Archive: Issue No. 89, January 2005

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�Noweto�: Keran James at the Bag Factory.
reviewed by Brenton Maart

The Bag Factory, one of the international Triangle Workshop venues, based in Newtown, Johannesburg, provides studio space where artists share experiences. An attempt at using the method of new experience to stimulate new production, the artist-in-residency programme also functions in its transfer of agents between wide-ranging geographies, societies and cultures. What significance does this programme have for cultural production in South Africa? Further, what is the significance of these cultural products to the audience?

In an attempt to answer these questions, the recent exhibition by Keran James (part of a two-person show entitled �Noweto�) provides a case study. James is a Welsh artist, resident in London, producing mainly conceptual video work.

For his show at the Bag Factory, James produced a series of videos and digital prints that, according to his gallery statement, attempt to demonstrate that �there is truth in telling stories�. In a bid to see this truth, all the video works on show are unedited, providing footage of real-time events.

The unedited reels present it as it was seen, through the camera�s eye, without the usual reworking that takes us further from a (real) situation. There are no down-stream visual effects, no interpretative renderings. Sequences are as honest as possible, with no evidence of cuts, merges and cross-fades. The visual montages so characteristic of contemporary video are here, in James� work, replaced by the slow banality of real-time.

Private View/Public Hang is a two-screen video installation, fixed high above the viewer. The first shows the passing scene from the top of a Cape Town tour bus; the second, a low perspective angle of an actor kicking away a ladder and hanging himself. These are viewpoints odd in their unusualness. Further, James presents the high view from the bus to be viewed from below. This functions further in his play with height and perspective. Perspectival strangeness is reinforced by the awkward height of the installation. Viewers must crane their necks to see.

These awkward�perspective presentations of awkward views function in the gallery by displacing the viewer. This shift happens at a number of levels: physically, visually, experientially and conceptually. For me, the key effect here is one of reinforcing the subjectivity of James� truth, setting up a relational subjectivity between the imagery, the artist, the work, the interpretation and the viewer. In other words, the work elicits in the viewer a range of questions that require the viewers themselves to generate answers.

In turn, the effect of this questioning leads to a self-consciousness within the viewer that is not based on internal reflexivity, but dependent on an intellectual and conceptual interrogation of an external set of influences (the artist, the work, the artist�s interpretation, the social issue at stake, the political manifesto, and so on).

And this is the key significance of this work of James: the ability to stimulate the viewer to think. This may be applicable in the general motivation behind the artist�s conceptual art, but it also has a greater and more far-reaching effect within a socio-political set of realities: it stimulates individual intellectual development towards the externalisation of viewer (or recipient) criticality, one that questions the researcher, the hypothesis and method, the conclusions and the effects that result from the work.

The other video works on James�s show act similarly. Protected species, for example, is a video of a tiger at the local zoo, pacing into and out of view. Projected onto silver tape, the visual effect is one of encagement. Walking between the projector and the image, viewers are implicated by their shadows, further increased by the mirror effect of the tape on the wall. The viewer becomes an element of the installation; directly part of the view, its interpretation and in the down-the-line effect of the actions resulting from this interpretation.

This, in turn, refers again to the artist�s insistence to show the footage unedited. For him it seems, conceptually at least, the down-stream effect (the living edit, if you will) is dependent on the viewer and not on the work. And for me this sums up the importance of James� brand of conceptualism: the artist and the work as facilitator towards developing a conceptual interrogation and response within the viewers themselves.

Closed: 16 December