Archive: Issue No. 133, September 2008

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Jozi and the (M)other City

Jozi and the (M)other City

by Chad Rossouw

Like the city, a work in progress

Artists' relationships with the city are by nature complex. For some it forms the context, for others it is the muse, or the subject. For a few it is the tool, a big performance. These varied engagements with the city are the subject of Jozi and the (M)other City, curated by Carine Zaayman. Although there is a real world component to the show, opening on the September 8 at the Michaelis Gallery, the show is being presented online.

Curating for the web is a particularly difficult task. While one gets a logical and compartmentalised navigation system, it can be incredibly hard to display work to its full potential, and tough to make meaningful links between work the way one would visually in a real world exhibition. On top of that, many artists feel the need to interact with the web itself, far more than they would with a traditional space. This leads to work having a promising but unfinished quality. Other artists are not 'webby' enough, and the works don't read well in a digital context. With this in mind, parts of the show translate better than others.

The written components of the show, by Svea Josephy and Sean O'Toole work best: the written word is very comfortable on the Internet. Josephy's text makes a comparison between how we imagine Cape Town and Joburg , a verbal take on her recent 'Twin City' exhibition. O'Toole's short story is a slightly more oblique interpretation, following the narrative of an ex-art critic as he drives from the airport to his home. The city is the context for a musing on the functions of criticism and spectatorship.

Nathaniel Stern, a natural on the web, produced the most engaging work. He challenged the above-mentioned Sean O'Toole to live without electricity for a day. The documentation of their correspondence is a good insight into the process of negotiation, slightly more interesting than the concept of negotiating urban life without power. Nicola Grobler's performative work Small Victories, also translates well. In this piece she interviewed people on the street, asking them what their victory of the day was. The contrasts between them was moving at times.

Many of the other works, unfortunately, had that unfinished edge and the promise of more documentation, including pieces by Ralph Borland, James Webb, and Stephen Hobbs, all experienced artists. This is a major flaw in the curation of the show, beyond the normal difficulties, which is a pity as many of the concepts seemed interesting, and just needed to be further developed. The other strange act of curating was Carine Zaayman's inclusion of herself on the show. A curator should be trying to attain some measure of objectivity in their work.

Of course, no show will ever be able to fully grasp all the complexities of the city and artists' engagements with them, and this is a good attempt, even in its partial state. Perhaps the real world show will push the boundaries further, although it is disappointing that the online version didn't get the full treatment.