Archive: Issue No. 57, May 2002

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From: Liza Grobler
Date: May 15
Subject: Strijdom van der Merwe

Strijdom van der Merwe was involved in a national project in Korea during the second half of last year where he made a work relating to the 19 SA pilots who died in the Korean war. Yet, it seems as if there is no information on this project. I was wondering if you could perhaps consider doing a feature on this project since it is relevant to both the art community and the families of these deceased pilots?

There doesn't seem to be any information about the project on Strijdom van der Merwe's website. Given our low resources it is unlikely we will be able to commission a feature; however, if anyone is interested in researching the project, we welcome contributions.

From: Sally Shackleton
Date: May 14
Subject: Timeshift

Just a small point: surely a "preview" like the listing for the Erasmus/Hamblin exhibition runs more of a risk of "pre-determining" the exhibition than a press release could? I think it best that a listing be a listing, and that anyone attempting a critical review of any artist's work, actually see the artist's work.

Point taken. However, often our listings editors have seen the work and can provide some kind of insight prior to the exhibition. Given that we don't have the resources to review all the shows and events we'd like to, sometimes an informed preview is better than a mere listing.

From: Adele Hamblin
Date: April 26
Subject: Artthrob listing

May I take this opportunity to thank [Kathryn Smith] for the listing on the Artthrob webpage of the exhibition 'Timeshift' [see Gauteng listings], which is the work of myself and Nel Erasmus. Your page and the work you do is most respected and the listing most appreciated.

I would however like to state (this is the job of an artist, no?) that doing a discouraging "crit" of the invitation WITHIN A LISTING and further spending more than half of the words on a dissection and assignment of the identity of my work ("before an opening") is perhaps not in accordance with the maturity and good taste of the rest of the page's endeavours. I do also understand that it was not you personally doing the "criteria of invite".

A crit is a tool we all choose to use, in all its taste and distaste, but should a listing not just be that - a listing? I have now acted on this incident, since it seems to be a repeat of an incident within a listing of an exhibition of mine on a previous occasion, on the Throb, where again a "jab" was also made as to my identity...

As a reader of your listings I am not mortally wounded or anything that dramatic, and I understand that the level of penetration on a reader's mind in these instances is minimal and has more of a reflection on the writer than on the artist ... but still.

I respectfully request you to either help me get the jabby comment altered (about the over-explanation of my intensions in the invite) or to please have your IT jocks remove the listing completely.

Once again thank you for your valuable work. I remain an ardent fan and even within my dissatisfaction I am honoured to be part of your reflections. May I also extend an invite to you from Nel, myself and the curator of the gallery, Mrs Teresa Lizamore to see what we are up to.

Should a review of the actual work prove to end in a negative manner, I will accept it as a mature person should. I hope this letter reaches you in the light but serious spirit that it is intended.

I made the observations about the invitation design and language used in the press release as these are one's first impressions of an exhibition. When things are stated so irrefutably, it can, as I said, run the risk (not definitively) of creating a particular kind of closed frame of reference for the show that doesn't allow people to read the work as anything other than belonging to a particular (European in the case of Surrealism) tradition or style. And I do believe that, without getting into arguments around quality and value, any creative work produced is inherently conceptual. With regards to the comment's placement within a listing, and this being perceived as inappropriate, I do want to note that with time and space being limited, I try to use listings as mini reviews or previews as not every exhibition can be reviewed (although this would be ideal). The comment was in no way personal, merely a reflection on how the exhibition 'arrived on my desk' as a media package and what it seemed to communicate. As I am familiar with your past work, my critical position is an informed one.

From: Tessa
Date: April 20
Subject: Do you have information on ...

I'm doing a project for matric on Willem Boshoff and Hentie van de Merwe, I was wondering if you have any information on these artists, past or future exhibitions, info on their art, influences, pictures of their pieces?

Hentie van der Merwe is currently participating in the Turin Biennale - see this month's International listings. Both artists are the subjects of Artthrob Artbios - see August 2001 and March 2000 - and both are included in Sue Williamson and Ashraf Jamal's 'Art in South Africa: The future present' which should be available at your local library.

From: David Robert Lewis
Date: April 17
Subject: Graffiti the result of organised crime?

When the Proceeds of Crime Bill was passed, it was ostensibly to combat organised crime. The Act created a third tier of law enforcement, feeding off incentives created by the confiscation of property. All good and well, considering the terrible circumstances involving international drug trafficking, former CCB operatives turned criminals, and the sinister Asian triads whose modus operandi closely resembled the Italian Mafiosi. Now we are asked to believe that graffiti artists are some "third force" of criminal, whose impact on society is so dire, so terrible that the Cape Town City council is contemplating confiscation of property, including the vehicles, of those caught "red-handed".

