Steven Cohen is chased
away from Fort Klapperkop by
AWB heavies


All dressed up for a day at the
races at the Durban July ...


Steven Cohen explains to scornful
bystanders that he is
"conceptually dressed"


William Kentridge's three-screen
projection Ulisse Echo on the Vitas


William Kentridge
Drawing for Ulisse Echo


Siemon Allen
Pictures and Words 1998
Sheets stretched on frames,
found cartoon images with
added text

Detail of Siemon Allen's
Pictures and Words 1998


Lisa Brice
Pieldikte (Pay or Die/
Moer Hom) Club
'Boy' cap, three-legged table
(legs turned according to the
dimensions of the 'Pieldikte' club),
ball - found object, linoleum


Detail of Lisa Brice's
windscreen piece


Sandile Zulu
Abduction of the Text:
Main Theme from
'Grassroots Frontline'
Fire and water, wind and dust/soil
Installation view


Moshekwa Langa
Sperm Stain

Vita Awards

Performance art was the winning mode of visual artistic expression at the Vita Awards ceremony at the Sandton Civic Gallery on July 29 when Steven Cohen walked off with the R20 000 prize. The also-rans were Siemon Allen, Lisa Brice and Sandile Zulu (installation), William Kentridge (triptych screen projection) and Moshekwa Langa (performance on video).

Cohen's art lies in the way he brings his chosen persona as Jewish fag in drag into the life of people on the street (Artbio No 9). Who could fail to notice Cohen sashaying down the pavement in a tutu with no broekies, nonchalantly allowing a passer-by to pick up his skirt to examine his underpinnings, or Cohen being hauled off the stage by a burly security guard as he tries to climb onto the ramp to perform in a fashion parade? Who could forget the newspaper images of a black-frocked and slender Cohen being ordered angrily away from Fort Klapperkop by heftily camouflaged AWB-ers?

Each of the finalists had been given R4 000 to make their piece for the awards show, and Cohen used his for a video which tracks his confrontational activities. "I dance where you gather," says Cohen in a catalogue statement. "I seek you out · I am pieces of you, after all. You eat me with your eyes and yes, I am there for that." The video is shown in a chandeliered room with a series of shop dummies arrayed in Cohen's outrageous costumes. As one onlooker said: "He creates a lot of fun and games for a lot of people." View Steven Cohen's videos at za@play.

But courageous, creative and free spirited as Cohen undoubtedly is, should he have been the winner of the Vita award, supposedly given for the best work on show? Or was his win part of the questionable political agenda of promoting performance art by judges Kendell Geers, Bongi Dhlomo and Frank Ledimo? (The fourth judge, Okwui Enwezor, was not present for the final judging.) This question has to be asked because for many at the opening ceremony the outstanding art work on this year's Vitas was undoubtedly William Kentridge's tour de force Ulisse Echo, an intellectually challenging and magical piece involving simultaneous projections on three screens. On the left, a medical bottle emitting tubes has a diaphragm which goes up and down to the sound of heavy breathing. In the middle, Kentridge extends his technique of animated drawing to intercut his ceaselessly evolving and mutating images with filmed close-ups of bodies, X-ray scans, a white owl, and landscapes. The third screen is windshield-shaped, and filmed highway images give way to Grecian landscapes, the whole orchestrated to a manipulated and gorgeously climactic piece of Beethoven. "The piece is not narrative, but rather associative," says Kentridge. The material for the projections come largely from the animation and film collected for the opera production of Il Ritorno d'Ulisse directed by Kentridge, which premiered in Brussels in June.

All of the work submitted for this year's Vita is strong. Siemon Allen develops his room-within-a-room theme with an elegant, translucent white structure, on the inner walls of which appear at intervals shallow white boxes containing Tintin images ("icons from my youth", says Allen) with their text somewhat rearranged to reveal hidden subtexts or suggest new interpretations of the original material.

