Sue de Beer
The "Do Not Disturb" on the invitation might also read "Do Not Be Disturbed" for this is a show which you too can enjoy. This is not to suggest that the work doesn't take on serious subject matter, nor to suggest that enjoyment and serious issues are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, the show demonstrates how the two can complement one another. Celebrating "Bacchanalian Bliss at the turn of the millennium" is a group of women artists, South African and American resident both here and abroad. The show encompasses a wide range of media, and for a South African audience, quite a sophisticated spectrum of visual language.
Lisa Brice's two works Score (Brands) and Score (Compacts) explore the connections between vice, gender and consumer culture in a way which is at once quite witty and quite sordid. The first piece depicts giant nosefuls of cocaine (actually bicarbonate of soda) on plate-size round mirrors. The 'coke' is chopped into reversed images of popular brand names, and a light shines on them, throwing their reflection onto the wall above. The scale, the sports we associate with the brands and their attendant doses of testosterone and dominance are offset by the silliness of it all. The second piece consists of an arc of open compact cosmetic mirrors with discreet, hurriedly chopped lines of the white powder. These mirrors cower and just manage to cope where the others flourish in their self-confidence and boldness.
Amanda Williamson's Pretty Baby is a giant, stuffed teddy bear with the face of a human baby (actually an altered portrait of the artist). The baby has a large, open lipstick coloured mouth. This, together with the convenient height of the figure, makes one think of a blow-up sex doll with its selection of opportune orifices. Unfortunately it also puts one in mind of a baby which needs feeding. As such, the work alludes to the reciprocal nature of relationship and manages to state its case clearly without being didactic, sentimental or completely unfunny. Fun doesn't come without responsibility, and responsibility doesn't come without fun.
Justine Wheeler's large scale colour photographs are conveniently situated nearby and one can't help but notice the similarly coloured mouths and lipstick we see in the heart-shaped mirrors in two of the works Untitled (Pink Panther) and Untitled (Rear Views). The horizontally formatted prints depict the interior of a New York cab, probably from a passenger seat view. Although the cabs are essentially the same, each driver has customised the vehicle in the time-honoured way of hanging stuff from the rearview mirror. The cab is thus presented as a private space but it is one which, by the very nature of its occupation, is a public space. These marks of individualism are what keep the public at bay and the private in place. However, at the same time, the passenger, whose reflection we see in the hand mirror held up in front of the camera, also regards this as a somewhat private place and feels free to transgress normal public codes by applying lipstick here. Again, this can be seen as a way of mediating between private and public. The whole situation is further contextualised by its situation in the landscape of New York, itself an onion-like construction of personal and public places and codes. We are led to see how the personal and public, the intimate and unfamiliar and the individual and collective function and are suspended in different contexts.
By virtue of its size and tonal contrast Kara Walker's work is one of the most noticeable. Pastoral is a large painted black silhouette on a white ground whose crisp and complex outline brings to mind delicate paper cutouts, but whose image evokes something more sinister and perhaps more humorous. A seated negroid woman, holding a sickle, is mounted by the carcass of a colossal sheep. The sheep's head and her profile together make a grotesque face. The power relations between the two are ambiguous. While the sheep is clearly on top, his legs are off the ground and he defecates either in fear or out of sheer disrespect. The sheep, popularly incapable of individual decision, appears quite assertive. It is not clear whether the woman is empowered or oppressed by the animal on her back. Walker's work is controversial in that it examines the rather uncomfortable, sexually-charged relationships between masters and slaves. Just as the image is ambivalent, so too is the means used in creating it. Convex and concave black and white shapes vie for the roles of ground and figure, neither conveying volume more successfully than the other. The traditionally white sheep and conventionally black slave are rendered equal by their colourless tone.
