Thieves on trial
By Brandaan Huigen
PhD candidate in Anthropology at the Free University of Berlin http://www.polsoz.fuberlin.de/ethnologie/personenliste/huigen/index.html
Inside one of the chambers of the Magistrates’ Court, which resembles a face-brick school hall, the accused appear from the door of the holding cells at the opposite end. Still wearing the clothes that they were arrested in, they immediately scan the audience with wide eyes to see if their family or friends are present. When a familiar face is spotted, they give a slight nod. Once they stand upright in the box, before the Magistrate, some risk another turn of the head to look behind them. The South African Police Service (SAPS) officers, who flank the box on either side, warn them to look to the front or there will be trouble.
The white Magistrate sits at the highest point of the chamber, under the South African coat of arms, wearing a warm scarf above her toga. She looks like the type who might visit the annual AfrikaBurn festival. Although, after browsing through a Whatsapp message, she looks down sternly at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) prosecutor, who stands up to read out the charges against the accused. The Magistrate asks the accused, a group of three men who allegedly stole copper cables, if they want the assistance of the Legal Aid defence lawyer with the hijab. They do not respond to the request. The interpreter moves in to translate the Afrikaans to Shona, and clarifies to the Zimbabweans that the defence lawyer will assist them for free. They accept the offer.
Apart from many cases focusing on assaults, being in possession of drugs (dagga, tik or mandrax) or driving under the influence of alcohol, more than 50% of the cases in this court are theft related. Often the appearance is for a petty theft that took place in a shop, flat block or industrial area, where items of some value were stolen, such as slabs of concrete, bottles of Herbex weight loss solution, Viceroy brandy or 14-inch car rims. Most of the shoplifters are women, while the men seem to steal more from homes and industrial facilities. Forcibly entering someone’s private premises is the first punishable offence, and then taking something from the owner here, is the second offence.
In one case, R58 000 worth of luxury goods were stolen from a middle class home. The perpetrator, as the Magistrate stated, “poached” the home of electronics and precious jewellery. He left fingerprints on a glass jar at the premises, linking him to the crime scene. He was a professional thief; a repeat offender. In such burglary cases, when the Magistrate has to convict the accused, she first asks if he would like to say something before she begins the judgement that she has repeated on many occasions. The accused replies hesitantly and in cliches:
Uhm, Your Honour, I’m a changed man. Uhm, I’ll make my life right, like change my path, and I’ll help my mother more. People can change; I’m not perfect.
Many in the audience shake their heads, subtly giggling, knowing it was a reply too improbable to convince the Magistrate. The Magistrate then starts her judgement in Afrikaans, angrily stating why she has to punish the accused, tying what happened to the collective experience of crime in South Africa:
This court’s role is to balance your little bowl with that of the state’s on the scale of justice. I have to consider the seriousness of the offences, the interests of the community and your personal circumstances, and to make a decision accordingly. What was presented before this court are very serious offences. Firstly, you broke into a home that you had absolutely no business of entering, and secondly, you took things from the home that did not belong to you.
This is the most invasive of crimes when someone breaks-in and scratches around inside. We work hard for our possessions, only to come back home in the afternoon to see that they are gone. We have to live in self-made prisons, spend money on additional security, to try and keep people like you out. We have to pay monthly household insurance as the risk of theft is so high because of people like you. The things that you take are worth a lot of money, and especially family jewellery is of great sentimental value that cannot be replaced. And if the insurance pays out, the item often lacks the same quality and is not worth the same amount.
The community, and the owners, look up to this court, and expect me to set an example. There will be anarchy if I do not do anything. You will therefore not come off lightly with a slap on the wrist. That you want to help your mother more, is not a good enough reason. She would appreciate it if you would look for work, and not thieve around. Besides, how can I be so sure that you have changed as a person? You are clearly prone to perpetrate crimes as you have been imprisoned numerous times. You are a threat to the community.
The red light on the wall goes off after the sentence has been read. The officers press the inked thumb of the convict onto the sentencing sheet, subsequently handcuffing him. They push him towards the door of the holding cells with the shouting of the awaiting prisoners. A last attempt is made to communicate with his family members in the audience: “Get me at the back”. The officers push him impatiently: “Hamba, hamba, move”. He has hardly left the courtroom when another name is announced by the prosecutor. The family members scurry out of the chamber, giving a quick bow to the Magistrate before they exit (as is customary). They move to the street behind the court, to the palisade. The palisade is attached to a corner wall with stains that have gathered over the years from the resting hands of family members. From the palisade they can shout, unrestricted, to the convict in the cells, before he is taken in a full lorry to Goodwood Prison.
