Cape '07 and Churchill Madikida at Iziko SANG
By Fabian Saptouw
The Cape '07 Video Lounge at the Iziko SANG presents an interesting selection of video works by 15 artists, eight of which are currently on display. The work will be rotated in an attempt to make the gallery a more dynamic viewing space. A thread running through the works is a subjective interrogation of the visualisation of the human body, a particular vein of investigation that forms a crucial part of the Standard Bank Young Artist Churchill Madikida 's 'Like Father Like Son?'. Madikida explores how the absence of a relationship with his biological father influenced his understanding and construction of his identity. The two shows interrelate in their navigation of a complex arena regarding notions of selfhood, identity and personal history.
Mémoire, Powerman and Oh Mon Amour, appropriately grouped together on one screen, feature a single figure inhabiting a landscape. The first work, by Sammy Baloji, presents the choreographed movements of a male dancer in a large abandoned industrial area. The soothing soundtrack features a series of rustling sounds, chanting voices and instrumental pieces, each associated with one of three separate dance sequences. In contrast to the graceful movements of Baloji 's dancer is Patrick Mukabi's Powerman. Here a male figure is filmed performing a series of highly energetic jumps that have been cut, pasted, inverted, reversed, flipped and played back-to-back to match an appropriately thrashing soundtrack. The film's lighthearted nature is accentuated by the fact that the figure smiles throughout. A distinct shift in tone takes place when Dineo Seshee Bopape's Oh Mon Amour starts. This features a figure that has been almost completely blacked out, save the whites of its eyes and teeth. Very little detail is provided by way of background and the image often fills the entire picture plane. It lurches back and forth menacingly, gnashing its teeth at the camera, as it stutters its way through the entire 2:50 minutes. In one's engagement with this feral creature you are made very aware of your presence as a viewer. The off-key carnivalesque music does little to soothe the already anxious creature, and this set of audio-visual properties creates a jarring realisation when one discovers that the title translates as 'Oh My Love '.
There is a very specific process of translation that transforms the originally recorded footage into the publicly displayed video-piece, though one isn't always aware of the technological limitations within which each piece was produced. This is an interesting point to analyse because the choices made in the studio invariably shape our perception of the work. A good example of this is Bopape's choice to push to contrast levels to the maximum. This action completely obliterates any detail in the figure's face, which is an unrecognisable version of the artist herself. This results in a face without a name, a figure without a gender, and an individual that exists somewhere between our assumptions and ever fearful imaginings.
William Kentridge's Tide Table provides a much richer picture surface than Bopape's starkly contrasting imagery, with a multitude of nuanced grey and white tones. The animation consists of densely layered and reworked charcoal and pastel drawings that add another chapter to the life of the fictitious businessman, Soho Eckstein. The drawing/erasing/animating process is world-renowned and remains impressive as the boundaries between object, images and surface alike are continually reconstituted.
There is an interesting thematic link between Kentridge and Bopape's works. Both use their physical appearance as reference points for their characters. These characters aren't literal figurations of the artist, but alter egos or possibly even döppelgangers. Each artist translates the self through a different medium and process, but both project the self into an imagined space. It is interesting to note that whilst Bopape's figure exists in a void, Kentridge's is always defined by his interaction, or rather his lack of interaction, with his social environment.
Madikida's approach parallels Kentridge and Bopape's, but with one big difference. In 'Like Father Like Son?' Madikida places his family and himself in the spotlight. There is an element of bravery in the exposure of this section of his personal life that was previously unknown to both himself and the viewer. This work extends Madikida's practice of investigating the intersection of social issues with his private life. On display are two large projections, seven smaller television screens and a lounge setup featuring couches, a carpet and a wall unit replete with typical furnishings. The multi-part video installation attempts to describe Madikida's complicated family history. The various video-feeds simultaneously narrate a complicated web of information and one often hunts from screen to screen to find a missing branch of the family tree. Of course, half the hunting could have been avoided if one could easily discern between the separate audio clips.
The same problem recurs in the new media lounge, as the first viewing room tends to encroach on the audio-space of the second. Whilst viewing Ingrid Mwangi, Robert Hutter and Jimmy Ogonga's Retrocession one is disturbed to hear the intense 23 second burst of sound as Powerman jumps onto screen. The only work that doesn't suffer from this interference is Kentridges' Tide Table which is screened separately from the others.
The fact that the larger portion of 'Like Father Like Son?' was recorded in isiXhosa, makes it easier for those reliant on subtitles to view the sound as an object, rather than an obstruction. Unfortunately the inverse is also true for the small sections that were recorded in English, often rendering certain family members mute. This adds an element of suspense to the viewing experience as one eagerly awaits the subtitles to reveal what the ears can't discern. Although not completely resolved in terms of presentation, one can't help but be intrigued by the various bits and pieces that each family member offers. It becomes more like a densely layered confessional, rather than a chronological outline of Madikida's struggle to grow up without the support of his biological father. In this manner Madikida extends his personal life into the gallery space. The work literally becomes active as each video segment draws on one fact elucidated by another. The objects on the wall unit function with the same self-reference, particularly a small photograph, a face cast and two partially burnt out candles. These elements recall Madikida's 2005 solo show 'Status', held at the Michael Stevenson. Madikida's Virus, from that solo-show, has also been selected for Cape '07. It is fortuitous that the shows can be read in tandem, deepening one's understanding of both.
Similar links have been carefully constructed through the curators' selections of videos. Artists exhibiting more than one piece have the benefit of having their works read against each other. Those with only one work find theirs screened alongside other artists' works, affording new points of entry into the work. This dialogue is further strengthened by the fact that the videos will be displayed at Long Street's LB's every Thursday night. There exists a strange tension between the two exhibition venues - SANG's status as an institutional space stands in contrast to LB's Bar, essentially a social space. Viewers approach each with a very different set of expectations.
When attending such a screening one becomes painfully aware of how the work has to compete with the various decorations and lighting effects for attention. The second big change is the elimination of the works' accompanying audio tracks, for the sake of music more appropriate to a social venue. In most cases the audio tracks are part and parcel of the work, having been edited just as diligently as the visuals. Perhaps with careful consideration the organisers may manage to avoid letting the work become a mere backdrop for the raucous antics of the crowds at LB's.
One is left wondering how the changing line-up of video works will affect the conceptual terrain marked out by the current exhibition. One can but only hope that in each case the works build on each other rather than detract. As viewers we are left with little choice but to wait patiently for the other works to expand the visual landscape as Cape '07 slowly unfolds.
Fabian Saptouw is a Master of Fine Art student at UCT's Michaelis School of Fine Art
Opened: March 24
Closes: May 2
Iziko South African National Gallery
Government Avenue, Company Gardens
Tel: (021) 467 4660
Hours: Tue - Sun 10am - 5pm
Hours: Tue - Fri 11am - 6pm, Sat 11am - 3pm