Archive: Issue No. 33, May 2000

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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

Berni Searle

Berni Searle
Red, Yellow, Brown: Face to Face May 2000
From the 'Colour Me 'series
Installation view, Dak'Art 2000 Biennale

Berni Searle wins award at Dakar

A UNESCO prizewinner at the 1998 Cairo Biennale, Cape Town artist Berni Searle has once again carried off the honours, receiving second prize at the Dak'Art 2000 Biennale which opened earlier this month in Senegal. Searle was given the Minister of Culture's Prix Revelation, given to an emerging artist, and bringing with it an award of R20,000.

As at Cairo, Searle's piece was from her powerful 'Colour Me' series, in which raw spices and photographs of the artist smothered in more of the spices allow viewers to draw the own conclusions about race, gender and the effects of history on identity. In Dakar, despite considerable difficulties in actually installing the piece as it was intended to be, Searle hung eighteen of these three metre high digital images from the ceiling to form six open-sided booths or cubicles, the floors of which were covered in spices. The title of the piece is Red, Yellow, Brown: face to face.

Searle is the subject of the ArtThrob artbio this month, a feature on an artist currently in the public eye.


Hotal Savana, Dakar

Gorée Island

Gorée Island


Curio "installation" on the streets of Dakar


On the boat to Goree Island
(L-R) Bili Bidjocka, Olu Oguibe, Okwui Enwezor and Ibrahim el Saldhi


The 'door of no return' in the Slave House on Goree Island


' The mosque that fell to earth'


Lunch at the Goree Institute


Installation view of 'Enfants de Nuit'
Produced by Wan-Kennen-Ki, an association of Sengalese artists working with street children.


Bili Bidjocka and Hamza Walker


Bili Bidjocka on the shore opposite the Island of Ngor.

South African National Gallery curator Emma Bedford gives a day-by-day account of Dak/Art 2000 in Senegal

Thursday, May 4 2000

All roads may lead to Rome but very few planes lead to Dakar. And those that do, fly a long and circuitous route. In fact, David Elliott, President of the DAK'ART 2000 Selection Committee and Jury, points out that it takes longer to fly from Cape Town to Dakar than it does to fly to Paris or London. The flight from Cape Town to Dakar via Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Abidjan and Bamako took about 20 hours. Fortunately I have good company in the form of Kay Hassan and Dominique Fontaine, a member of the DAK'ART 98 jury and one of the many Canadian interns working in South Africa as part of the Montreal-based Open City Productions programme.

Friday, May 5

We arrive in Dakar at midnight, 2 hours after the scheduled time, tired and stiff but happy to be met by a reception committee of debutantes clothed in spectacular textiles. Amongst them is Marilyn Martin, SA National Gallery Director, DAK'ART juror and intrepid traveler, equally colourfully dressed. Why? All her and Berni Searle's luggage, including materials and equipment needed for the installation, has been lost in transit since their leaving Cape Town on 2 May. So, with instructions from Berni to find a black bag laden with spices, we lug baggage on and off the conveyor. My ever solicitous hospitality host Rassoul Seydi is so tired that he nods off en route to my hotel, waking momentarily to point out sites along the way. Eventually we reach the Savana at 2 am and I collapse into a welcoming bed.

A few hours later we are at the official opening ceremony, which includes everything from traditional drummers to a military band ushering in the newly elected President Wade. We are blown away as Berni Searle scoops the lucrative second prize again (after the Cairo Biennale in 1998). Endless speeches ensue before we escape to the vernisage of the International Exhibition of Contemporary Art at IFAN on the Place Soweto where Kevin Brand's Hector Petersen remains as a grim reminder of South Africa's past.

In the late afternoon we launch the Africa in Venice project, an initiative to ensure the future participation of Africa in the Venice Biennale. The Project Leaders and Curators, Salah Hassan and Olu Oguibe introduce the panel, including myself as Associate Curator and the Board members who are in Dakar - Okwui Enwezor, Koyo Kouoh, Ibrahim el Salahi and Marilyn Martin. The project is outlined and questions fielded from the floor before we break for drinks. It's a relief to settle down to a quiet dinner with Harald Szeeman, Director of the next Venice Biennale, to discuss how we will co-operate.