Augmented Reality and Art. Creating new dimensions.
By Elsa Duault
My practice is rooted in finding a way to make reality and creation visible at different times, in different places - reminiscent of the medium of photography and video where reproduction and digital platforms allow for the work to be shared and seen easily by a wider audience. The question of experiencing work in a larger dimension is the bain of my practice. It is about being able to have access to a new type of interaction with an artwork and to understand other messages the artist wants to share with the public, but find herself restrained by the frame and limitation of their actual medium. New technologies are one of the solutions we have found that can allow artists and viewers to share in a more complete experience. In our moving world, digital stages have emerged and changed the ways art can be represented in space and time. For example Facebook (2004), Youtube and Daily Motion (2005). Later on visual socials platforms became new stages, such as Instagram (2010), which again changed the relationship between artists, their practices and the audience.
As a continuity into the development of digital interaction, we will discover here my first Augmented Reality project and the different stages, or points of view, it gives access to. Later in the article, the notion of Inter(stage) will also be explored throughout the Fluid Art movement which my practice is deeply rooted in. Augmented reality (AR) is a technology which allows for the possibility of an added digital layer to reality. Information and perception of our surroundings are transformed through smart phones and tablet screens. To give other visions is the heart and purpose of AR. Despite its creation in the early 90’s, AR is nowadays accessible to the public on a wide range of platform. From static to motion, from an image to a video, AR can layer information and experience regarding a space, an object, an image - it was introduced massively with Pokemon Go as an example.
The opportunity for artistic collaborations and new stages.
Using Augmented Reality gave me the opportunity to explore many fields from various angles: painting, artistic collaborations, new medias and technology as an alternative platform of experience. Furthermore the process lead to the exploration of two different platform/ stage relationships. The first one is painting and filming the process, allowing the viewer access to a different stage of the painting: it’s creation. The movements created by the medium (paint) when it expresses itself on the canvas through gravity, density, ratios and the harmony that exists between artwork and the painter. The second one is a collaboration through improvisation with other artists in the studio, allowing different artistic practices access to a space of expression and possible encounters. This was the impulse of this project. The studio’s stage offered news visual and lived experiences in space and time.
The series INSTANTANEOUS and INSTANT-120 are driven by Augmented reality and the viewer can have access to this experience by using the ARTIVIVE augmented reality app.
This project was made for my solo show, SPECTRUM OF LIFE, at the Berman Contemporary Gallery in Sandton, Johannesburg July - August 2018. In fact it wasn’t a solo show at all, numerous artists were involved during the painting process. The six acrylic paintings named INSTANTANEOUS (160 cm) were created with, in chronological order, the dancers and performer Alexandre Bourdat, Sizo Mahlangu, Mia Labuschagne, Nicola Hattingh, Kopano Maroga and Sasha Fourie and the musicians Adrien Durand (electronics and sound engineering), Lucy Strauss (viola), Parker Donaldson (electronic guitar), Kevin Mwaura (electronics), Dumana and Kechou (voice and multi instruments), Robin Brink (drums), Bam Bam Brown (acoustic guitar) and Visser Liebenberg (clarinet).
The presence of all of those talented artists influenced my process, my movements and impulses and ultimately the final paintings. Their creation was also deeply influenced by each other and the new environment created by myself. The different atmospheres and encounters have been captured by the paintings’ resting and final stage. Creating a new stage in the studio also created the opportunity to work and share with different artistic practices and tools : body - instrument - paint. In fact, it formed a collaboration within the artist creates through the association with new and contributing forces.
Augmented Reality as Inter-stages
By creating an inter-relation and an inter-stage between result and process, static and moving, past (studio), present (artwork) and future (technologies), the viewer can experience the distilled instant from different points of view. Here the medium, the space and the stage are offering different perceptions and potentials through the ARTIVIVE app. With AR, visual arts can reach new stages, become a code for the digital extension and so on messages. Augmented Reality creates a new link between the seen, the screen and between traditional art and digital technologies. In my project the viewer can have an access to the heart of the painting, its birth, it’s transformation from a white stretched canvas to a acrylic fluid painting, capturing the various movements and energies on the circular frame and in the studio space. The viewer’s experience of the final painting becomes more layered.
