Archive: Issue No. 74, October 2003

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art as usual

art as usual

art as usual

art as usual

art as usual

'art as usual', 2003
Installation views


Monkeys masquerading as guerrillas
by Sean O'Toole

The received wisdom in art, it sometimes seems, is that a little bit of controversy can be a good thing. This shaky truism has its flaws, particularly when you consider the spectacularly unspectacular pop and fizzle of the show 'art as usual'. Touted as the highlight of Christian Nerf's '24.7' residency programme, an open-forum event allowing artists from a diversity of disciplines to work in a public museum, the show ended up presenting a room filled with trite gestures. What a dismal end for an idea that demonstrated so much potential.

At its core, Christian Nerf's '24.7' project sought to debunk the austere routine of going to the JAG and simply viewing finished product, this by turning the museum space into an artist's studio. This very basic premise it achieved supremely, although to whose benefit I am unsure. If process over product means having to watch Ed Young drink whisky, I remain unconvinced. This is by no means a personal gripe against the Cape Town artist; Ed Young has promising future and whisky is a noble drink.

As it is, the '24.7' idea was always about more than the individual contributions of its various participants, even if Kathryn Smith's tattooing was the singular - undisputed - highlight. In certain respects the failure of the 'art as usual' show to actually materialise is an apt conclusion to an event that sought to eulogise practice and process over product and aftermath. Sadly - or is it inevitably - it appears that both the proponents and adherents of this 'radically new' idea called Process art (refer to American sculptor Richard Serra) came unstuck. If process was the raison d'�tre of this whole affair, why not simply leave it at that? Or was everyone afraid that these novel guerrilla tactics would be derided as inconsequential monkey business?

Evidently conscious of Kendell Geers' assertion that "the policies of the museum are as old and as seeped in colonialism as the building by Edward Luytens," the JAG's curatorial panel appear to have been easily seduced by the scope of a project that pledged democracy and transparency, nice buzzwords in our newly constituted country but seemingly meaningless when it came to actually respecting that most overlooked element in this whole 'process' - the viewer.

Being one of those inquisitive enough to go view the show, all I encountered was a purposefully composed, near derelict space; a series of empty frames; broken chairs; and an angry riposte aimed at one curator while exonerating another. That something of the seamy backstage politicking going on at the JAG has been laid bare is all too evident. But was it interesting to the viewer: I would firmly vouch not - unless you're interested in the process of art administration.

Stephen Hobbs recently argued that the JAG is "an open space to build new platforms and make creative interventions, for anyone willing to take the risk". The strange thing is that now, when the risk has finally matured, nobody seems willing to put their necks on the cutting block. Which neatly leads me to a question I once posed to Christian Nerf, the answer which I repeated in my opening remarks at the beginning of the '24.7' project. What is the difference between the live act and the subsequent showing of the documentation, I asked? "The live performance is flexible and invites chance," he responded. "In this respect I would call myself a chancer. I love chance and the unexpected". I wonder whether the curators ever truly contemplated the full extent of these words when they tarted up their old whore in new, seemingly hip dress.


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