Saturday, May 6

We get the boat for Goree with Koyo, who is Co-ordinator of Cultural Programmes at the Goree Institute, where Okwui Enwezor and Ute Meta Bauer, one of his collaborators for Documenta, are presenting a seminar on curatorial practices. After being served baobab juice and cakes wrapped in origami-style papers we set off to explore the island, including the House of Slaves, one of the departure points from which the middle passage of the trans-Atlantic slave trade was operated.

Most of the visitors in our party are Africans, many of whom have been forced to leave the continent because of wars or untenable political situations. Coming to this place throws up some intense emotions. We all walk through that 'door of no return' through which slaves were forced onto waiting boats. Some want to capture that image, others to be photographed within its silhouette. I cannot escape feeling somewhat compromised by my white South African skin.

After viewing the Museum we are treated to a sumptuous lunch at the guest house of the Goree Institute before getting the boat back to the mainland. The vernisage at the National Galerie where the five solo shows are installed is very disappointing other than for Kay Hassan's ingenious installation and Bili Bidjocka's work which is not to be seen there but around various sites in Dakar.

We repair to the fabulous Niani Restaurant for dinner. Fabulous in that it resembles an enormous thatched Zulu hut floating on the water's edge. Okwui and I stroll along the boardwalk and he asks with interest after friends in South Africa, what young artists are up to and what programmes we are devising at the SA National Gallery. What a contrast to some of the dinner guests who decide to 'critique' the Africa in Venice project. I am stunned, somewhat naively I suppose, that the criticisms are coming not from strangers to Africa but from those with vested interests in African art. Remembering a Mandingko saying, 'Duniya mo le ti' meaning 'The world is just for helping each other', I think of the coterie of scorpions masquerading as critics and shudder. From the giddy heights of their critical distance I wonder how many would torpedo any African initiative rather than consider how they might support African artists.

I'm relieved when dinner is over and we escape to Thiosan, Youssou N'Dour's club. The great man isn't there but then I saw him less than a month ago in Cape Town and am happy to lose myself in dancing to the live sounds and watching the astonishing pelvic tilt competitions between the surrounding dancers. It's well after 3 when we stagger out to find a taxi home.

Sunday,May 7

I'm in serious need of a day of rest and this is it. Apart from the press conference and farewells to those who are leaving (the majority it would seem) I spend a quiet day writing and have, mercifully, an early night.

Monday, May 8

Expecting a solitary breakfast I'm amazed to hear my name called by none other than William Kentridge. He's here courtesy of Atelier Graphoui in Brussels to conduct an animation workshop with Senegalese artists and to screen and talk about his films. Ute and Adriano Pedrosa join us for breakfast which extends to cocktails on the terrace while Adriano tells me about the Sao Paolo Bienal which he is co-curating with a team including Ivo Mesquita, Barbara Vanderlinden, Cuauhtemoc Medina, Louise Neri and Lilian Tone. He is concerned that there has been no response from the officials to whom they wrote in South Africa and I promise to follow up and try to establish what is happening from our side.

We are waiting for Hamza Walker from the Renaissance Society in Chicago. Invited by the US State Department to attend the Biennale (along with Thomas McEvilley) he has all the resources of the American Cultural Centre at hand to facilitate his trip, including the services of a guide. The inevitable haggling over the taxi fare begins with the taxi drivers ranked outside the hotel. I have the feeling that I am a player is some ancient Graeco-African tragedy. The taxi drivers provide a chorus of high-pitched outrage and wild gesticulating while a large audience seated on the grassy bank watch impassively and discuss the odds.

Our first stop is at 'Enfants de Nuit', an exhibition produced by Man-Keneen-Ki, an association of Senegalese artists, under Kan-Si, who are working with street children. After this astonishing and disturbing experience it's a relief to indulge in some shopping. Back at the hotel William and I compare notes and prices on the exquisite textiles we have purchased before we set off with Hamza to see a group show by Senegalese artists at Niani Restaurant. A nightmarish taxi ride in unbelievable traffic ensures that we are late for The British Council opening of Godfried Donkor and Viyé Diba but we manage to catch the end of the event and watch the video footage of Senegalese wrestlers which Donkor uses in his work.