Where does one stop, having created such a humourless and inimical monster - does one confiscate homes as well? Do we forgo trial, in favour of a para-military apartheid-era policy that instantly apportions guilt? Why not arrest entire classes of citizen, including the poor and those who attend "graffiti" lessons, for instance? Criminalising all expressions of graffiti, as opposed to simply outlawing tagging (signing one's name on a wall), not only infringes upon our rights to self-expression, but constrains our political speech - the right to inform one's constituency, to broadcast meaning into the cosmos, untrammeled by the particular party concerns of Council. I therefore encourage graffiti artists to inform themselves of their rights under the law, and where those rights are abrogated by Council, to break the law.

From: Geoff Grundlingh, Director, SA Centre for Photography
Date: April 10
Subject: Joy Gregory

This letter is a response to Joy Gregory - see below.

I was amazed at the content of your email. Regrettably many of your assumptions and expectations relating to the Month of Photography (MoP) and my involvement are entirely incorrect.

I am particularly surprised at your complaints at the arrangements for your exhibition and would record the following:

1. You were impossible to contact to make the necessary arrangements (we eventually left desperate messages for you at Autograph in London);

2. You sent half an exhibition - late - and without any consultation expected to be in our prime venue; and

3. You demanded immediate attentthe moment you decide to finally arrive unannounced and expected your exhibition to be framed and hung in a week. This was practically impossible. Ask Okwui.

4. You have been rude to my curators and have apparently stated (after only two days in town) that 150 shows are too many for them to handle and that we should rather go for quality not quantity.

Your approach to this matter reveals a most unfortunate lack of understanding of the rationale behind MoP. We believed that you had understood that MoP's prime function was to promote South African photography. Our mandate has been to be as inclusive as possible and consequently we have a large developmental component. We show student and schools works. We exhibit amateur collectives. We show work from other SADC countries. We have also welcomed prominent "international" artists on the understanding that there is no red carpet. We show conceptual photo-works alongside "traditional" documentary essays. We use young South African photographers as curators, co-ordinators, PAs etc to GIVE them experience. We planned it all to be this way and we, and most of our constituents are comfortable with our curatorial "eclecticism". This is not, and does not aspire to be, the Venice Biennale.

About our lack of so-called experienced curators - we are weary of the traditional safe and sure approach to South African art. Ask many professional curators to curate a South African photography show and what do you get - Goldblatt, Mofokeng, Mthethwa and co. MoP's curators have refreshingly sourced a new generation of up-and-coming photographers who, in time, will potentially go on to do great things. While this is certainly risky, it is central to our curatorial selection process.

The Month of Photography tried its best to accommodate your obviously busy schedule. It seems that on the one hand you expect us to be extremely flexible when it might suit you, while on the other hand you accuse us of a lack of professionalism. You can't have it both ways Joy. Yes, this was a mess, but it is very interesting to note that out of 150 reasonably successful, up-on-time, and well planned exhibitions, ONLY your show did not appear in either the catalogue or on any Cape Town walls as planned. This is a rather revealing statistic.

As your public airing of your grievances has had an adverse impact on the good name and reputation of MoP and consequently my reputation together with others has suffered - I have no option other than to reserve my rights and that of MoP and all staff and organizers in that regard. We do believe that you have dealt with us in a most unfair, inappropriate and undeserved manner.

I have always admired your work. It would be a privilege to have you back for MoP 2004 and I hope we can come to some understanding in this regard.

From: Joy Gregory
Date: April 9
Subject: Withdrawal of exhibition from the MoP

On April 5 after much consideration and with great sadness I decided to withdraw my exhibition from Cape Town's Month of Photography. I am astounded and appalled at the level of chaos surrounding the placing of my work and my shabby treatment as an invited international artist.

Invited some months ago by Geoffrey Grundlingh (director of the Month of Photography) to participate in this event, I chose to do so despite being told "We have no money" based on my past association with the arts community in South Africa. This relationship has always been one of inspiration, mutual respect and generosity, and in the past I have concentrated much of my energy participating in activities which address issues of access. In the beginning I suggested showing my latest project 'Cinderella Tours Europe'. This is a series of large-scale works that play around with ideas of globalisation and the restriction of people's movement around the world. Realising that without funding the Centre for Photography could not afford to hire or transport this show I offered to make a series of small-scale works based on this project at my own cost which the SACP could transport by courier and frame in Cape Town.

At the end of January I received confirmation of venue - my work was to be exhibited at the Castle. I am familiar with the space and its history, so on reflection decided to show a selection of work from the series 'Sites of Africa - London'. I assumed that the Castle would be the venue for many shows and space would be at a premium, and so had seven pieces from the series printed up. 'Sites of Africa' is a photographic document of absent histories, uncovering long forgotten connections between Africa and sites around London now associated with more recent histories - a project I felt to be more in keeping with the venue than 'Cinderella'.

On March 19 on my return from Fotofest in Houston I emailed MoP to confirm the safe arrival of my work and at this stage was informed that my work was now to be shown at the SA Centre for Photography. Six thousand miles away in London and unfamiliar with the venue I thought that it was either a small space or that I was now part of a group show that the curator felt was more in keeping with the work. Whatever the case, the word "Centre" implied a place buzzing with life and energy and the focus of a community and the MoP.

