Interview with Antoinette Murdoch at the close of her exhibition 'Karaoke Confessions'
by Michael Smith
Antoinette Murdoch presented a series of felt wall-based sculptures at The Premises Gallery at The Johannesburg Civic Theatre during August and September. The text-based works focused on the concept of confession, and contained phrases like 'I Love Sex', 'I Am Bipolar', 'I'm in Love With You' and 'I Fucking Hate You'. Also contained in the show was a series of statements which have, at one time or another, been said to Murdoch by men in her life. This part of the show was interactive: at the opening Murdoch challenged each of these men to place cards printed with their names beneath the phrase which was relevant to them, the one they remembered saying to her. The results were interesting...
Michael Smith: In general, though the works on this show deal with some heavy issues, you seem to approach the process in quite a playful manner.
Antoinette Murdoch: I'm aware that many artists working in this area of text-based images tend towards very profound statements and phrases, people like Barbara Kruger and even locally, Frances Goodman. With this show I intentionally wanted to foreground everyday things. So there's an interaction between works that have the word 'love' in them: so one work will say 'I Love You' and in another 'I Love Sushi'. This calls into question the real meanings of words, and how our overuse of them dilutes their meanings.
After I got divorced and re-entered the dating scene, I was and am still struck by the insincerity of people's words. They say things to you that seem so sincere, but then later forget those words or don't live up to them. The interactive element of my show revealed that: not a single man I have had a romantic relationship with was able to match his name to the phrase I remember him saying. People obviously experience events and words very differently.
MS: I've read before that you like to include 'small' confessions in your works.
AM: Well, that stems from the fact that I had an extremely religious upbringing. So a lot of repression resulted from that. Placing these small confessions in my works was a way of releasing some of that. I'm also getting to the point in my personal life where I feel I can say what I want and not be concerned with whether or not people like me for it. I'm not entirely here yet, but I'm trying to move in that direction.
MS: I want to talk about that repression for a bit longer. Is the work a kind of exorcism of that period in your life?
AM: Yes, and I think that working with Professor Jane Taylor at Wits University in the School of Arts Master's programme was very beneficial. She alerted me to self-censorship, which is still an aspect of this show. In the work 'I Fucking Hate You', I still used similar colours of felt which sort of obscured the text, making it not as immediately legible as phrases like 'I Love You'. I still care what my parents and my children think, which constitutes a degree of self-censorship. In fact, before the show opened I sent a detailed email to my parents explaining the more difficult aspects of the show, not quite asking permission but still explaining myself...
MS: Tell me about how you think the show was received.
AM: Well, the opening was great, with people participating in the karaoke and the interactive components (there was also a computerised poll about me that I encouraged people to take). But, with the level of confession and honesty I believe I went to, I feel there wasn't nearly enough response. You're an artist too, and we're of a similar age. Who do you think is getting the attention in contemporary art at the moment?
MS: Very often it seems like that whole Cape Town scene of younger artists, who seem able to manipulate the media and the hype around their work.
AM: Exactly. It concerns me that if one doesn't operate on that level, people are apathetic about one's work. I mean, I actually implicated people quite directly in this show, and I thought at very least they'd be offended, or respond in some way, but the lack of response was confounding. I even invited some men from outside the art world, to whom I said 'Listen, you're included in the show, the things you said to me form part of what I'm working with. I think you should be there', and most often they didn't bother, didn't seem bothered.
MS: Tell me about the survey.
AM: Well, the results of the survey were quite revealing, quite devastating in fact. Only one person said they had had sex with me because they loved me. But it's also an interesting process because it calls into question people's honesty, even when they're answering an anonymous poll. What I'd like to do is base my next show on the results of the poll. I guess that's also part of the process of realising that some people won't like me for it, and coming to terms with that...