The forgettable and unforgettable at Red Eye
This being my first time at a Red Eye experience, I was not at all prepared for its aggressive assault on the senses, the mosaic of performance, visual art, dance and costume that makes it such an arresting experience. Commencing six o'clock in the evening, you are given no interval, no time to stop, breathe, make sense. Even during the first half an hour or so before the performances begin, during which time I walked around the exhibitions and installations, it's no matter of contemplation. Rather, it's about seeing as much as you possibly can, as quickly as you possibly can, so that you don't miss the next thing.
After walking through all the galleries for a while, with my Red Eye visual art pamphlet in hand, trying to place everything and note the names and work of each artist for my review, I realised that I had it all back to front. Red Eye comes together as an event of the instantaneous, simultaneous and off the cuff: a strange mixture of the forgettable and unforgettable.
The exhibition by Italian artist, Luisella Carretta was perhaps the largest installation of the event. The artist, as the blurb on the wall explained, has travelled extensively around the world mostly along the Tropic of Capricorn, taking photographs to create layered images of the places she has been and of herself in these places. In conjunction with these photographs she has draped and hung several installations of huge lengths of translucent sheets and other found objects combined in different ways with the material.
The energy of the works was of flight, transience and transparency, and they seemed to collage a sense of spiritual journey with images of the physical one. While the work was fairly engaging, the loud Eminem music playing in the room was perhaps an odd match for these diaphanous installations hanging from the walls and the ceiling.
The installation by Jan-Henri Booyens, Michael Croeser and Katrina Robenhagen was an attempt to analyse and interrogate the product of culture and heritage in the deconstruction of pop culture. "Exploring the alienation that is a by-product of communication barriers existing in the ideological constructs of the information age," the informative pamphlet explained. It was, basically, an indecipherable darkened room of television and poster images, combined with what seemed to be disembowelled media materials: tape reels, cassettes and words from a song, as well as an eerie and irritating noise akin to a tortured frog, or something from the Exorcist.
My disorientation reached an all time high with this installation. Of course, on reading its explanation and its intentions this was obviously the desired effect. And the impression of miscellany that I got from the various exhibits of art was also intentional perhaps, as product of the medley of culture and heritage that is contemporary South African art.
However, I couldn't help feeling let down by the visual arts once the performance artists took the stage. The performances in general were crisp and colourful, dynamic and delicately choreographed. It started with a performance of funky hip-hop and break dancing by the hip-hop dancers, which brought a streetwise element to the event.
Other performances followed, by The Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre, Floating Outfit Project, Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company and Flatfoot Dance Company, to name a few. I did not manage to see them all but those that I did were beautiful and very engaging, combining dramatic performance, dance and movement in new and quite powerful ways. These were all performed against a backdrop of art works from the DAG's permanent collection. Although I had seen the works before, they took on new energy, collaborating and contributing to the performances.
In between all this I was subject to live body piercing and a dark and crazy animation by Lyndon Daniels, in his very Lord of the Flies space, complete with pig's head. Later on, outside the gallery, fire dancers and stilt walkers took over the street as drag queens mingled in the crowd. As the party began, it was difficult to tell who was performing and who was spectating. It seemed a Dionysian festival where art, culture and heritage came out to dance on the pavement. I will definitely be going again.
Khara-Jade Small is a fine art honours student at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg.
Opens: September 19, 6.30pm