Candice Breitz' photographic prints of pages from trashy novels with words whited out are as serious as any conceptual art, pretty unsexy and good for a laugh at the same time. Asiya Swaleh's colour woodcuts of images from the Kama Sutra are both voraciously horny and quite absurd. Cecily Brown's Four Letter Heaven takes a skinflick and redraws it in lurid animated watercolour, reducing it sometimes to the abstract. The whole is set to some carnivalesque jazz without end and seems to promise opportunity to watch porn without moral consequence. Laura Parnes' video No is Yes explores women's nihilistic relationship to popular culture through the drug-addled stumblings of two New York teenagers who accidentally kill their rock star hero. Dana Hoey's intriguing photographs emanate from an unknown narrative which seems charged with power relations and sexual tensions. Sue de Beer's Trish (Nightmare on Elm Street series) meditates on the banality of coming of age in a mediated era.
The show is often fun, sometimes even disposable, and offers a refreshing examination of gender and popular culture issues which doesn't get weighed down by its own seriousness. It is often difficult to get the most out of the work of an unfamiliar artist, but the streetwise, jocular nature of this show makes it quite accessible. In some cases, particularly the photographic works, a viewer could benefit from familiarity with the artist's chosen visual language, but, even without, these works do contribute to a show which is young, fresh and insightful.
Until January 29
Joao Ferreira Fine Art. 80 Hout Street
Dorothee Kreutzfeldt and Louis Jansen van Vuuren
Project Conflux at the AVA
by Paul Edmunds
It's amazing what some people will do at Christmas time. Or that's what one might conclude on seeing some of the unlikely pairings in 'Project Conflux'. The basis of this show is a "round robin"-like series of collaborations between Louis Jansen van Vuuren and 21 other South African artists. Collaboration is an unlikely term because for the most part, the collaboration seems to be little more than working together on the same piece at different times with little or no dialogue or exchange ever having taken place. At times it is unclear whether Jansen van Vuuren is trying to garner some cred for himself or the others are trying to make some money at Christmas time.
The show began its life in Luxembourg last year and has lasted, in a somewhat changed form I believe, to be given an outing here. Jansen van Vuuren's so-called collaborators include Lien Botha, Willie Bester, Francine Scialom Greenblatt, Lize Hugo, Fritha Langerman and Mustafa Maluka. Each of them has produced a work on their own and another with some kind of contribution from or collaboration with Jansen van Vuuren. From the list of contributors it is clear that one can expect a mixed bag, lots have nothing in common with each other and most have nothing in common with Jansen van Vuuren. Strength can lie in diversity, but so too can disparity.
Zwelethu Mthethwa produced two works, Urban Cowboy and Bound Figure, large colour photographs printed on canvas. Bound figure is a familiar portrait of a man pictured in his shack, replete with posters and adverts decorating and defining the man's status and aspirations. Van Vuuren adds, in oil paint, soft focus and round edges. Mthethwa's unique ability to steer clear from objectifying his subject is rendered useless as it is transformed into an easy, decorative object. In other instances such as Dorothee Kreutzfeldt's "Hello Bloem", she said it is unclear in what way Jansen van Vuuren has contributed. If he coloured the two figures in, he did a good job.
Some pieces do work formally, but there seems to be little intellectual engagement in the collaboration even here. Kevin Brand produced four small bronzes of air conditioning units entitled Zephyr, Breeze, Draught and Breath. Van Vuuren took Brand's working drawings, and made from them a kind of collaged compendium entitled Ballycage. The aesthetics of the two works complement each other, but what does each work say about the other and what does the title mean? Such an evocative word it is, appearing in the mixed media drawing, and all I can conclude is that it is the manufacturer of one of the air conditioning units Brand originally drew. The collaboration goes no deeper than the surface, quite literally.
While I do accept that all artists have to exhibit and make money (I probably would have leapt at the opportunity to exhibit in Luxembourg too) and everyone is free to collaborate with anyone else, I don't believe this show really questions the 'precarious' notions of authorship it claims to. The irony seems to be that the two works van Vuuren has produced himself appear heavily influenced by some of his most unlikely collaborators in other parts of the show. The "Conflux" of the show's title is more like a standing wave than the two-strong river collaborations can be. No one really does anyone else any favours here.