Recalling History: Art, Craft, Fluidity, Nature
Fluid Art is a « recent » popular artistic practice which rapidly increased in the past years all over the world and the web, reinventing and exploring the use of paint. However, in the 60’s the American sculptor Lynda Benglis was already pouring pigmented latex on the floor, later in 1992 Damien Hirst was experiencing his spin paintings in the UK. These experimental practices are founded on the technical and philosophical research of artists and thinkers such as Paul Klee, Vassily Kandinsky, Jackson Pollock and Henri Bergson. It also refers to the recall of Historical « Marbled Papers ».
The link between fluid art and marbled paper is visually and technically present in some artists’s works. I found the link between the two techniques interesting as they uses densities and similar tools to move and manipulate the paint. Marbled paper exists as a printing technique, whereas Fluid Art a painterly process. Fluid Art captures the organic movements of the paint and is a celebration of nature and its flux. Fluid Painting is giving new breath to the art world and people’s understanding of high art. It is a new stage, a development of abstraction and expressionism and is rooted in the Modernist philosophy which strives against the established discourses and art practices. I would say that Fluid Painting is the Abstract Expressionism of our time, it being focused on materials themselves and not the artist. We see here a sense of letting go of the ego and becoming part of something bigger, something cosmic and spiritual.
Videos of process published on Youtube reflect the come back of fluid forms and accidental processes in Art. Fluid Art, here, is one more time spread to an audience, published on a different stage, with the technologies of its time : Video and Augmented Reality. Fluid Art and Digital technologies such as Augmented Reality are opening new stages and creating inter stages between people, practices and stories. The doors have just been pushed, now artists can explore what is behind…
TRY AUGMENTED REALITY RIGHT NOW ON INTER- !
By downloading the Artivive free app on you smartphone or tablet, you can scan the image of the artwork present here and discover short videos filmed in the studio.
The Age of Gallerisation: urban renewal/gentrification? Consequences of the burgeoning local art scene.
By Marijke Tymbios
Thinking back to an assignment my third year Visual Studies class received, we were asked to produce an essay about ‘curatorial practice and space’. I chose to research and write about gentrification in Woodstock. On a blustery winter’s morning, I visited a gallery in the heart of this suburb that had a Banksy exhibition on display. It was good to see works by this world renowned artist on South African soil, but it got me thinking about the local street art and graffiti scene…
When did the commodification of these art forms become standard practice? Did we start overlooking local talent in exchange for (sometimes uncritically) investing in foreign art world celebrities? When did we start accepting this or was no-one consenting except a few big voices in the industry?
The question that’s been on my heart and mind since July 2012 is this: given the recent upsurge of art institutions (galleries, museums, workshop spaces, studios, etc) in different areas of Cape Town, how does this growth in cultural capital impact on the socio-economic status of local communities? Does this, in turn lead to urban renewal or gentrification and what is the difference between these two modes of social and economic development?
Most of us are aware of the grand openings of grand new museums such as the Zeitz MOCAA in September 2017 and the Norval Foundation in April 2018, both comfortably situated in the bourgeois and well-monitored V&A Waterfront and Steenberg, Tokai. In terms of these two museums, I can recognise and advocate for the efforts that the Zeitz MOCAA makes regarding accessibility for all. Similar to the free-access Wednesday mornings Zeitz MOCAA offers to all African citizens, the Norval Foundation grants all day free access on Mondays. However these two institutions are the big players in the local art scene and I want to shift the focus to understanding the impact of galleries in areas such as Maitland, Bo-Kaap and the previously mentioned Woodstock.
These three suburbs share a history of having to abide by Apartheid legislation. The city under segregation in the 20th century is the main cause of dereliction and urban decay in some sections of these suburbs. Woodstock has an interesting history, one of having had a beach (can we just pause on that for a moment)… In the 1950s, the development of the foreshore took place and Woodstock missed the ‘whites only area’ bullet and remained a mixed race neighbourhood for the duration of the 20 th century. Due to a surge of ‘bad elements’ such as crime and drug trade, longstanding locals and fleet of young Capetonians have made a concerted effort to clean up. This entails moving into some of those semi-detached Victorian houses and fixing them up, opening hip coffee shops and of course, establishing art galleries. So, the question remains… is this classified as urban renewal or gentrification? I’ve consulted the Cambridge dictionary to seek definitions which read as follow:
‘Urban Renewal: The process of making a poor area of a city attractive for people to live and work in again by building new houses, offices, schools, etc and improving the existing ones.’
