'Homing in' at the National Arts Festival
by Matthew Krouse
In our over-consumed world, the notion of home is no longer restricted to a place of family life, to blood relations alone. In the eroding of traditional values, home life is also characterized by our relation to the things and people we decide to live with. As marketers point out, we do in fact choose our families. The idea of home consists of a symbolic relation we have, both to people and to objects of desire.
The contemporary hearth is a mass-produced heater and the familiar images of matriarchy - mother's brand of special care - are now reserved for items like biscuit boxes and soap.
With South African politicians calling for moral regeneration as part of the African Renaissance dream, it is not surprising that artists have begun to interrogate what exactly this may mean.
From June 27 to July 5 the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown showed a number of works on the theme of home from choreographer Jay Pather's work of the same name to Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Berni Searle's installation Home and Away.
At the top of the fine art list was Virgina MacKenny and Paul Edmunds' flagship exhibition of eight emerging South African artists, 'Homing in'. The eight were Julia Clark, Matthew Hindley, Miljana Babic, Heath Nash, Every Dog Entertainment, Thando Mama, Colleen Alborough and Kelly Tuck.
Although sparse, 'Homing in' presented what it claimed it would: new visions exploring old values. In their catalogue, MacKenny and Edmunds summed up their mission: 'Traditionally, perhaps romantically, 'home' is a place of refuge, a private domestic sanctuary where the family resides. In the South African context, however, 'home' is a contested site of meaning. [It is] dominated by a colonial heritage, disrupted by migrant labour and historically problematised by the old regime's creation of 'homelands'.
In an interview, MacKenny gestured to the issues confronting the South African home: child abuse, rape, HIV/Aids. As the catalogue notes, as a nation we are 'searching for a place that one might legitimately call home'.
Although, in conversation, the curator brought in the dimension of current affairs, the works were far from agitprop in their approach to the locus home. Croatian-born Milijana Babic presented a black maze - a 'giant 3-D version of hopscotch'. Colleen Alborough in turn filled her walking space with a pathway thick with sunflower seed and delicate grass-like ground covering - a magic garden of sorts. MacKenny pointed to the Alice in Wonderland-like associations in the work, and one is inclined - with possible unfairness - to relate this to so-called white women whose work is plays on the historical contradiction of privilege.
Kelly Tuck presented a white room with a white rocker facing a painted, barred window. And Matthew Hindley used electronic surveillance equipment to time the moment that the viewer engages with his empty work. These were the only artists who dealt with issues and images of household security.
It was down to Thando Mama to represent the black voice, and this was done so ably with Back to Me, a video of the artist himself watching television, naked. A soundtrack consisted of endless chatter about blackness. The whole was inspired by the writings of WEB du Bois.
The image of a naked person sitting silently before a television is almost like a picture of a person sitting on a toilet. Somehow all the works acknowledged that home is not only a place of consuming - but also a place of excreting. A place of pride, and also a place of shame.
June 27 - July 5
National Festival of the Arts
Matthew Krouse is the Arts Editor of the Mail & Guardian