Until January 22
Jan Jordaan (South Africa)
Amira Wasfy (Egypt)
Jaleh Gitiforoz (Iran)
Human Rights International Print Portfolio at the Durban Art Gallery
by Sam Alex
Projects of social commitment, whilst admirable, often produce dull and didactic work, and one finds critics of such shows tending to avoid the art and focus on supporting the cause. Interestingly, despite the logistical difficulties of its collation (erratic postal and telecommunication services in Third World countries, poor networking facilities, repressive governmental attitudes to artists), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights International Print Portfolio organisers have produced a show of work with very little to be embarrassed about. Whilst unlikely to break any aesthetic barriers, the portfolio, now on exhibition at the Durban Art Gallery, is a sound production, with most prints technically proficient and well conceived.
Once regarded as one of the most repressive countries in the world, South Africa has moved on to produce one of the international community's most progressive constitutions. It is therefore fitting that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights International Print Portfolio should have been conceived and produced here. Organised by Artists for Human Rights, with joint project leaders Jan Jordaan (Technikon Natal) and Vedant Nanackchand (University of Durban/Westville), it was given the blessing of the Dalai Lama in person at its recent opening in Durban. Endorsed by a host of famous Human Rights advocates and activists including a number of Nobel Peace Laureates, the portfolio promotes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and hopes to empower participating artists as well as creating resources for human rights educational projects.
Thirty articles from the UDHR were the departure point for thirty artists from countries with poor human rights records such as China, Iran and Tibet. Whilst some artists have transcribed human rights violations quite literally, many artists have taken the abstract language of art itself as epitomising freedom. Phillipa Hobbes, in her catalogue essay, acutely points out that the printmakers vocabulary of 'pressure', 'trial', 'proof', 'resist' embodies the language of sacrifice needed to assure democracy. This language of abstraction in the hands of many artists with a keen sense of community involvement, coming as they do from a non-western background, operates in a fashion contrary to western modernism. Modernism lacked a sense of social responsibility whereas here abstraction begins to infuse itself with a purpose that moves beyond the purely aesthetic.
The most interesting prints, however, are those which, instead of trying to reflect the broad nature of human rights abuse, take on specific topics such as gender issues. Egyptian artist Amira Wasfy, unable to gain a passport without her husband's written permission, links both Egypt's past, and its powerful goddess figures, with its present in her work entitled The Veiling of Isis. Jaleh Gitiforoz of Iran, presents a lyrical fingerprint, its whorls composed of text which refers to 14th century Islamic laws which regulate every aspect of women's lives to this day. Such prints and others like them produce a sense of private struggle within a greater context.
Supported by a catalogue conceived to help human rights education programmes and a portfolio box that professionally packs the product the UDHR International Print Portfolio is well worth a visit.
On view at the Durban Art Gallery until 20 January 2000
Postscript: A project such as the International Print Portfolio serves many political and human needs as well as providing an international arena (given the locations it will be touring to) in which to express them. It is sad therefore to think that our government is consistently closing down art institutions, presumably regarding art as a luxury with little to offer a broader society, and that UDW Fine Art Department, one of the collaborators on this project, will suffer this very fate.
Sam Alex is the pseudonym of a Durban artist
Kendell Geers and Bili Bidjocka
Heart of Darkness (1997)
Mixed media installation
Photo by: Michael Hall
'Artery' at the SANG
By Sue Williamson
'Africa is not for sissies' reads the headline of an article in the current issue of Style magazine. It is a theme which has been reiterated over the years by writers, artists and filmmakers all over the continent, most powerfully perhaps in Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness, a classic set book in which civilisation is left behind in a river journey which takes the reader deeper and deeper into hell. It was to this book director Francis Ford Coppola turned to make his allegory of the Vietnam war, Apocalypse Now, in 1979, starring Marlon Brando as Col. Kurtz, the gung-ho American military leader turned warlord who meets his death in the jungle. And it is these two sources which inform Kendell Geers' and Bili Bidjocka's installation The Heart of Darkness, now on at the South African National Gallery as part of the 'Artery' group of exhibitions.
Snaking like jungle vines over the floor, partially obscuring the images on the video monitors, white cables link a dozen monitors, set on top of each other, some sideways some upside down, mirroring the craziness of Kurtz's riverside lair. The room is darkened, the strongest light and visual heat emanating from the screens of the monitors, which picture a closeup image of Kurtz on his death bed, mouthing over and over again his final words, whispered so sibilantly it is hard to distinguish them, "The horror, the horror". A second image is taken from Nicholas Roeg's film The Heart of Darkness. From time to time, a bell tolls. Floating above these monitors are elongated garments of clear vinyl, each housing a small lit bulb. Made by Bili Bidjocka, the artist has explained that these 'dresses' symbolise survivors, but their hanging forms also suggest the mosquito nets by which the colonialists sought to protect themselves from at least one of Africa's scourges.
