Archive: Issue No. 73, September 2003

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Mercury Roberts

"Mercury Roberts" is second from the left at the printmaking conference

Andrew Lamprecht

Andrew Lamprecht's xeroxed images for 'Alterior' can be seen on the extreme left.

Vuyisa Nyamende & Ed Young

Thief and artist: Vuyisa Nyamende and Ed Young


Wednesday, 27 August

The 3rd Impact International Printmaking Conference, hosted by the Michaelis School of Fine Art in co-operation with Rhodes University's Fine Arts Department kicks off today. The keynote address is by William Kentridge and he gives a charming account of his lifelong association with prints and printmaking, revealing the significance of a print of a cat by Cecil Skotnes, given to him while still a child. Hanging in his bedroom, it obviously had a deep affect on him as he demonstrated by showing several images and clips in which a cat appears in his work. The talk is lively and anecdotal and sets a fine tone for the rest of the conference.

The address is followed by the opening of an retrospective exhibition of William's printmaking output at the Michaelis Gallery. Many international visitors are in town for the conference and I meet up with several acquaintances, such as Lynne Allen, Professor and Director of Rutgers University's Centre for Innovative Print and Paper.

Thursday, 28 August

Faye Hirsch, founding editor of Art on Paper and recently appointed to the editorial staff of Art in America, gives the second keynote address of the conference in the morning. Her paper is a survey of accidents and spontaneity in contemporary printmaking, starting with Rauchenberg's litho showing a crack in the stone, and moving on to fascinating examples, such as Damien Hirst's "splatter prints" which look something like the paintings kids used to make at school f�tes by dropping paint on a piece of black card that is spinning on a fast-moving wheel. Another example she gives is Rikrit Tiravanija's print which consists of two Thai-language newspapers and a Thai meal of your choice served to you in any city in the world.

At the afternoon session, I attend a panel entitled Experimental Impressions: New Directions in Print. One of the panellists is the Baltimore-based artist, Mercury Roberts. It takes me and the rest of the audience a while to realise that he has been unable to attend and the figure sitting at the table on the stage in Hiddingh Hall is not Roberts himself, but a perfectly scaled photographic cut-out. A witty gesture at an academic conference.

After the conference panels we all go off for an evening reception at the South African National Gallery to mark the opening of the exhibition 'Then & Now: South African Prints Before and After the Demise of Apartheid'. Curated by conference organisers, Dominic Thorburn and Stephen Inggs, it shows a representative group of prints illustrating the diversity of form, medium and subject matter that we have been working on in the last twenty-odd years. The curators have chosen to display the Winnie Mandela print from my A Few South Africans series of the 80s next to my print of 1999, Winnie Mandela and the Assassination of Dr Asvat, coincidentally made at Rutgers Innovative Centre for Printmaking. Someone points out to me that the colours used in both prints, separated by almost fifteen years, are almost the same. "It wasn't a conscious decision," I tell them.

The evening concludes with an open print portfolio session at Michaelis. Printmakers from around the world generously share the products of their labours.

Friday, August 29th

The conference enters its third day and the second day of presentation. Stephen and Dominic have invited me to present an hour and a half overview of my work as a printmaker in the Little Theatre. I am concerned about some technical issues but the presentation goes off without a hitch. All this enthusiastic talk about printmaking is starting to make me think about working in the discipline again.

In the evening I attend Andrew Lamprecht's exhibition at Bell-Roberts, entitled 'Alterior'. The Michaelis theory lecturer has decided not to use the conventional clean white gallery space but rather the semi-dismantled Bell-Roberts printing works right next door. Amongst the discarded equipment and other debris he has wallpapered a series of Xeroxed prints directly to the wall. The first room shows tiny images on A4 paper while in the back rooms he has blown those same images up on numerous sheets of paper and re-arranged them in the incorrect order. Lots of people come to the opening, including a number of visitors to the conference. As Marilyn Martin observed when Andrew expressed surprise at her wanting to come, "We are curious". I think it would be best if a theorist like Andrew stuck to what he does best, or in his case, just what he does.

Saturday, 30th August

The conference comes to an end and is concluded with a dinner at the new Convention Centre. I wasn't planning to come but the opportunity to say goodbye to friends old and new provided an excuse. Freshly Ground provided the musical entertainment. A couple of members of the band are good friends and their presence is a pleasant surprise.

Lynne Allen invites me to exhibit at next year's Southern Graphic Council conference to be held at Rutgers. This is a very large printmaking conference and will also give me an opportunity to visit Amanda and my grandchildren in New York.

