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the eclipse will not be visible to the naked eye

Dineo Seshee Bopape at STEVENSON in Cape Town

By Sue Williamson
29 July - 04 September. 0 Comment(s)
The eclipse will not be visible to the naked eye

Dineo Seshee Bopape
The eclipse will not be visible to the naked eye, 2009. Video still .

A woman in a smart red dress and hat and high heels stands on the side of an empty suburban road, as if wondering whether to cross. Her movements are fluttery, the camera action is speeded up. The urgent clucking of an invisible chicken is heard.  One smiles wryly, reminded of the old joke which asks, 'Why did the chicken cross the road?'

Why is this woman here? What is she doing walking jerkily forwards – and sometimes backwards - through this bourgeois suburb of ugly facebrick houses in large gardens interspersed with patches of scrubby veld? Why does the camera sometimes segue into a hallucinogenic view of the landscape, titling the camera angle and streaming the video rapidly towards the viewer, inducing the queasy sensation of vertigo?

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Dineo Seshee Bopape’s video The eclipse will not be visible to the naked eye is the artist’s attempt to reconnect with her hometown Polokwane, (capital of Limpopo province and known for its conservative values) after years of study abroad. Her character has something of the pathos of a Charlie Chaplin, struggling to find a place in society, but at the same time, this is a woman who can wear a red party dress in the middle of the day with aplomb – and we suspect that at the end of the day, it is the suburb which will have to come to terms with her.

Fresh from a two year stint at New York’s Columbia University where she received an MFA in new media studies, Dineo Seshee Bopape also chose the title The eclipse will not be visible to the naked eye for her installation in the gallery adjoining the video projection.

The title suggests that surfaces can be misleading, that behind what one thinks one is looking at, lies something else, something which cannot quite be grasped. And surface is what Bopape’s installation seems to be all about. The walls are clad with checked floor coverings, with pictures of flowers, there are swathes of grass covered fabric, myriad vases of  greenery, ribbons and beads draped over stands.  Silver aluminium sparkles from the floor, the walls and the plant pots – and competing for attention with all this are a series of videos on monitors, or in one particularly throwaway gesture, projected on to an ancient computer screen.

Like Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist, Bopape is the rare contemporary artist who is not afraid of making work that is purely beautiful. Videos like f for flowers move through a sequence of gorgeous blooms against a stormy sky. But is the whole story one of beauty?

The kind of unstructured installation Bopape employs, in which myriad ordinary objects are massed into a space, is risky. It can come across as a little too chaotic, with the exuberant clutter distracting the viewer from treating each video as any more than just another element in the colourful environment. But perhaps this is the intention of the artist. Perhaps the peripheral gaze is as important as the full-on stare. Perhaps that is the meaning of her title, The eclipse will not be visible to the naked eye.

As in all of Bopape’s work, there is a visual storytelling, but the narrative remains ambiguous.