‘Gentrification: The process by which an area is changed by people who have more money, moving to live there and making improvements to buildings.’ These two terms are ostensibly identical. The only difference I can infer is one relating to inclusion and exclusion. In the case of Woodstock, many articles speak of ‘urban renewal’, painting the picture that improvements are made within the area for the sake of uplifting and bettering the lived experience of local inhabitants who have been there for decades. I am no expert in the field of urban design and town planning, but I have approached someone from Open Streets Cape Town with this specific topic in mind. When asked whether galleries in the Woodstock area participate in Open Streets, it was explained that these businesses (because in essence, that is what a commercial gallery is – let’s not skirt around it) aren’t able to stay open on Sundays or outside of working hours, at the almost definite risk of losing, rather than making money.
On a positive note, these galleries charge no entrance fee during work hours, which almost awards them a double ‘thumbs-up’ in terms of accessibility. Moreover, it is not their primary duty to partake in all such initiatives, partly thanks to the Thursdays Projects, an organisation geared towards granting free after-hours access to art spaces for diverse audiences.
But (and how we love to play the devil’s advocate) of course, there is something to say about culture and how it is split between what is termed ‘high’ and ‘low’. Catering for audiences from the upper echelons of society (and this goes for most galleries in Cape Town, not singling out those found in the three previously named suburbs), these spaces demand a particular visitorship. Before continuing, I’d like to point out that what I’m referring to concerns the standard international gallery model. The following are what I believe to be the necessities for any gallery visitor: complying with the ‘proper’ dress code and body language as well as keeping a suitable bank balance; not to mention having the ability to engage in refined speech and wax lyrically in art jargon… There is certainly an amount of freedom awarded to some in terms of these categories, but this freedom solely applies to visitors from the upper classes of society at large.
Coming back to my initial question of how this surge in the visual arts industry in Cape Town affects change not only in the economy but in terms of the social and cultural aspects of city life as well… I have concluded that this topic needs deeper and more diverse investigation. I plan on conducting interviews with various experts and academics in the field of urban design alongside speaking to individuals within the industry as well as gallery visitors to hear multiple perspectives geared towards addressing this matter. If my findings bring new insights to light, there will most probably be a sequel to this story as the saga continues… beyond the confines of my screen, my mind and my subjective thoughts and experiences.
By Kopano Maroga
University of Cape Town, Dance and Social Anthropology Student and Contemporary Dance Artist
I'm trying to find ways to think around the politics of representation. I believe that the representation of oppressed people has been used to pacify revolt and apply neoliberal techniques of appropriating and commoditising the aesthetics of oppressed people in order to sell us and our politics back to us. I don't think representation equates to justice. I don't think it captures the nuanced ways in which we experience violence in our lives, our loves, on the street, in our schools, in our homes... I'm trying to think of ways to render some materiality to this hypervisible invisibility.
By Catherine Rudolph
In the kitchen my dad, in his favourite apron, was cutting up a fillet. The meat, held in place by a carving fork, was opened with a stainless steel blade, sunk in and drawn back and forth like a violin bow, to reveal tender flesh. My father, the concert violinist, had watery red smears across his front, where he’d wiped his hands. The apron, always his favourite, has a dancing crayfish on the front, also wearing an apron. Claws held above its head, whiskers out at odd angles, the crayfish has what I perceive to be a joyous gleam in its small black eyes.
I have never seen a crayfish, not in real life. They were from a time before ours, when the Empire extended all the way to either coast and far up to the North. A time when you could go to the beach and swim in the ocean all day, leaving only when the wind would pick up and blow cold across the water. My parents speak about it, but not as often as they used to. They would go diving every weekend for crayfish in those days. My dad described it to us like a forest underwater: a mass of slippery brown tubes, congealing in knots and splitting out into fluttering tendrils, whose trunks would sway in the water like strands of hair rising up from the ocean floor. He told us about the way crayfish swim, with their tails propelling them backwards through the water, so when you reach for one they shoot away from you, but still face you in their retreat, as if to say: “Better luck next time!”
For a while I had wanted to be a crayfish, until my brother told me that you kill them by steaming while they’re alive. My parents would place them, still flapping, in a big steel pot and secure the lid. Even with the lid fastened tight, he said you could hear a high-pitched whistling. It was the sound of the crayfish screaming as they were being boiled alive.
