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Fried Art presents: Games People Play (a group exhibition of South African Artists)

Preview on Thursday 17 June at 18h30 by Dr Franco Colin

Music by Bongi Nthombeni

June 2010, the ears are numbed by the cacophony of vuvuzelas in the crowded South African soccer stadiums. What’s happening on the field is what does justice to the idea of GAME. Yet, such formalised games are often only a mild version of the kind of games that are played out in the human arena of political, social, personal and business games, agendas and encounters.  These games are ongoing; there’s plenty at stake and much tug of war.

During the 1960s, game theory became a popular study of the way in which human beings operate and compete especially in the fields of computer science, politics, agriculture and economics. Game theory has proven instrumental in understanding how and why decisions are made. Games People Play (1964), a groundbreaking pop psychology book by Eric Berne, introduced the notion of such human gaming based on Freud’s psychodynamic model, particularly the ego states, as a psychology of human interactions called “transactional analysis”. According to Berne, games are ritualistic transactions or behaviour patterns between individuals that can indicate hidden feelings or emotions.  In a general sense it can be argued that human encounters involve mind games in which people interact through a patterned and predictable series of “transactions” that are superficially conceivable, but sometimes could mask hidden agendas.  Berne (Butler-Bowden 2007) came to the view that within each person were three selves or “ego states” which often contradicted each other. They were characterized by the attitudes and thinking of a parental figure (Parent); the adult-like rationality, objectivity and acceptance of the truth (Adult); and the stances and fixations of a child (Child). The three selves correspond loosely to Freud’s superego (Parent), ego (Adult) and id (Child). Berne (Butler-Bowden 2007) further argued  that we teach our children all the pastimes, rituals and procedures they need to adapt to the culture and get by in life, and spend a lot of time choosing their schools and activities, yet we don’t teach them about games, an unfortunate but realistic feature of the dynamics of every family and institution. The book spawned a well-known song by the same title written, composed and performed in 1968 by singer/song-writer Joe South.

During the eighteenth century, a game called “stag hunt “was developed by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This game, also known as the assurance game, involves making a choice between individual safety and risky cooperation and involves the idea that two hunters who must decide whether to hunt a hare alone or a stag together.  ‘Arguably, the stag hunt describes the ethical dilemma of the scientists who built the atomic bomb. Roughly: The world would be better off without the bomb, but we have to try to build it because our enemy will. Better we have the bomb than our enemy; better both sides have the bomb than just our enemy’ (Poundstone [s.a.]).

In an interview with Arthur Holmberg, Milan Kundera (1985) stated: ‘ … playing games is an important source of pleasure. Real life is linked to a series of deceptions. It disappoints us with its futility. But when we consciously play games, as on stage, we already know that the game is not serious. Thus, the tragic futility of life becomes the joyous futility of play. In totalitarian regimes one quickly learns the importance of humor. You learn to trust or mistrust people because of the way they laugh. The modern world frightens me because it’s rapidly losing its sense of the playfulness of play.’ The playing of games can provide various satisfactions: aggressive and masochistic; expectant readiness with contempt of danger and consequent mastering of situations; repeated endurance of symbolic castration with resurrection of potency when one wins (Stokes 1956).

Accordingly, the “games” people play form the core of the subject matter in the works on display in Games people play.  The artworks on exhibition comment on the playing of games through a patterned and often predictable series of “transactions” that might not be superficially conceivable, but mask secret motives, feelings or emotions. Similarly, there are many word games, echoed in the game of the “language” of the artwork that is open-ended and  often cloaked in metonymy. The philosopher Wittgenstein maintained that words have a “family” of usages and resemblances: the word “game”, for example, could indicate board games, card games, virtual gaming or soccer games. Such games do not hold a single critical mutual attribute, but rather possess common characteristics and similarities.

Fried Art

http://www.friedcontemporary.com/

430 Charles St Brooklyn, Pretoria, South Africa 0181

TEL/FAX:   +27 12 3460158

E-MAIL

General information and art courses: info@friedcontemporary.com

Exhibitions and artists: art@friedcontemporary.com

Sources quoted

Butler-Bowden, T. 2007. 50 Psychology Classics: Who We Are, How We Think, What We Do: Insight and inspiration from 50 key books. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2007 . [O] Available: http://knol.google.com/k/games-people-play#. Accessed 14 June 2010.

Poundstone, W [s.a.]. Excerpts from Prisoner’s Dilemma. [O] Available: http://www.heretical.com/pound/staghunt.html. Accessed 14 June 2010.

Stokes, A. 1956. Psychoanalytic Reflections on the Development of Ball Games, Particularly Cricket. International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXVII:185-192.

