Archive: Issue No. 34, June 2000

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Gregg Smith
The Lovephones - true stories of love from Cape Town

Venice Bienale

Gregg Smith
The Lovephones - true stories of love from Cape Town

Art tabloid hits streets

A new tabloid newspaper that looks at South African cities from the viewpoint of art and culture hits the streets on Saturday morning, July 1 in a choreographed production around major Johannesburg shopping centres. In Cape Town, Public Eye will be dropping off copies at selected outlets like trendy bars and galleries.

To be given out free of charge, the pilot edition of RETREKS: UNTITLED BLURB, reveals cities as interesting cultural phenomena, and has been endorsed by the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban are explored in this first edition, and later issues will focus on other South African cities.

"The aim of this newspaper is not only to document the density of art and cultural activity, but also to employ art - in its broadest sense - as a means of publicly visualising the experience of our cities," says the newspaper's overall editor, visual artist Rodney Place. "Cities, like literacy, education and the means of production, are fundamental to the development of the public integration we call modern democracy and should surely warrant a focusing device.

"It is the aim of RETREKS: UNTITLED BLURB to let each city both speak and visualise for itself and to use the publication to begin the process of revealing - warts and all - the nature of each city's cultural density and future, and to do this through the imaginative techniques of art."

Visual artists have been involved in putting the 16-page tabloid newspaper together. The section on Johannesburg was edited by artist Steven Hobbs, gallery director of the Market Theatre Galleries and written by freelance journalist Boetie Tsepho Damane. Durban was explored by Carol Brown, director of the Durban Art Gallery, and Cape Town is seen through a double page spread on an exhibition entitled 'Lovephones', produced by artist and photographer Gregg Smith, under the auspices of RETREKS Cape Town editor Robert Weinek for Public Eye - an arts organisation concerned with public art issues.

For further information, please contact the producers of RETREKS, ZAR Works, (011) 614-6841 fax (011) 614-0916 or email:

Venice Bienale

At the launch in Dakar of 'Africa in Venice'
(L-R) Ibrahim El Salah, Emma Bedford, Olu Oguibe, Salah Hassan, Koyo Kouoh

New body will promote African artists in Venice.

Long neglected as a continent at the Venice Biennale, Africa will receive new support from a body which will assume the responsibility of strengthening and sustaining the participation of African artists in this, the oldest of the international Biennales. The Forum for African Arts, with a board consisting of prominent African and international curators, art critics, artists, and scholars, will assume the responsibility of soliciting quality proposals and appointing curators for exhibitions of contemporary African art in future Venice Biennales. For the next Biennale, the 49th, to be held in June 2001, the Forum will serve as an advisory board for the proposed exhibition, 'Authentic/Ex-centric: Africa in and out of Africa'.

This show will be jointly curated by Salah Hassan and Olu Oguibe with Emma Bedford as associate curator, and will feature the work of several prominent contemporary African artists who have been working within a conceptualist mode in painting, sculpture, photography, video and multi-media installations. A scholarly book will be produced as a companion to the exhibition, and will include three commissioned essays chronicling as well as analyzing the conceptualist trends within contemporary African art practice, in addition to essays dedicated to discussing the work of the participating artists.

These will seek to articulate the reality of contemporary African art practice as an internationalist project which is connected to global modernism and post-modernism as well as how it relates to specific African experiences. Within the context of the proposed exhibition, a series of commissioned site specific installations executed by some of the participating artists will address as well as problematise the African presence in Venice, and by extension the African presence in Europe. The word 'Authentic' in the exhibition's title, metaphorically refers to the African artists' responses to ethnographic misrepresentation of African art and the objectifying methodology of Western discourse in relation to African and other non-Western culture, while 'Ex-centric' embodies the realities of identity politics, and issues of marginalisation or otherisation which African artists continue to encounter on a daily basis within their diasporic experiences in and out of Africa.

Project Directors:

Salah Hassan
Olu Oguibe

Members of the Board:

Florence Alexis: Visual Arts Director, Afrique en Créations, Paris
El Anatsui: Artist, Head, Dept. of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria
Ibrahim El Salahi: Distinguished Artist, Oxford, UK, Sudan
Okwui Enwezor: Artistic Director, Documenta XI, Kassel, Germany
Salah Hassan: Project Director, Professor, Cornell University
Koyo Kouoh: Coordinator, Cultural Programs, Goree Institute, Senegal
Marilyn Martin: Director, South African National Gallery, Cape Town
Tumelo Mosaka: Independent Curator, Bard Curatorial Program, New York Olu Oguibe Project Director, Independent Curator Gilane Tawadros Director, Institute for International Visual Arts, London Obiora Udechukwu Artist, Distinguished Professor, St. Lawrence University, Canton


One of the 1000's of DPICT magazine covers printed featuring a work by Tracy Gander


A sampling of DPICT covers

Magazine Covers First
by Tracy Gander

"Your 15 Minutes Start Now!" were the opening words for an ad for a magazine cover competition organised by the respected UK photography publication Creative Camera. The winner was said to get "their face on the first cover of 2000". Any wannabe up-and-coming photographers dream.