We sat down to eat at 8 o’clock after the evening news. There was much talk of what’s happening on the outside: more uprisings on the farms, buildings being burnt, houses looted and one family of four found dead in their living room. The little boy was already in his pajamas for the night. I remained silent for the conversation and got up only to clear the table. The plates had the remains of turgid vegetables and pieces of fat, now congealed and cold, which I scraped into the bin. I made a neat stacked tower for the maid in the morning. Then I stood in the scullery, looking at the thin residue of soap left by the dishwater on the sides of the sink. I was startled to feel arms wrap around me from behind. My mother leant in to put her cheek against mine. “We’ll never let anything happen to you guys,” she said, turning me round to look in her eyes. “You’re in the safest place you could be.” She kissed my forehead. I stayed there by the sink and thought of the kind of people who could cut a boy’s stomach open. It was not a cold act, not removed like the things we learnt about in history class. I thought outbursts of violence happening more and more on the farms. Workers “revolting”. We don’t hear what happens to them after. I thought of the crayfish, trapped and screaming.
The fortress is white. It sits upon a hill at the edge of a forest. At the highest point you can see the mass of dirty houses below, like a carpet of insects glittering in the sun. In here, the streets are uniformly pristine. The walls are made of pale stone and, in the most luxurious neighbourhoods, of marble. The fortress is surrounded by a wall of the same pale stone, three meters high and topped with electric fencing. People come from outside to clean all the houses. They enter the gates every day, presenting identification to the guards to show they are allowed to be here and pose no threat. There is much talk amongst my parents and their friends about the danger of the outside, but I can’t see it in the people that come through the gates. They just seem tired. Inside these people are called Mary and John, but outside they have different names.
We had Mercy. She looked after my brother and I when my mother went back to work. She took us to the park every day and pushed us on the swings. But, one spring, when I was nearing my thirteenth birthday, she disappeared for a while and when I asked my mother about it she said Mercy was taking a little holiday. Mercy came back not looking at all like she had been on holiday. Her limbs struggled under piles of washing, her lips were chapped and there was a dullness in her eyes that hadn’t been there before.
At night, I overheard my parents talking about it.
“Do you think it’s infectious?” My mother sounded distressed.
“They’re not sure. Either way, she can’t keep coming here. People will notice.” I heard chair legs scrape the tiled floor as my father got up from the table.
“We have to help her”
“I’m not putting this family at risk, even for Mercy”
“Mercy is family”
“Don’t say that Margot! Don’t ever say that.”
When they told me she died I didn’t say anything. I remembered the time I spilled spaghetti bolognaise on the couch when I was watching TV, which I shouldn’t have been doing while eating. Mercy scolded me, but she spent the next two hours scrubbing away at the fabric so my mother wouldn’t see. She always said white was the worst to get clean.
My mother came home from the mall one day soon after Mercy’s death and announced that we were having a new couch delivered. We had two couches already, and not much space left in the house, though it was a fairly big one – but not as big as the others further up the hill, my mother would say. The couch came and three silent men brought it in on their shoulders, like a coffin. It was large and white. My mother spent the next two hours moving furniture, or getting the men to move it, but couldn’t decide on the right space for the couch. Eventually, the men had to return home. The couch was left standing in the middle of the room.
Our writing workshop is in the Herzhog B room. Clara is speaking: “It feels a bit ‘guilty white girl’ you know? Like, you’re the outsider looking in, you have special access to an empathy they don’t.”
I nod. Her honesty cuts and its is such a turn on. “Ya, I was worried about that.” I am worried about that.
“The suburbia-feeling was nice though” Helen adds and I give her a small smile. There is a pause and everyone stares at the table, or their laptop screens. My legs are restless under the table.
Dominic clears his throat and opens his mouth: “I think we need to move on from this same old story, the whole race thing is given too much weight these days.” He is good looking, masculine, an actor. His previous submissions were about a car accident and zombies. “Honestly it’s been thirty years, it doesn’t matter what colour you are.”
My forehead creases, “Uhhh, yes it does. How can you go to a restaurant, or drive through Camps Bay or anywhere, Newlands, Rondebosch, Khayelitsha,” I gesture vaguely, “and still think that? It’s so obvious.”
“But all the black people in your story were like, totally one-dimensional,” Clara looks at me enquiringly, “they had zero agency?” Her mouth lingers open after the question and I can see the small gap between her front teeth. Even frowning, she’s beautiful.
“Wouldn’t it be helpful,” Helen ventures, “if you had a central black character? So we can see what it’s like from the other perspective”
My eyes snap away from Clara. Helen’s voice is like the child’s version of adult medicine. It really pisses me off sometimes. “I can’t write a POC character. I don’t know what that experience is like.”
“But you can imagine, you can be empathetic” Clara says.
I take a deep breath. “Don’t you think, instead of imagining people’s stories and telling them for them, we should just give people the opportunity to tell their own stories?”
“But then what’s the point of being a writer?” Clara counters, “like can I only write about what it’s like to be white English speaking South African? Or about motherhood? I have experiences beyond that. Human experiences.”