What are we to understand from this powerful display, this vision of agony? That far from being on the brink of a rennaissance, the starkness of Conrad's black vision of Africa has equal resonance today? Geers' scorching view that corruption is endemic and terminal has never been articulated more forcefully.
Details of 'Wrap the World' test runs
mixed media on fax paper
Apart from the hitch of a non-functioning web cam (thank you, Telkom!) which effectively prevented South Africa from visually linking up with other venues across the globe, the Johannesburg leg of the Glasgow-initiated 'Wrap the World' global fax art project went off smoothly. The project, billed as a global millennium event, endeavoured to 'wrap' the world in a 100 foot long collaborative fax drawing involving artists in 5 different global locations and time zones. Test runs carried out prior to the event are up in the Photo Gallery and main space and are worth a quick viewing . Projects of this nature, which rely on a certain amount of spontaneity, are almost predestined to become targets of the best toilet or school desk graffiti-humour, but curator Stephen Hobbs managed to contain this to produce something which he describes as " a quite extraordinary, almost scaled down version of a graffiti wall." The collaboration between young artists Robin Rhode and Usha Prajapat proved very successful, with mark-making possibilities extended into new territories. The test pages provide amusing moments which bear testimony to the spirit of it all: Hobbs gives us Mooi Loop Vok Voort - Local Language while someone else proclaims the benefits of Dan's Car Wash. The long narrow format of the fax paper gives rise to marks resembling spoor and ECG traces, and sections of narrative run in a horizontal linear fashion. What emerges is a definite sense of self and place.
The Johannesburg event attracted some 40 interested people and a BBC crew fed brief live footage from each venue around the globe to BBC World. And the project as a whole achieved everything it set out to do, including the human link up where a child took up the two ends of the drawing when it returned, complete, to Glasgow. This may mark the beginning of a true global art phenomenon, using modest equipment (ordinary fax machines) and excellent logistical planning.
Market Theatre Galleries, First floor, Market Theatre complex, corner Bree and Wolhuter streets, Newtown
calendar and colour photographs
'Democracy's Images' at JAG
By Kathryn Smith
'Democracy's Images: Photography and Visual Art after Apartheid' tells tales about life during the euphoric embrace of democracy, and traces the dwindling of that euphoria in the harsh light of reality. After a record five-venue run in Sweden during which some 36 000 visitors saw this show, it has come to the Johannesburg Art Gallery to grace disturbingly empty halls. The opening at the Bildmuseet in Ume�, Sweden saw 1000 people beating down the doors. The Johannesburg opening was lucky to draw 100, all of whom had a vested interest in the show one way or the other, either as curators, artists, critics, staff of JAG, members of the Sweden South Africa Partnership program, or token provincial government dignitaries.
The title of the show would suggest a body of work that is representative of the current state of the art - and not just 'art' with a capital A, but photography too. The show reads as a who's who of the contemporary South African art family with germane examples selected from dozens of possibilities. The selection of artists is textbook-perfect and some of the works, important as they are, are familiar to the point of being tiresome to the local eye. The inclusion of documentary photographers Jodi Bieber, Ruth Motau and Cedric Nunn (of the Market Theatre Photo Workshop) is refreshing.
But I don't believe it was a curatorial intention to spice up the lives of avid art watchers here. This show was loosely conceptualised in 1986, when Bildmuseet curator Katarina Pierre was volunteering at the Vukani Association in KwaZulu Natal. Although clearly curated for an overseas audience, with Pierre's local experience and the involvement of South African scholar and curator Rory Bester, it is saved from becoming one of those dreaded 'survey' shows currently under the spotlight. But only just.