By the time I read the call for entries in October's edition of Artthrob, I had almost missed the boat- I furiously scanned and retouched four images of my friends from my "babes" series, burnt them to disc and wormed them into my uncle's suitcase packed and ready for his return to the UK. Then nothing, not a word.
Trundling off to the post-office to collect what I thought was my monthly payslip, I received somewhat of a shock. "Surprise, vanity, fame�" in a single parcel. What I had picked up were four issues of DPICT, a new magazine by Creative Camera's editorial and design team, with MY pictures on the cover! Before that moment I had no idea what DPICT was, all I had to go on was the small Creative Camera logo on the cover and the fact that the images on the cover were those that I had entered into the cover competition almost six months ago.

As a pull-out in the magazine suggests, "Do you feel lucky? Flattered? Famous?�" a similar repertoire of emotions and thoughts passed through me. Then confusion set in. What were my photographs doing on the cover of this magazine? A magazine I had never heard of before?

Indeed, secrecy was a primary strategy of the team heading up the launch of DPICT, a bimonthly magazine about camera culture. A "cover competition" was invented in order to persuade people to send in portraits without telling them what it was for, and hundreds of people unwittingly became cover stars- "literally hundreds of people from around the world� sent in portraits in good faith". DPICT, with the help of the IBM Infoprint Color 100, "a wide web fed, full colour digital press" that "utilises sophisticated database technology to permit data� to be output in infinite permutations", printed over 4500 personalised covers, each sent to their respective creators.

The team are waiting for the Guinness Book of Records to confirm that DPICT have succeeded in printing more individual covers than any magazine. But they are quick to add that your picture made the cover of your copy of the magazine only. In other words your picture won't feature on thousands of covers in circulation.

Images for this project were commissioned (the portraits were taken with the subjects consent but with all details tactfully withheld), donated (by mischievous work collegues), or entered as part of the hoax competition. They span an "entire spectrum of possible portrait styles," from the official promotional portrait, arty portraits and self-stagings, to spontaneous social snapshots.

Their focus on this new generation of digital press was a conscious effort to "make an impact on print journalism by hinting at its future- to make a cultural magazine that is genuinely pro-active and� political", and by "political" they refer to the "politics of privacy". They admit that by gathering images in secrecy, then publishing them they "were treading the thin line separating a bit of fun from an intrusion, risking the accusation of perpetrating the very transgression (they) hoped to address constructively".

DPICT wanted their project to "startle and amuse", and looking at their top 180 pics and considering my own surprised and confused response on receipt of my copy, I'd say that they succeeded fabulously.

My only criticism would be the over-glossy quality of the digital cover itself, and the fact that the only mag with MY cover is the one I already have. Like your typical ego-maniac designer type, I was disappointed by the fact that my cover did not make it onto YOUR copy.

South Africans selected for China sculpture symposium

Publicity about an International Sculpture Symposium in the Chinese city of Changchun in the Exchange section of ArtThrob earlier this year has brought a letter of thanks from the Chinese Cultural Office for the high level of interest and number of entries it generated.

Two artists from South Africa have been selected. Stavros Georgiades from Durban and Theo Megaw from the Eastern Cape will take part in the 4th China Changchun International Sculpture Symposium from July 15th to September 10th. The Embassy is arranging their tour to China.

Artist and ArtThrob Feedback Editor Paul Edmunds writes from Mauritius, where he is currently conducting craft workshops.

Mauritius is more 'make do' than 'make a plan'. While this might be expected of a tropical island in the Indian Ocean, it can be more mess then man�na. This densely populated ex-Dutch, ex-French, ex-English colony strains its resources, caught between luxury goods from France and Australia, cheap Chinese imports and very limited local resources. Unfortunately all of this imported stuff has to end up somewhere, and even if it was a landfill, it wouldn't be ideal for a country the size of greater Cape Town. One of the reasons I am here is try and take some of this trash and teach people to do something creative (responsible?) with it.

I am here at the invitation of the Craft Academy, an NGO that offers short courses in anything from flower arranging to pottery, painting and sculpture. The financially strained organisation has two small premises in Quatre Bornes, about 12 kms from the capital Port Louis. Pat Enouf, an ex-South African, runs this rather energetic and important little venture. Regularly she invites South Africans here to come and teach courses in fields in which the island has no expertise. She covers their costs and pays them with a stay of a few days at one of the island's luxury hotels. She does this by maintaining a relationship with the hotel whereby her company, GEM Ceramics, provides them with crockery and regularly hosts pottery displays for the pampered guests who are tired of watersports.