“I just can’t tell stories that aren’t mine. I can’t.”
Dominic unfolds his arms and opens his mouth again, but then just leans back and looks at the ceiling.
Later, I receive an email from him:
I meant no offense in the meeting today. I think it’s all a matter of sensitivity; Annie Proloux wrote Brokeback Mountain and she’s a woman, but she did a lot of research. I know it’s a touchy subject, but I think the writer’s main concern should be Truth. I found there was truth in that story.” There’s a link to an article with Proloux speaking about her reflections on life “in the West.” The email ends with “Anyway, we should go for coffee and talk about this further.
You’re an interesting person.”
Going for coffee with Dominic is the last thing I feel like. But maybe he is right? Can I be a writer if I can’t write imaginatively? I open the Fortress document and scroll down to read the last paragraph. I was hard on my mom. Maybe I should try write something from her perspective. Nothing is true anyway; we are always writing and editing our own lives. I don’t know at what point I changed Meisie to Mercy in my head. Because I didn’t want to believe that that was what I had called her, what my mom, who really had cried, who really had cared, had called her.
Donkey View I, II & III
By Adrien drd
A series of compositions made of recordings taken on residency at The Komposjaart, Kleinood farm, Stellenbosch.
Donkey view I: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1LpPeOEtaI
Donkey view II: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7I_O1wVRxQ
Donkey view III: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pviIOuxLFkU
By Marion Jagger
Life is an ongoing performance. Everything in it is about performing. We’re always playing a role, an identity, a story (a myth even), a character. Paradoxically, when I actually am performing in an artistic context, that is to say, when I am doing a performance about the performance that life is, I am my most authentic self. As if the creation of an artificial role allowed me to exist as my own truest version, freed from all the other roles, making space for my own quintessential version.
My name is Marion Versatile, I’m a performer and a member of N.U.D.E, a collective that creates alternative spaces and stages for both emerging and more established artists. If you’ve ever had a conversation with me about performance, you’ve heard me speak of that afore-mentioned paradox. I could also explain it as such: the creation of artificial walls allows for the breaking of other existing walls. Social and societal norms, apparent boundaries and subconscious prisons.
The existence of these walls and the ongoing necessity to smash them down in order to progress as a human individual, to act as a re-creator of the inner landscape and a co-creator of the external world, is the very reason why I turned to performance art. Whenever I think of a subversive concept for a piece, I am confronted with fear of judgement. These are my inner walls: fears. I always question their foundation, their reason for existing. It gets me every time: they are not a valid justification to restrain my liberty to express or to exist. Rather, they become another reason why I should push further. Once I have become aware of the walls, I have two options: remain complacent, or not. Accept to live in prison, or not. Nudity is good example of that. How is there so much taboo about something that we literally all share on that planet: a naked body ? We make up masks and dress up our fences in fabric. Absurd. Easily deconstructed in theory. (so for me)
Performance is the practice. It’s my space for catharsis and empowerment. The altar to sacrifice toxic self consciousness on. Somehow, my approach is spiritually based: it comes from the understanding that everything is an idea. This world is made up of ideas. Separation is an idea. My ego is an idea. My story is a myth. I can decide to stop believing in all ideas tomorrow. Breaking the illusionary walls down is my way to transcendence. My journey to other realms.
Then comes the public, and the confrontation to their own walls. There is something about performance that is so directly in your face. The distance that other visual arts allow is suddenly torn away. Here is another human being, one that is actual living flesh, breathing lungs, one whose reality is so closely tangible. Live performance touches to the most sensitive chords of empathy. Its reality is inevitable, unavoidable. It’s not a screen, not a canvas, not a piece of mud, bronze, recycled plastic or whatever. (so for me) Performance art is about the rawness of that exposure that confronts other people’s walls.
Then of course, comes the context. The time and space in which a piece is presented have everything to do with it. The fact that something is actually happening in the spectator’s direct presence makes it almost impossible to detach it from the context in which it is perceived. The bias is almost inevitable, wether it’d be in gallery space, on a opera stage or in the street, every space is rich with symbolism.