Certain works reveal subject positions stripped of all idealism, and in some cases, even optimism. Jodi Bieber's Kom Blom Met Ons (Come Hang Out with Us) (1996) enforces a confrontation with gang life in Westbury, while Senzeni Marasela's sandblasted mirrors reflect one's own image behind extracts from Herman Charles Bosman's Makapan's Cave. These are counterbalanced in the show by wry humour (Joachim Schonfeldt's Calendar, Tracey Rose's Sticks and Stones and Jean Brundrit's Does Your Lifestyle Depress Your Mother?) and a truly evocative installation (Kay Hassan's Egoli (the City of Gold)). All these works are self-possessed and uncompromising. For this, the show deserves praise.
In her opening address, Pierre raised the issue of the predicted shift in the context of and impetus behind making images now that the apartheid 'struggle' is over, at least on paper anyway. What issues concern artists and social watchers now? This is one aspect of South Africa's fraught historical-present that this show attempts to elucidate. From the works presented here, it seems that while the fundamental issues inevitably carry over (and will continue to do so for a very long time), the manner in which they are presented is being treated with an increasingly cogent ambivalence. 'Democracy's Images' is the kind of show that should have wide general appeal: the curatorial team has managed to balance the so-called 'cutting edge' with more accessible works, without relinquishing a hold on quality. However, while one realises the importance of this show being seen in the context of a museum, the central city location of the venue is problematical. There is little hope of any average middle-class, sedan-driving white family venturing into the bowels of troubled Jozi to view the work. And this is a pity, because 'Democracy's Images' is an important and timeous exhibition.
Ends 15 March 2000
After its Johannesburg run. 'Democracy's Images' continues its European tour in venues in the U.K. and Finland.
Gallery Hours: Tuesday - Sunday 10.00 - 17.00
'Babel' babble: 70 artists at the Johannesburg Civic
By Kathryn Smith
Cell phones have infiltrated every aspect of our lives to the extent that they are considered no longer a luxury but a necessity, a status symbol that is equally disposable and desirable. For 'Babel', 70 artists were required to select several cell phone accessories (pouches) each and come up with an interpretation. The work is loosely arranged according to four themes: sex and violence, communication, fetish objects and finally, pieces from artists who chose to work directly with the object, whether physically or metaphorically. The quality ranges from the excellent to the predictable. Advertising pay-off lines and product branding come under fire in Wim Botha's Make Yourself Hurt and Isabel Rea's Eric's Son. Merryn Singer and Natasha Christopher create the sublime out of the "cor, blimey" with Blood Cell and Confessional respectively; and Frikkie Eksteen's Earwig and Walter Oltmann's Cricket allude to the irritation-potential and love-hate relationship we have with cellphones. Anton Kannemeyer's Untitled reworks a cartoon from a New Yorker original, painting his version on the back of the packaging for an Ericsson carrying case. A tangerine-suited manifestation of his alter ego, Joe Dog, barks down the phone, "No, Thursday's out. How about never? Is never good for you?" Enough said.
After Dave Beasley, chairman of the MTN Art Institute opened the show, Steven Cohen and Elu treated us to a new version of Cohen's Taste performance called Calling Elu. Cohen demonstrated his uncanny ability to break through any comfort zones or safety nets we may construct by directly confronting his accusers and admirers on the issue of 'bad taste': wearing the front half of a black evening dress, purple wig, racoon tail and latex balaclava, he performed to death threats received on his home answering machine and drank a perverse toast with Elu, quite literally consuming his own excesses. Any reservations the FNB Vita may have of Cohen's ability for 'bad taste' performance work were internalised, ejected and devoured again by the artist himself. It was stunning, and quite fittingly, left the audience speechless.
'Babel Tower' is a must-see, especially if you are having trouble Christmas shopping. Featuring work from most of Gauteng's most exciting young and established artists, some work is ridiculously cheap (where else can you buy an Oltmann original for R500?).
If you're even vaguely considering a post-millennium-madness excursion into the countryside, Nieu Bethesda might be the place to head for. A major attraction: its Ibis Art Centre is playing host to 'The New Linoleum', a series of mixed-media installations by Christine Dixie, Jacobus Kloppers, Clementina van der Walt, and Mark Wilby. What binds the show is a sense of nostalgia; a taking stock, a looking forward and backward, as well as a shared attachment to the small town of Nieu Bethesda.