If all this sounds rather jaded, it's not to imply that Mauritius is without its charm and success stories. I love the vigorous tropical growth which always bounces back and never succumbs to encroaching urban decay; the numerous palms, paw paws, hibiscus plants and bamboo hedges. The Mascarene versions of familiar birds like finches, bulbuls, doves and white-eyes all have a fresh paintjob. The surrounding coral reef and its resident fish population can only be described inadequately. The people are a mix of Indian, Creole, Chinese and French. Indians, particularly Hindus, form the largest part and are interminably dominant in the democracy. This does cause some friction with the other groups who are only further insensed by the current government who are widely held as being corrupt and inefficient. This tension spilled over into the recent riots which accompanied the death, at the hands of the police, of Creole reggae singer Kaya which is still fresh in the minds of the populace (this is a story of great political intrigue and must be told to you by an islander). At other levels, cultures seem to mix fairly well and I have felt the people to be incredibly warm and soft-mannered. Even commerce is conducted in a soft-spoken, rosy kind of way. Creole, the lingua franca, is a mixture of French vocab and English grammar. This might be easy to learn if you have a firm grasp on only one of the former languages, but if you are fluent in English and dodgy in French like me, it proves tricky. After battling so hard with French, my mind is unwilling to let go of the delicacy of its pronounciation and the intricacy of its grammar. Written almost phonetically, Creole looks like the sleevenotes of a Boo! Album.

It's ironic that many of the waste materials we are using in the workshops I am running are of considerable value in South Africa but are free here because there are no facilities for recycling them. Corrugated cardboard, copper wire and aluminum cans are gratis, whereas back home they are the currency of the homeless and entrepreneurial. It's also ironic that a buckling economy sits on top of all this potential wealth, mostly imported with enormous taxation, from other places. I haven't seen many examples of the charming and innovative re-use of materials and resources that so often characterises developing economies. There are baskets woven from used and new plastic packaging tape. These come in an infinite variety of sizes, including the small lunch box version complete with lid and handle. Such baskets dangle from the handlebars of the bicycles, mopeds and motorbikes which are the transport of the masses. Pat Enouf laments the lack of creativity and puts it down to people's lack of confidence, and the fairly rigidly structured social roles which characterise many of the countrys' societies. The mission of the Craft Academy is to nurture creative potential and confidence in anyone who takes a course here. I have found the students fairly unwilling to take chances but incredibly eager to just do anything, to learn something new. Predictably many of the courses' participants are privileged, but many are schoolteachers and plans are underway for an outreach programme. The Academy encounters support as well as indignation from people here. The courses are always well-booked and there are many benefactors to the institution but there is also the 'What can Madame Anglaise achieve with foreign teachers that we can't do ourselves?' line of thinking.

I have thought a lot about the reality of being on an island and how it can be seen as a microcosm of life on earth. Every resource we require or consume has to come from somewhere and it will always end up somewhere else. On such a small island this is really in-your-face. In other countries and on other landmasses this is not so apparent, the distance between our front and back gardens is much greater and the transition from one to the other smoother. Ultimately what one has to do is make sure that our consumption and organisation is such that it is most beneficial to all and remember that, although the front and back are apparently separate, it is all the same garden.


The new monograph on Wayne Barker

French Institute launches new catalogue series on South African artists

It has been a fact much lamented in the art world that the South African scene has always suffered from a serious lack of documentation. It has been almost impossible for interested people to gather information about any one artist, however well established, in any kind of depth. This situation is slowly changing. The Goodman Gallery recently published a handsome volume on Norman Catherine. And when Wayne Barker's monograph is launched at the opening of his show at the NSA Gallery in Durban on June 4, (see Listings) it will mark the successful beginning of an important new programme to publish a series of monographs on South African artists initiated and produced by the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), in collaboration with the Arts Council of Switzerland, the MTN Art Institute and Chalkham Hill Press.

The process of compiling this new series of catalogues was initiated by the French Institute in order to contribute to the discourse around contemporary South African art production. Various partners have been brought together in a large-scale publishing project. Catherine Blondeau, director of the French Institute of South Africa, states that "the result of this process and collaboration will be a collection of books that will celebrate the practice of contemporary artists and participate in the promotion and explanation of SA contemporary artists both locally and internationally". The collection will address professionals, galleries, critics and all art lovers. In addition an educational brochure will accompany each monograph, aimed at learners and art educators, contributing to the expansion of the art education curriculum in South Africa.

The Wayne Barker monograph, for instance, will carry a comprehensive text on the artist's life and work, and includes contributions by, amongst others, Professor Alan Crump and Charl Blignaut. Assisted by Barker's close collaboration and willingness to "accomplish, with this monograph, a fusion of real life and object making" the result is a book unique in style.

A nationally representative, independent committee has been established to assist with the definition of formats and artists to be in included in future publications. They are Carol Brown (Durban Art Gallery), Robert Weinek (Public Eye, Cape Town), Stephen Hobbs (Market Theatre Galleries, Johannesburg), Senzeni Maresela (Wits University Fine Arts Department, Johannesburg), and Zayd Minty (One City Festival, Cape Town).

The aim is to publish between two to four books a year. The series will be distributed through Exclusive Books outlets.

More information: French Institute of South Africa. Email
Tel: (011)836-0561




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