An old table leg emblazoned with the legend "Pieldikte", used to smash the window of a friend's car and left lying on the seat, became the starting point of Lisa Brice's new installation investigating gang culture on the Cape Flats, where every household seems affected in some way. Brice constructs the table from which the leg/club might have come, and in a reference to the domestic surfaces used in earlier work, places it on a splash of blood masquerading as linoleum. In a second piece, drive-by shootings are recalled in concertina-style windscreen shields featuring photographs obtained from the police forensic department. In these chilling close-ups of the bodies of dead gang members, gang tattoos overlap stab wounds and bullet holes.

"As psychological elements, fire and water, wind and soil allude to life, to creation and destruction, to colonisation and decolonisation, to revolution and liberation, to purgation and cleansing, to purification and renewal," says Sandile Zulu. Burnt knotted newspapers frame burnt grasses in a handsome and subtly hued installation which runs most of the length of the gallery. Laid out on a bed of soil instead of an unsympathetic-seeming hardboard platform, the piece might have been even more powerful.

Moshekwa Langa gives us two primal video performances, the only prop his bare mattress. In Sperm Stain, Langa stares into the camera/at the viewer, swaying his head autistically backwards and forwards, coming ever closer, mouth covered by hands, the eyes communicating - what? Pain. The impossibility of ever connecting. In Shudder, the child-man Langa hurls himself incessantly backwards onto his mattress.

This is the year the new Vita system has come of age, or at least in the sense that one feels that each of the finalists extended him/herself as far as could be expected to produce fine work. Curator of the Sandton Civic Gallery Natasha Fuller and the First National Bank and other sponsors are to be congratulated. All we need now is a more balanced judging system.



Jeremy Wafer
Red Oval 1998
Fibreglass, red polish

Jeremy Wafer and Sue Williamson

Last chance to see this show (ArtThrob No. 11) of two established artists with apparently very different concerns but whose work hung together works extremely well - or at least, speaking as one of the artists, I think it does. Jeremy Wafer's heraldic white and black spindle paintings on glass are beautifully considered with subtle shifts in surface, and his red ovals, immaculately cast in fibreglass and polished in red are eminently desirable. My work is the 'Truth Games' series which, by focusing on images familiar to all from the media, seeks to mediate through a series of interactive art pieces something of the significance of the processes of the TRC in the life of the nation.

Show closes August 4.



Berco Wilsenach
Life Saver
Mixed media
An earlier work

The Johannesburg Civic is 'Tamed'

University of Pretoria graduates Wim Botha, Berco Wilsenach and Frikkie Eksteen investigate "the taming of moving, flying or hidden ideas". Wim Botha works with paper, and, gluing old government documents together into blocks, will carve them into wildebeest to prance into the gallery in a new take on wildlife art. Frikkie Eksteen's paintings conceal more than they reveal, and Berco Wilsenach's "simulation of organic processes will require the active participation of the viewer, attempting to give complete sensory stimulation". OK. Sounds wild enough to need taming.

The show opens at 6pm on August 18 and closes on September 11.



Deborah Bell
Gods of War 1998
Terracotta, kiln and pit fired, fat,
wax, charcoal, wire and kiln cement

Deborah Bell at the Goodman

Working both on paper and three-dimensionally, Deborah Bell considers African imagery and draws on it to explore themes of disruption and anguish. Her handsome sculptural pieces are built from terracotta, fired both in kiln and pit, and finished with fat, wax and charcoal. Bell's work is always totally professional and good to look at, but in these references to traditional functional objects somehow there's a distance and a detachment in the work, a carefulness, almost a desire to please, which is very different from the emotional tension and claustrophobia which gave her early work such power. From the sidelines, one might wish to urge her to throw caution to the winds.

Opens August 8 and runs until August 29.



Penny Siopis
Sacrifices (detail) 1998
Personal objects, notes


Walter Oltman

'Holdings: Refiguring the Archive' at Wits

Jane Taylor curated this show to mark the launch of the University of Witwatersrand's graduate seminar series, 'Refiguring the Archive', posing the interesting question: "What and why do we hoard, catalogue, covet, exclude, authenticate?"