For instance, a performance piece in the street own out in a public space, with no concrete restraints, still has its invisible walls. They become obvious with the reaction the piece will provoke in the public’s eye. The absence of an institutional stage (that of a gallery or a theatre) touches to the core structures of society: everything is supposed to be in its place. Hence, the phenomenon emphasises the existence of our own assimilated walls: the ones that define how we should behave and/or restrain ourselves in any given context. The impactfulslness and the power of performance lie in the exaggeration of the absurdity of these walls. It further allows to break though the wall of distance, which results in the reinforcing the awareness of one thing: there is a goddam wall. Between you and the world, you and the message, you and the art, you and the realities you’re exposed to, you and the images you are over-sollicitated with on a constant basis, news everywhere, tv everywhere, distant parallel realities everywhere. dimensions. worlds. realms. How flexible are the contextual walls ? Is it possible to create a piece, present it in different spaces with different contexts and get a similar reaction from the different publics ? Of course not. Cape Town is an excellent example of that. The N.U.D.E collective aimed to create stages as bridges between spaces that are divided by invisible and toxic walls. The point was to create alternative platforms of expression, as a way to create alternative platforms of existence, where we could collectively take down the walls, and build our bridges together. Where we could be confronted with our own inner walls, and the necessity to deconstruct, whilst being in a safe space that does not denies our right to celebrate life. These stages were tricky to realise as every single area in Cape Town is charged with symbolism. This was the reason why we organised some of our events in unusual spaces such as the workshop in Observatory or the Graviton warehouse in Salt River, it was about creating our own universe in an environment that was not meant for it.
Finally, how disowned of its quintessential power is a performance piece once it’s happening within a institutional walls? The context of gallery spaces in particular brings a new dimension into perspective. The eternal pitfall of subversive narratives once they are brought to the front stage: with their exposure comes their marketing. Performances are a lot less commodified than physical pieces, hence not as easy to acquire for a collector. Although contemporary art is so transversal that it has allowed for the creation of boxed performances, recorded on various mediums (video, photo, audio, etc.), live performance is what allows for the pure essence of creation to still exist within gallery walls. A piece can only happen once. It might be presented again, but it can never be the same twice. It carries the magic of instantaneous immortality, and will fade away with the haze of vague memories, or remain within a spectator’s skin as a feeling, a souvenir.
Inter (stage) Playlist
By Rynhardt van Blerk
Peripheral thoughts on I
By Thuthuka Sibisi
We are far from living in a completely post-racial South African era where questions concerning memory, justice and reconciliation can shift to the background. Further to what cannot be relegated to hushed tones is the very nature of what provokes the making of certain work. In letting my work draw from a range of politics concerning current narratives around identity politics, struggle, human capacity and failure, I here aim to engage peripheral thoughts on artistic goals and wants by looking at what happens in liminal spaces and what may potentially be left to hushed tones. I am prone to concerns of how a range of twenty-first century contemporary performance practises, largely concerned with South Africa, engage with the black body. This discourse interrogates violence and memory - the physical, psychological crevices of the black body that carry this burden and the negotiations that ensue to relieve the bones and body of this deadweight. With that said, in the words of Anita Pilgim: “ the point of this project has not been to write a polemic championing Black cause but an account of certain political processes enacted through embodied practice […] what is productive [here is addressing] ‘tensions’ between subjective understand and [the creative] method” (Pilgrim, 2001).
Within the twenty-first century there has been a great rise in the number of Black artists making an energetic, forceful and politicised presence within performance thus forging new grounds in articulating the Black experience. As Catherine Ugwu observes: “preconceptions and presumptions have inevitably limited representation of the diversity of the black experience and confirmed established misconceptions of the ‘Other’ (Ugwu, 1995).
At times I find my work may concern itself with my positionality as a black artist and endeavours to question what this inevitably may mean. As a primary rescue method my concerns are aimed at not directly answering this question but rather revel in its question-ness; here choosing to meander in what a resolve may potentially appear as rather then what it is. William Kentridge delivers this sentiment with more vigour in saying: “I will latch on to any stray image and thought that lets me off the hook, or prolongs the moment before I have to start pushing a thought” (Marta (ed.), 2015). Ultimately what one may find here is a vision of ideas in a perpetual push-and-pull with themselves, connected, but resisting central positioning. In essence what exists here is both a prompt to, and a way of describing, provoked thoughts.
Speaking of provoked thoughts I’ll look at my last sound/image installation that was made in collaboration with Philip Miller and René Mussai of Autograph ABP. This work looked at re-imagining the archive and was an exercise in artistic subjectivity in relation to a particular strand of history. Furthermore I assumed a position to not only engage with concrete archival material but once step further was to allude to it as a conceptional strategy - ie. varying degrees of appropriation and associated tactics of re-ordering and re-/de-contextualisation.
Essentially the intention was to look at varying combinations of tools that allow the body to be centralized. To be more specific using the black body as a site for investigation, and its proximal relation to other bodies, objects and environments.