By the time we reach the fashion extravaganza with Fred Eboka and Marianne Fassler we are pretty exhausted and are happy to be mesmerised by Eboka's elegant designs and Fassler's funky fashions paraded by some of the sexiest women I've clapped eyes on in a while. William and others have downed some wonderful looking shwarmas called Le Marilyn (it's all in the wrap) and washed them down with huge drafts of local beer. I prefer the Yassa Poisson (grilled fish, crunchy rice and hot spicy onion sauce) which, astonishingly, is half the price of William's tiny bowl of melon and sorbet.

Tuesday, May 9

I meet Hamza on the terrace for breakfast. We talk about the origin of his name, which is that of the prophet Mohammed's uncle and the assumed name of his father. Conversation turns to African American (male) identity in the 1950s, Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam, Mustapha Maluka and eventually Moshekwa Langa, who has just completed a residency at the Renaissance Society in Chicago as part of a project called 'Cry of my Birth' (which included Siemon Allen and Ghada Amer, amongst others). Hamza is working on a comprehensive catalogue on Moshekwa, which is due in the fall. I tell him about our upcoming residencies with young South African artists and the catalogues we are planning.

The rest of the morning is spent in my room trying to lose this cold. I write, make calls about photodocumentation and set up interviews with artists. At three I stumble down to the terrace from where I can look at Goree and think about the bigger picture. Bili Bidjocka joins me and we set off to explore his work. He has planted flags around the island, the idea being that you 'take a cab and go for a ride' and wherever you encounter his flags with double lines, as in pause buttons, you pause. I sink my weary body into the (relative) comfort of the taxi and enjoy the privilege of having the artist guide me around Dakar. From the corniche to the 'Mosque that fell from the sky', past sports fields and to the beach where people gather to meet the fishing boats. From the sacred island of Ngor, to the working class district of Yof and the Biennale Village where El Hadj Sy with fellow artists is creating his Ecomuseum in exquisite traditional structures. We finish at VEMA just in time to catch the end of the Design Salon.

Wednesday,May 10

UN troops headed for Freetown via Dakar cause interminable flight delays which contribute to our being in transit for 27 hours on the way home. William however entertains us with stories of producing a documentary on Nelson Mandela's visit to Dakar in 1992 and shows us the outcome of the animation workshop on his digital video camera. I'm eternally grateful for the resourcefulness of artists and feel very privileged to have such opportunities of spending extraordinary time in their company.

Tate Modern

The massive Bankside Power Station has been converted into the Tate Modern.

Tate Modern

The museum under construction, October 1999

Tate Modern

The Turbine Hall, with its illuminated glass boxes.

Opening of the Tate Modern

Not since the opening of the Bilabo Guggenheim has the arrival of a new art museum on the international art scene generated as much excitement as the new Tate Modern in London. ArtThrob reprints an edited version of an account by Tom Lubbock.

God, the size of it. Whatever Tate Modern may be, it's more than just a gallery. It is an event. No other recent arts project has enjoyed such a triumphant campaign of pre-publicity. No other will have had its opening ceremony televised live on BBC1 in the middle of the morning, as if it were a great occasion of state, to be followed by more live coverage of its launch party later that evening. This happens on Thursday. On Friday it opens to the public, free of charge.

And what you find inside the giant, converted power-station on Bankside is recognisably a contemporary pleasure complex, a total shopping-scoffing-strolling environment, but one whose particular attraction is not rides, nor wildlife, nor ancient history, but modern art. There was a time when modern art was nobody's idea of fun. The lowbrows thought it was boring. The highbrows thought it was serious. But this is changing. This is an experience, a Modern Art Experience, impressive and exciting.

Entering the shockingly large and empty Turbine Hall, you may notice that no art except for one enormous work of art. This is a specially commissioned installation by the aged French-American sculptor, Louise Bourgeois: three house-high metal constructions, soaring Rapunzel-towers with gracefully, perilously spiralling fire-escape ladders snaking around them, and a platform at the top bristling with huge, concave shaving mirrors, which ring the ascended viewer in distorted reflections. These are solidly visionary pieces, but with a touch of fairground too.

Elsewhere on ground level, there's the largest gallery shop in Europe with a stock ranging from texts of radical critical theory to artist-designed fridge-magnets, a feast of sociological study. And for feasts proper, there are a selection of on-site eateries lodged around the gallery's seven tiers.