A number of artists attempt to answer this in various ways. Most strikingly, setting her work in three generously sized window embrasures which now function rather like large-scale textured paintings, Penny Siopis presents a personal archive of objects relating to her family. Each piece occupies a spectrum within one colour - khaki, red and white/ivory. Notes made by an archivist alongside each list the objects: doll, felt tea cosy, military ribbon, rubber boots, brooch, etc, etc. It's all about detritus, and the mundane but rich record of ordinary lives staged in a way that allows us to peruse it.

In Memorials Without Facts: Men Loving (1998), a 7½ minute video, Clive van den Berg addresses the fact that for certain subjects there are no archives - unless it is in police records. This haunting video, part of an ongoing series of work, takes a small step towards filling this gap. Footage taken from a family video from the Gay and Lesbian Archives is intercut with set-up memorials filmed by the artist. The modest scale of the video does not detract from its strength.

Other contributions include the archivist's nightmare, a wonderful wall-sized silverfish in wire by Walter Oltman, and one of Titus Motenyane's remarkable hand-drawn maps.

Until August 21.



Alan Alborough
Beautiful Objects
Found objects


New work from Alan Alborough
at the Gertrude Posel


Six alumni at the Gertrude Posel

The University of Witwatersrand focuses on work by six of its most accomplished graduates: Alan Alborough, Jane Alexander, Karel Nel, Justine Lipson, Hentie van der Merwe and Janet Wilson. Curated by Julia Charlton and Natasha Fuller, this is an interesting and well-balanced show, featuring both older and more recent work by the participants.

In one corner, through a sealed perspex screen, mirrors set at angles and reflecting images of grids of photographs of standing naked men can be seen. This is work by Hentie van der Merwe, and the photographs were part of military records. The way in which this has been framed, the suggestion of voyeurism in not being able to see the photographs directly, seems to make the viewer complicit in this invasion of privacy. Formally, this piece is extremely satisfying in its use of white, transparent and reflective materials combined with the photographic images.

Alan Alborough shows Beautiful Objects, a series of suspended spheres constructed from such humble objects as white plastic pegs, translucent polythene bowls, and coins. Aesthetically pleasing, the spheres are simple yet intricate, suggesting seed pods, the movement of planets, an entire universe.


Detail from the invitation


Joseph Manana at the NSA

At the NSA, new paintings from Joseph Manana, whose work, judging from the invitation, seems to be in danger of slipping into clichˇ, and sculpture by a wide assortment of regional artists.



The invitation to Lucy Pooler's show


Lucy Pooler and Clare Menck at the AVA

Lucy Pooler presents an upbeat collection of photographs from her travels through the continent, instant nostalgia, while Clare Menck applies her usual thoughtful attention to the painterly task of luminously reflecting the objects around her. Until August 15.



William Burroughs
depicted on the invitation

'The Beat Hotel, Paris 1956-1963' - photographs by Harold Chapman

"The whole importance of the Beat Hotel was that total toleration of all eccentricities," said British photographer Harold Chapman in 1998, explaining his fascination with the denizens and habitues of that establishment, a coterie which included writers William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. "Things were happening in every room," wrote Burroughs. "People were writing, painting, talking and planning, and Madame Rachou presided in her little bar with the zinc counter." Chapman's evocative photographs, faded in parts as a result of the deliberate use of old film and stale developer in the name of recycling, throw into sharp focus that era of fecund creativity, and we must thank that admirable institution the French Institute for bringing this exhibition to our shores and gallerist Joao Ferreira for hanging it so well.

The exhibition ends August 28. Phone 021 42-5403.



An invitation to Johnny
Golightly's show

Postcards from the Edge

'The Innocence of a Broken Heart - 500 Pretty Postcards from the Edge' is the full title of Johnny Golightly's first exhibition in Cape Town, which opens at the Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet on August 5.