Five themes that arose of this sonic experiment in no particular order: 1) dislocation, 2) embodiment, 3) imagination, 4) collaboration, and 5) time-memory-space.
In so far as dislocation what comes to mind is a perverse questioning of what it could mean to be presented outside of yourself - a proclivity to being othered which many have come to accept as part of the rigmarole of being disbanded from home and oneself. Resultantly, bearing great importance, “these bodies are marked as ideological sites, spaces where a variety of discourses cross and converge […] discourses of power and domination (Mermann-Jozwiak, 2001). For a moment I avert to the work of British artist and filmmaker, Isaac Julien, who is concerned with provoking and antagonizing issues related to nationalism and representation. Kobena Mercer goes on to say:
In this condition of critical reverie, which feels at once “ transgressive and hallucinatory”, thoughts and sensations are directed by a poetric touch that loosens the stream of semiotic material from rigid adherence to sedimented conventions (Mercer, 2015)
In understanding the place of dislocation in the discourse of the black body I am urged to uncover the continued and sometimes distorted ideas around anti-/race(-ism), black power and metaphors of blackness by considering the place of behavioural, emotional, physical and cognitive responses which feed into the creation of sometimes unstable narratives.
With respect to the time-memory-space conundrum let it be understood from the onset that as an imperfect language, the race sists within a grey realm. Moreover let it be contemplated as a complex and ambivalent mechanism with structures built to obdurate a time and, in effect, remain simply as a form of representation. As Achille Mbembe intimates: “above all, [it sends us] back to surface simulcra, […] to its limit, race becomes a perverse complex, a generator of fears and torments, of disturbed thoughts and terror, but especially of infinite sufferings and, ultimately, catastrophe” (Mbembe, 2017). Analysis through the aforementioned conundrum the role of race(-ism), and it's devastating culture, further gestures toward the conceptual sonic re-imagining of the experience of the African Choir of 1891.
Thinking about imagination and collaboration I considered previous processes of documentation as subjective and static. As a means of puncturing this point of frozen subjectivity I aimed to unzip this mute conversation through a “more easily negotiated idea that fantasy occurs individually, that it is constructed, and that it is, by its very nature, exclusive” (Orgeron, 2000). This proposition invariably encouraged a way to metaphorically grind down through the surface, dissect, subvert and rewrite traditional notions of history. Julien speaks of it more poetically naming history a “motionless memorialization”, and here I follow in his path in a want toward the breaking of this suggested stasis by way of disruption without concern (Orgeron, 2000).
The installation is a revisiting of a tour by the first all-black South African vocal ensemble (named The African Choir) to Victorian England in 1891. Of the found objects were the original concert program notes and from this we re-created five songs, alongside 20 photographic portraits of the original members of the choir (rediscovered in London at the Hulton Archive after 125 years). This installation, borrowing from Judith Butler, roots itself in a sort of “re-enactment and re-experiencing of meanings already socially established; [here questioning] the mundane and ritualized form of their legitimation” (Butler, 2003).
Through this collaborative effort what arises is an artistic representation that humanizes and gives voice to a part of history long unknown by contemporary South African and English audiences; and which has only been documented through written diaries, academic papers and archival photographs. In the words of curator Okwui Enwezor, “when we have to reexamine the historical relationship between Africa and Europe [one must consider that] it is a very traumatic and often impossible history to articulate without any sense of shame, and it is not a one-way thing’; Inevitably this begs the question: how does one think historically in the present? (Becker & Enwezor, 2002).
Finally, for me, having experienced and come from a musical tradition that stipulates itself according to a binary - i.e., West vs The Other - what comes to the fore is how it concretely safeguards itself and its boundaries. What reveals itself here, as a consequence, is my need to disrupt this positioning by planting myself in the centre of this conversation and becoming the grey area that can summon, envision or engender a new conversation about how we create sound-worlds, who we write theses worlds for, and whose stories we tell through these sounds and practice.
Everything, then, starts with an act of identification: I am Black. The act of identification is based on a question that we ask of ourselves: Who, then, am I? Or else it is a response to a question asked of us, a summons: Who are you? In all these cases identity is unveiled and made public. But to unveil one’s identity is also to recognize oneself. It is a form of self-recognition. It is to know who you are and to speak it or, better, to proclaim it - to say it to oneself. The act of identification is also an affirmation of existence. I am signifies, from that moment forward, I exist (Mbembe, 2017).
By Keely Shinners and Dominic Prétorius