For Christine Dixie, "Today the envisaged empires of both the British and the Afrikaner are like derailed carriages stranded in time." Her contribution, tracks, conjures up memories of what once was South Africa's primary source of transport, the railway. She raids retired railway carriages for their Imperialistic and Nationalistic insignia- blue SARS paper, rubbings from British Rail plaques, and the engraved profile of the Springbok - which serve as signifiers of South Africa's stormy past. Her Springbok Landscape series of colour photographs are static landscapes taken through the engraved windows of old carriages. What is significant is that although the train is stationary the engraved Springbok head changes in illustrative style in each image, creating the illusion of the passing of time or movement.
In another series, Dixie has cleverly drawn the outline of a coin (magnified) on the wall, over which hang several carriage windows. Into these are engraved the profiles of Paul Kruger, Queen Victoria, the Crown Lion, and the Sprinkbok respectively; each falling within the coin outline on the wall behind, throwing a shadow of the engraved image within the confines of the illustrated coin
Jacobus Kloppers' work fraksies is about the road as landscape. The pieces on show appear to be an attempt to imitate strips of road, complete with road markings, in order to give the impression of well-worn tarmac chopped out of the ground and pasted into a gallery context. Kloppers notes, that the works are intended to remind one of "those non-places and non-moments of deserted picnic spots next to the national road� Being in transit".
The exhibit of Clementina van der Walt entitled Impermanence is inspired by an anthology of poetry by the Nigerian Poet Ben Okri. It consists of a series of mixed media images constructed from photographs taken in the Owl House and the region of Nieu Bethesda.
Mark Wilby's work tomorrow night� looks at the emotions and associations generated by the twin notions of expired technologies, "comic tinkerings of past advancement", and what he sees as an "unfounded optimism in tomorrow's technologies". The installation consists of found objects of outdated technologies, blue-prints, analytical sketches, x-rays, and an imposing sculpture made primarily of lead. An old-fashioned doctor's bag (made from lead and a x-ray plate) stands beside a standing, bodiless figure dressed in an apron, trousers and lace-up shoes. In these works, Wilby analyses technology in an effort to come to some sort of disclosure on what he terms "the diagnoses of unease", to find an answer to the question, "tomorrow night� will you say those lovely things you said tonight?".
So, if you're keen for a quiet weekend away and some cultural nourishment, inch your way across to the new linoleum. Definitely worth the 800-odd km (from Cape Town or Joburg) trek to get there.
The show runs until 22 January.
Ibis Art Centre, Nieu Bethesda
The 1999 Carnegie International is the 53rd installment in this institution's historic tradition of being the so-called "arbiter" of contemporary art (to use curator Madeleine Grynsztejn's words). Reading about the history of this exhibition, I was impressed to find that past jurors include Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Pierre Bonnard, Thomas Eakins, and Marcel Duchamp, to name a few. Members of the 1999 Carnegie International Advisory Committee included Okwui Enwezor, Artistic Director of Documenta, Kassel, Germany; Susanne Ghez, Director of The Renaissance Society, University of Chicago; and Lars Nittve, Director of the Tate Gallery of Modern Art, London.
The exhibition inhabits two floors of the museum and includes works by 41 artists from 22 countries. According to Grynsztejn the exhibition asks, "What constitutes the real?" in an analogous fashion to nineteenth-century Realists such as Courbet. The "realists" of this exhibition use a diverse range of media and varied visual vocabularies in an effort to articulate preoccupations with the real. Grynsztejn groups their different approaches into three categories: art that involves the viewer through interactive works that use time, sound, smell, and movement as evidence of their commitment to the real (Janet Cardiff, Ernesto Neto and Gabriel Orozco); art that mirrors reality through obsessive fabrications (Matthew Barney, Bodys Isek Kingelez, and Martin Kippenberger); and artists that explore the slippage between reality and fiction (Sam Taylor-Wood, Kerry James Marshall, and Pierre Huyghe).