"What does it mean to golightly? It means walking on eggshells, it means to be as light as a fairy, as stealthy as a spy, as gay as a blade · How can one be golightly in a time of crisis, when being gay means having the saddest experience around · What does it mean to tiptoe around death's door on demi-point when one's clunking Doc Martens are made of lead?"

Golightly supplies his own antidote to sadness by filling the Cabinet with 500 small images (12.5 x 17.5cm) on prepared canvas board, lithoprinted on the reverse as a ready-to-send postcard (if you trust the post office not to nick your treasure, that is). The work will be sold on a cash and carry basis, with a sexy sailor on hand to assist with purchases at the opening, French maids to serve pink champagne, and the artist himself arriving in a white limo.

Golightly will fill the larger space with three site-specific murals using some of the thousands of aphorisms he has collected over the years.

The show opens at 6pm on August 5 and continues till the 29th.


Marthinus la Grange's retrospective
is at the Irma Stern

Marthinus la Grange

At the UCT Irma Stern Museum, a retrospective of the work of the late Marthinus la Grange is on show until August 19. It is a pleasure to have this opportunity to study a lifetime of work from an artist who was an integral part of Cape Town's art scene.



Penny Siopis
Breasts 1998
Video (8 mins)


Msizi Kuhlane, Doris Nkosi, Mfeli Nkosi
Across the Divide
'Ghetto Diaries'
Episode 5 1997
Video (24 mins)

Bringing Up Baby

Moving from the Albany Museum in Grahamstown to Block B in the Cape Town Castle - the spaces last occupied by 'Life's Little Necessities' on the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale - is the show 'Bringing Up Baby: Artists Survey the Reproductive Body'. Curator Terry Kurgan has been at work considering the extent of her subject and involving her artists for some 18 months, ever since the historic parliamentary hearings on abortion law reform first suggested the topic. The depth of her attention and the interaction between herself and the contributors shows in the fine spread of work on show.

Never one to shy away from issues of the body, Penny Siopis presents a video on the subject of breasts which gets about as far away from Page Three boob shots as it is possible to get with a series of mesmerising, unnerving images of brains, suckling monsters and bleeding nipples. Clive van den Berg explores his memories of awakening sexuality as a child in a series of 10 watercolours on paper. "I am still profoundly susceptible to images, and those presented here record the tensions between censure and desire that have formed me," says Van den Berg in the excellent catalogue that accompanies the exhibition. Other exhibitors are Jane Alexander, Hema Gala-Chunilal, Msizi Kuhlanae, Doris Nkosi and Mfeli Nkosi, Kurgan herself, Mandla Mabila, Daina Mabunda and Bronwen Findlay, Veronique Malherbe, Fatima Mendonca, Antoinette Murdoch, Colin Richards, Ruth Rosengarten, Claudette Schreuders and Warrick Sony.

The show opens on August 15.

Public sculpture competition maquettes

The competition for a public sculpture to be situated in St George's Mall has reached maquette stage. These will be displayed at Rust en Vreugd in Buitenkant Street from Monday August 3 until August 15. Artists known to be submitting entries include Brett Murray, Kevin Brand and Paul Edmunds.



Cheryl Gage
Detail from her painted and
constructed series on domesticity
On show at Bang the Gallery

Women artists at Idasa and Bang

August 9 is Women's Day, and this time of the year always seems to bring a certain emphasis on the work of women artists. At the Idasa, where the exhibition served to provide a background to a focus on the work of women in parliament, the work is not new but is still well worth a visit. Amongst other work, there are photo collages by Jane Alexander, colour laser-printed collaborative portraits of women by Sue Williamson, and etchings on the theme of the dispossession of the San nation from Pippa Skotnes.

Over at Bang the Gallery on Bree Street, a show with the in-your-face title of 'Broad - Women and Art' opens on August 10, and features 10 women with work in a variety of media. Tracy Gander turns her camera on her own body in a series of analytical studies, Johannesburg artist Cheryl Gage combines paint with construction and video to explore domesticity, and Tay Dall paints expressively. Visit the exhibition in cyberspace from the same date.

... ZA@PLAY   MWeb

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