Kundera, M. 1985.  Interview with Arthur Holmberg. Performing arts journal, Volume 9, 1:25-27.

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Still from Vox Populi/ Vox Dei (Credit: Hans Wilshcut)

Photographic still  from ‘Vox Populis Vox Dei’

PRESS RELEASE: ‘DYSTOPIA’

Dates & venues:

May 23 – June 30, 2009: Unisa Art Gallery, Pretoria
October 8 – November 15, 2009: Museum Africa, Johannesburg
June 10 – August 8, 2010: Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Mangaung
October 17 – November 21, 2010: Jan Colle Galerij, Ghent

Curator: Elfriede Dreyer
Associate professor, Department of Visual Arts
University of Pretoria
Contact: +27 832712342 (mobile)
elfriede.dreyer@up.ac.za

Assistant curator: Jacob Lebeko
Assistant-curator, Unisa art gallery
University of South Africa
Contact: +27 12 4296255
lebekj@unisa.ac.za

Participating artists: Adelle van Zyl; Brett Murray; Celia de Villiers; Christiaan Diedericks; Christiaan Hattingh; Churchill Madikida; Collen Maswanganyi; Dale Yudelman; Daniel Halter; Diane Victor; Dineo Bopape; Elfriede Dreyer; Frikkie Eksteen; Guy du Toit & Iaan Bekker; Gwenneth Miller; Jenna Burchell; Jan van der Merwe; Johan Thom; Kai Lossgott; Karlien de Villiers; Kudzanai Chiurai; Lawrence Lemaoana; Minnette Vári; Moshekwa Langa; Nicholas Hlobo; Pieter Swanepoel; Steven Cohen; Thando Mama; William Kentridge, Claire Gavronsky & Rose Shakinovsky; Zanele Muholi

Art often serves an observational, analytical and interpretational purpose. Both art’s mimetic function and its imaginative aspect provide powerful means by which any society can introspect, investigate and visualise itself as a capsule of the socio-cultural and political status quo.
Within the geographical boundaries of Southern Africa, Dystopia explores the relationship of contemporary art production to society and ideology, and aims to unmask articulations of dystopia within this cultural framework. A main curatorial intention with the exhibition is to express the view that the dystopian artworks included in this exhibition and the cultural criticism articulated therein seem to have responded to an air of crisis that has been pervading contemporary thinking for several decades now.
In principle, dystopian texts express world views that postulate end-of-utopia, utopia-gone-wrong and even anti-utopia, and entail responses to and a critique of utopia. In the dystopian genre the imagination is tweaked as a critical instrument set on deconstructing existing or potential ills, injustices and hypocrisies in society, mainly brought on by utopian ideologies and legacies. In dystopian texts — whether real or fictive; visual or literary — stories are told about, for instance, societies and places where the impact of the ideological blueprint of globalisation has created diasporic cultures and nomad identities; about unjust utopian political ideas that create social restriction, impaired mobility, repression or oppression; or about postutopian space and loss of religious belief and direction. It might recount posthuman conditions as a result of the dominating influence of the technological utopianism, evident in dysfunctional cyberrelationships and telematic influences leading to rampant violence, threat to self, insensitivity and indifference to critical socio-cultural problems.
Broadly speaking, Dystopia deals with the following themes: political utopia-gone-wrong; teleology and apocalypse; dystopian contestations of gender, race and culture; spatiality and boundaries as postideological zones; the postindustrial city; and technodystopia. The artworks that have been selected for the exhibition function as palimpsests where dystopian maps have been superimposed over utopia, but also as utopian constructions where dystopian realities have been absorbed, negated and transcended in order to generate a new utopian synthesis.
A significant metatext in the conceptual architecture of the exhibition is the role and use of various kinds of technologies from low-tech to high-tech digital tools in the production of the artworks. The objective here is to come closer to an understanding of the way in which culture produces itself and attributes meaning to that self-production. The appropriated technologies reflect social processes, histories and conditions in South Africa and as such provide a kind of technological “barometer” for, for instance, rural village settings, inner city diasporic communities and consumer environments.
The exhibition consists of a combination of recently and newly produced work of South African artists, both emerging and internationally acclaimed, as well as selected artworks from the University of South Africa’s art collection.
A comprehensive catalogue and an educational programme accompany the exhibition. There will be walkabouts on Friday, May 29, and Friday, June 19, at 13h00. A panel discussion will take place in the Unisa Art Gallery on Saturday, May 30, from 10h00 to 13h00.
Dystopia is primarily funded by the National Research Foundation of South Africa under the Key International Science Capacity (KISC) Initiative, as well as by Unisa.

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