But to the exhibitions. There are three tiers of exhibition spaces, 85 separate galleries, arranged in webs of communicating rooms. There are punctuating lounges, where visitors can sit, leaf through the literature provided, gaze out over the river, or down into the Turbine Hall. There are videos showing in rooms as big as small cinemas.

And there are guiding words everywhere. Has a gallery ever had so many wall-texts and labels? Each work has its descriptive caption. Many have personal appreciations, invited from professional and amateur art lovers. I have contributed one myself.

And art? Level 4 is for special exhibitions, and for the launch it holds an anthology of contemporary art spectaculars. There's Cornelia Parker's exploding shed, its fragments suspended mid-air on threads; Rachel Whiteread? Ghost, her famous cast of the inside of a room; Bill Viola's huge, symbolist birth-life-death video piece, The Nantes Tryptich; a labyrinth by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov; a memorial by Christian Boltanski...

The Tate has split its collection in two: historic British in the old Millbank building, international modern to the new Bankside, with modern British torn between the two. As for the display, and this is the great talking point, it is determinedly non-historical. This is a modern art gallery that doesn't show art according to the established sequence of modern art movements. From 1900 to now, it's all mixed up together, without regard for date, style, medium. Cezanne sits by Sol le Witt, Monet by Richard Long, Matisse by Marlene Dumas, Bonnard by Freud, a Stanley Spencer Resurrection leads on to Fluxus games.

The idea of a non-historical hang is attractive. The visual arts are excessively chronologised. As you move through the networks of rooms, however, this isn?t really what you notice. What you notice is the curating, not on the level of the big broad themes, but in the micro-texture of the hang, in the concepts governing each individual room. It's a triumph of the craft. Everywhere there are pointed juxtapositions, sometimes sensitive, sometimes crass. There's even a set-piece self-referential joke - a room which still seems to have the builders in, but is in fact a perfect replica, in painted polystyrene, of a roomful of builder's detritus, by the artists Fischli and Weiss.

I walked through the new Tate first time round in a dream. It seemed to be a kind of art-heaven. But then I began to wonder what exactly I was looking at. It's a spectacle, and one where the most spectacular work, the biggest, brightest, buzziest, which is basically to say the most recent, makes the going. In this setting, it is very hard for a small painting not to appear as an especially boring kind of video.

It is clear which way Tate Modern leans. It's not a gallery I can easily imagine dropping in on, casually, to have a look at a couple of things. If you go, you get the package, the bill. It expects a full visit, an outing, with grub and treats. And though I can imagine going again, to get the measure further of this remarkable experience, I'd prefer to be going with someone who was seeing it and going wow for the first time.

This is the gallery our present art demands. Modern art was born in conflict, opposition, difficulty, offence, and they used to say the museums tamed the art. But this is a museum for art that has tamed itself, become reconciled to being one more contribution to the thing which is now almost everything, the show that must go on, the all-pervading culture of leisure and diversion. Tate Modern points the way ahead.

Beezy Bailey

Beezy Bailey Louis Botha Statue - as seen at the One City Festival 1999

Plans for One City Festival 2000 announced.

Founder of BLAC and Soft Serve 11 curator Zayd Minty has been appointed director of Cape Town's One City Festival 2000, taking the place of last year's director Mike van Graan who turned the first such event into a remarkable success with a series of events and happenings that encompassed all of the arts from literary to visual to performing.

This year, a definite theme will provide a framework for the festival, which will take place from September 21 to 25. The theme is 'Celebrating Difference', and producers, curators and organizers will be invited to work in a manner both "celebratory and critical of the politics of difference and otherness at this time in our city". As always, money is tight, and the initial publicity carefully uses the word 'self-funded' every time a proposal is mentioned.

However, for those committed to enrichment of the city, the festival provides a unique opportunity for engagement, and the organisers are inviting all interested to a public meeting at the Mowbray Town Hall on Saturday, May 13, from 2 to 5 p.m. Proposals are to be in by May 23. All information about last years activities and plans for this year can be found on a newsheet , and anyone interested is invited to add his or her name to the mailing list by emailing




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