The exhibition was a visual treat. The works inhabit their respective spaces naturally and are spaced in such a way that creates a comfortable pace and rhythm. In addition, the exhibition is cleverly curated. Grynsztejn juxtaposes playful works, such as Ernesto Neto's interactive Nude Plasmic, that invites visitors into its ethereal, web-like interior, with John Currin's sensualized paintings of women that look as if they have stepped off of a Northern Renaissance canvas.
One highlight of the show was Kendell Geers' installation piece Poetic Justice. Reflecting on the theme of the exhibition while walking through Mr. Geers' piece one is confronted with a very unsettling vision of reality. Placed in a walkspace and in front of John White Alexander's mural The Crowning of Labor (a nineteenth-century image created when Pittsburgh was known as a culturally and economically vibrant steel town), Geers' space is framed by a metal scaffold structure, wires, cables, and numerous television monitors. This piece immediately commands the visitor's attention as it mixes images of torture (including a clip from the film Conspiracy Theory showing Mel Gibson's eyes artificially pinned open as he is tortured) and imprisonment (a character with a bag over his head thrashes about helplessly). These images loop continuously and flash across the screens effectively stunning viewers. Perhaps the "poetic justice" in this piece is the fact that Mr. Geers' installation provides discomfort and sensations of dis-ease to the viewer while commenting on the popularity and marketing of these images in today's popular culture. Geers has carefully chosen images that one cannot easily forget, even after leaving the space. The placement of Poetic Justice in front of Alexander's mural provides an additional critique on images of the powerful and the powerless and cultural methods used to desensitize these images through slick packaging and selective editing.
Another powerful piece in the show is Nahum Tevet's A Page from a Catalogue. A small square space has been neatly packed with geometric structures resembling office furniture pieces that have not found their mates. As one walks around the periphery of A Page one gains a sense that the artist has carefully laid out this chaotic array in an effort to convey an important message. One summation of this piece is an ordered chaos of interesting diaphanous zones and diagonal vistas that can be found as one peers through the openings of this construction.
Moving further into the exhibition, Ann Hamilton's welle seemed a little out of place in this exhibition. From a distance, Hamilton's piece looks like a blank white wall. Yet upon closer examination, one can see water beads cascading down the wall. It is evident that she is playing with architectural structures and space as metaphors for the human body, but the work's effectiveness is hampered by the cones that have been set out in an effort to prevent visitors from slipping on the water as it pools up on the ground
As a New Yorker all too familiar with the 'Sensation' surrounding Chris Ofili, I found the installation of his works at the Carnegie to be far more successful than those at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and Gavin Brown's Enterprise in Chelsea. The space at the Carnegie is open, with high ceilings, and shows Ofili's works in a setting that allows the viewer room to stand back and appreciate the beauty of the surfaces. Working in a "pointilistic" manner that recalls Australian aboriginal art, Ofili's surfaces shimmer with sequin-like media and glossy surfaces. One has to wonder if New York's recent controversy over Ofili's use of elephant dung would have taken place if viewed in the Carnegie context.
William Kentridge's film Stereoscope was declared winner of the 1999 Carnegie prize. The film is the end product of numerous charcoal drawings that have been modified, erased, and reworked into frames for projection. Stereoscope references his South African context but also deals with issues and concerns seemingly local though pertinent to each venue and every audience. Perhaps it is the multivalency and artistic virtuosity of Stereoscope that set his work apart from the other entries. To be sure, Kentridge is framing this vision of "reality" in a manner that doesn't merely reinvent the wheel. Works like Stereoscope break new ground through the blending of stereoscopic (or three-dimensional) images, use of esoteric metaphors, the inclusion of a powerful musical score, and the visual chronicling and critique of power and instability in an increasingly complex world.
Accompanied by a two-volume catalogue that includes cutting-edge scholarship by authors such as Madeleine Grynsztejn, Jonathan Crary, Jean Fisher, Saskia Sassen, Slavoj �i�ek, and Alyson Baker, the 'Carnegie International' is a notable exhibition for purveyors of contemporary art. On show is a diverse range of artistic productions available for ocular delight, and intellectual investigation, providing insight into issues of multicultural globalism that are accessible "realities" to everyone.
The 'Carnegie International' can be seen at The Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania until March 26, 2000.
- Laurie Farrell is an Associate Curator at the Museum for African Art, New York.