On March 20 I left London for Johannesburg to participate in a conference and teaching programme at the University of Witwatersrand. I had also planned to give a guest lecture at Michaelis (University of Cape Town) but no arrangements seemed to have been made re: travel and accommodation. Once in Johannesburg I tried to contact Geoff Grundlingh on several occasions by phone, email and SMS to get a sense of what was happening re: the lecture, travel arrangements and my exhibition - I never received a reply. Eventually I managed to contact Geoff by phone. He claimed to have no knowledge what was going on re: the guest lecture but the assumption was that I would pay my own flight to Cape Town. In the light of this I decided to prioritise my activities at Wits as they had raised funds to fly me out from London to work with their students.

As for the exhibition I eventually spoke to Claire who informed me that the show was too small for the space now allocated but they would make a "plan". In the meantime I had been contacted by numerous people desperately trying to track down my exhibition as it had been featured as one to see in the Mail & Guardian's preview of the Month of Photography - I was unable to help.

I came to Cape Town last Sunday (March 31) keen to see as many of the MoP exhibitions as possible in the few days that I had. I arrived and saw that the situation far worse than expected. I found that people had been trying to see the show (and indeed review it) but had been unable to gain access as the SA Centre for Photography was always closed or "the work was at the framers". I tried yet again to get in touch with Geoff Grundlingh through a variety of means with very little success.

On Wednesday I called Claire informing her that I was unhappy with the situation of not knowing the venue for my work (two weeks into the MoP), and not having a response to my request for information from Geoff despite trying to contact him almost daily since my arrival in South Africa. At this stage I felt that the only option left was to take the work back to London. She promised to find me a fantastic venue for the work and get Geoff to contact me immediately. In less than a minute I received a call from Geoff Grundlingh and was met with a barrage of defensiveness.

I asked why he had not returned any of my calls or messages over the last two weeks and was told he "was doing so now". In response as to why no travel arrangements had been made for my giving a guest lecture at Michaelis - "you were going to be in Cape Town anyway". On the question of my work being at the framers for two weeks I was told that "there are only four of us at MoP and we had 150 exhibitions to organise and curate". When I asked why there had been such confusion over the venue for my work I was informed that "the work had arrived too late for it to be to be included in the exhibition at the Castle".

At no time was I given any information as to deadlines for the publication or exhibition so had to second-guess when things would be due. The work would have been sent off by DHL on 6 March except on closer examination of all my correspondence with the MoP I realised that there had never been any reference to a physical (postal) address. I emailed MoP for an address and contact number, but this inevitably delayed the arrival of the work. I had to organise someone else to courier it DHL while I was in Houston which they did as soon as they received an address to which to send it. (I am about to go and pay that bill which will bring my total cost to �500.)

The fantastic venue finally settled on for my work was Orms, a photographic shop and lab for professional photographers, which would indeed be a fantastic venue for a commercial photographer, but perhaps not so appropriate for the work I was showing. When I asked MoP to explain the curatorial rationale for matching the work I had sent with that particular venue I was informed that it was a very busy place and lots of people would see the work - audience profile was obviously not an issue. I would have been much happier if the work had been placed in the City Library or a school, either of which would have been a more appropriate venue for such a contemplative piece of work and would have given access to a wider audience.

At this stage as far as I was aware the work was up so I decided to accept Claire's judgment as curator. I went along to see the show on Thursday morning just before leaving for Johannesburg. After all that had gone on before I was not surprised to find the work was not up. What was shocking was that on the wall there was the work of another photographer who was going to be asked to curtail his exhibition in order for my work to go up as part of the MoP.

I think it is a positive thing to be ambitious and know that Claire, Ashley, Kim and indeed Geoff have given their all to ensure the success of the Month of Photography and have shown amazing commitment to the event, but it was in the light of the above catalogue of events that I decided to withdraw from MoP. While I have great admiration for their intentions, MoP could not fail to do other than disappoint in their attempt to successfully curate 150 shows all happening within a month as just four people, without a massive army of volunteers. I feel that many of the problems which have arisen out of this event lay with the MoP's focus on quantity rather than quality.

This whole debacle has cast a long shadow over my last visit to South Africa, and I will not participate in any future events organised by the MoP or SA Centre of Photography, nor would I advise anyone else to do so until there is a more professional, intelligent and thoughtful approach to curatorial concerns, more clarity as to the MoP's main concern and a change in the organisation's attitude to photographers.

Is the MoP a trade show or an arts event? What is the constituency they seek to address - the community living and working in Cape Town and its surrounding area, the local photography and arts community or the international art scene? It is only the second time that the MoP has taken place and I hope that it is not the last. My only other hope is that they learn from their mistakes.

From: Adrian Mallitte
Date: April 8
Subject: equest for printers

Please could you give me names of printers who would be able to print limited edition prints of charcoal and pencil drawings. They have to be of the highest standard as we will be selling then in the UK. Or could you point me in the right direction.

The Artists' Press is highly recommended and can be contacted at 011 836 5474 or by email at mark@artistspress.co.za.

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