrinsic value of the ‘thing’. The human body itself is thus codified and commodified, reduced to an abbreviated sequence of values that do not reside in the body itself. “The makeup of beauty, of the erotic body, is a process of marking it, [through the addition of…] jewellery, perfume, ornament, or through cutting it up, the hair, the feet, the buttocks. (1981, pp94, Baudrillard cited in Dant, 1996, pp13). The body is offered up as a series of significatory values which ultimately constitutes the ‘fetishised’ being/object/agency. It becomes clear that our ‘fetish’ oversteps the simple historical limit of the object and our investigation points instead to a metaphoric condensation, a process of inscription; “after all we have a passion for the code.”

3. An occupied snarl.
“They said; how does it feel to sleep with an eel?”

As Bataille re/marks; desire is usually closely linked with terror, intense pleasure and anguish (1998, 53). The fetish as occupying force personifies a narcissistic fantasy that attempts to sublimate the ‘other’ to the self, a volatile ‘value’ freely oscillating between the religious, economic and erotic. Fetishism, thus, is a refusal of difference; and “a perverse structure that perhaps underlies all desire” (Dant, 1996, P10-11). The whole metonymic apparatus marks the colonist as it marks ‘his’ ‘savage’. “It orders the world around the coordinates of fantasy (or magical beliefs) it thus makes possible… to structure and stabilise a world of ideology.” (Pp26, Hook). The ‘semiotic fetish’ points a crooked finger at the anxiety of all
(travellers) explorers, agents of colonies and ideologies, as they meet themselves on the foreign shore of ‘difference’ and fearfully grasps at fantasies with which to fill the abyss between the known and unknown dimensions their own reflection.

4. Deteretorialisation
“Well, she said, just like a man only longer.”

Surely cogitation, and play around the discursive formula of fetishistic disavowal allows us to “come to terms with this surplus (or, more precisely, leftover) means to acknowledge a fundamental deadlock (‘antagonism’), a kernel resisting symbolic integration-dissolution. (Zizek, 2008, pp24) By imitating the libidinal ticks and taking our pleasure sans the horizon of prevalent arch-ideological meanings that they are attached to, we may, as subversives and artists, agitate the seemingly implicit ideological excess and so provide a critique of hegemonic ideology by presenting continuous encounters with that radical other.
Following this artists are invited to submit work, in any medium, that reflect, critique or play around the contemporary and/or historic manifestations of the Fetishistic formulation as a means of resisting this symbolic dissolution/integration.
——————————————————————————————

(((((Let us be careful not to forget that the voice carries through a thin wall or door))))) Sees his faults, his mannerisms, and his appetites laid bare, by his complacent eyes they are reduced in size (((((Just as is: – who can deny it, the shadow towards the midday on the sundial, showing that the stomach can demand its reward;
– By the frost, who can deny it, the standard meter;
– Defying the mud, a rolled up trouser leg; …”
(Roussel. p75, 2011)

References
Bhabha, H. n.d. – The other Question – [Online]. Available at http://courses.washington.edu/…/bhabha_the%20other%20questi… [Accessed 3 January 2015]
Baudrillard, J. 1981. For a critique of the political economy of the sign. USA: Telos press LTD.
Dant, T. 1996. Fetishism and the social value of Objects. Sociological Review, 44 (3) [Online]. Available at http://eprints-test.lancs.ac.uk/33407/1/Fetishism_eprint.pdf
Freud, S. 1927. Fetishism (J. Stranchey, Trans.) The Complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. (Vol. XXI, pp147-157). London: Hogarth and the Institute of Psychoanalysis.
Hook, D. 2005. – Paradoxes of the other: (Post) colonial racism, radical difference, stereotype as fetish. [Online] Available at http://pins.org.za/pins31/Hook.pdf [Accessed 3 January 2015].
Roussel, R. 2011. New Impressions of Africa. USA: Princeton University Press
Richardson, M. 1998. ed. Georges Bataille: Essential Writings . London: Sage Publications LTD.
Stallybrass, P. 2011. Marx’s coat. [Online]. Available at: http://davidmcnally.org/…/…/Marxs-Coat-peter-stallyBrass.pdf [Accessed 5 January 2015]
Žižek, S. 2008. The sublime object of ideology. London, New York: Verso Publications LTD.

Artec2

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Installation view of collaborative sculpture at Nirox Sculpture Park.

With Guy du Toit.

 

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Curated by Jayne Crawshay-Hall

You are invited to the opening of

ME 1

on Saturday the 4th of August at 18h30

 

Curated by Jayne Crawshay-Hall

A major interest within contemporary art is the increasing search for identity along with an increasing sense of selfreflexivity.  Gleason (1983:910) states that “identity came into use as a popular social science term only in the 1950s at which time it was assigned not to particular racial, cultural, or sexual differences but to the self as an existential category.” Me 1 is an exploratory exhibition featuring works in a variety of media that investigate the way we create the understanding of identity through art.  The exhibition includes works by Johan Thom, Senzeni Marasela, Lionel Smit, Rozan Cochrane, Bongi Bengu, Oliver Mayhew  and Jayne Crawshay-Hall, who all seem to be involved in the examination processes of forming, inheriting and expressing personal and social identities.  The exhibition encourages the audience to re-examine basic assumptions about identity within our “anonymous society” (Gleason 1983:69), and prompts the viewer to question preconceived ideas of identity, in order to reach a stable sense of selfhood. 

 

Sources consulted:

Gleason, P. 1983. Identifying Identity: A Semantic History. Journal of American History (69).

 

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