Seated next to me is Faye Hirsch and we chat about the South African art scene and ArtThrob. She is immensely interested in what is going on here. The dinner also gives me an opportunity to look at the art commissioned for the CTICC and purchased for the Arabella Sheraton hotel. I'm pleased to see Paul Edmund's red plywood construction standing proudly at the entrance to the hotel.

Thursday, 4th September

Following on from the 'Bruce Gordon' exhibition earlier this year, Ed Young has decided to put the string quartet who played at that event, MUSE, on display at Bell-Roberts. Ed has secured good sponsorship for the event and there is Pongracz sparkling wine, oysters and sushi on offer. The sponsors insist that there is a VIP section and everyone permitted into that area gets a copy of the exhibition catalogue. The same size and style of the Bruce Gordon catalogue, except that the cover is black rather than white, Ed's beautifully written artist's statement tells us that we are all part of his work: the event itself is what he has created, rather than just putting the quartet on display. Part of his work was to have two bouncers with a non-guest list of one person. Everyone was welcome to come to the exceedingly well-attended exhibition except for his friend Vuyisa Nyamende. It turns out that Vuyisa was scheduled to have an exhibition at the gallery on the night but Ed "stole" the date from him. Vuyisa arrives, is bounced, and proceeds to hail the police demanding that they arrest the artist for "theft of his work". It's a good thing they did not enter the gallery insisting that the artist Young come with them on a charge of stealing other people's work as Gavin Younge was in the VIP room at the time and might have got a bit of a shock.

Saturday 7th September

Benin artist Joseph Kpobly and South African, Thomas Mulcaire have brought their work The Reading Room to the South African National Gallery. First displayed at the 24th Sao Paulo Biennale and later at Marion Goodman in Paris, the work, here sub-titled The Library of Congress, consists of a collection of books by African or about Africa arranged in a film set designed to evoke infinity. This room-within-a-room is beautifully made and furnished with comfortable chairs upholstered in African fabrics and even has a hammock in the corner. Visitors are encouraged to take a book of the shelves and read. At the opening address Emma Bedford notes that anyone may donate books to the project and this indicates that the work will grow and develop over time.

Friday 12 September

It's obviously conference season in the Cape. The 19th South African Association of Art Historians (SAAAH) are having their annual conference at Stellenbosch University today and tomorrow. Anyone expecting this to be a dry academic affair is surprised by the way things end up. There are a large number of papers on subjects ranging from murals in the Pretoria City Hall to monuments in post-Apartheid South Africa. A very interesting panel, held at the Sasol Art Gallery, features Ashraf Jamal analysing terror and the work of Kendell Geers and two papers about Steven Cohen.

However it is the last panel that really took centre stage. Pro Sobopha looked at the issue of white curators and black artists. He asked when will black artists and curators truly be at the centre of the representation of art in South Africa. This was followed by a scholarly paper by Thembinkosi Goniwe critiquing a project by Zwelethu Mthethwa and Beezy Bailey in which the latter, in "blackface" dresses up as a black woman, alternatively "maid" and "madam". He takes the work seriously but finds it highly problematic. He sends out a challenge to the SAAAH by asking why he, as a man, must address the gender issues raised here. "You should be ashamed there are so few black women here" he charges. Vuyile Voyiya and Julie McGee end the session off. One distinguished art historian chooses to sleep through most of Vuyile's talk: an impassioned plea for racial equality in the arts.

The session almost runs over time but chair Zayd Minty allows a few questions. Suddenly all hell breaks loose: Anitra Nettleton from Wits says that she has had enough of all this, noting that she has been involved in promoting black artists for over thirty years. She says that these papers lack rigour and are unacceptable. Sandra Klopper of Stellenbosch refers to a video made by Voyiya and McGee that was shown the previous evening on the subject of black artists, saying that Thembinkosi has betrayed her and Michael Godby by mentioning them by name and portraying them as "unreformed racists". She notes that Michael and her helped Thembinkosi get into his PhD programme at Cornell. The discussion is ended by a call to board a bus for the conference dinner at the Gold of Africa Museum in Cape Town. After a welcoming address from museum director Christopher Till, the debates continue over snacks and wine.

Saturday 13th September

The conference carries on its business but there can be no doubt that the debates of the previous afternoon have got the delegates thinking.

Sunday 14th September

Felling rather ill today and spend much of the day trying to recover in bed. Really can't face doing the diary in this condition so I arrange to have the whole thing ghost-written for this update which will explain the peculiar style and odd reference to one or two events at which I was not present. The writer of this edition of the diary insists that it is a conceptual piece.