Map of the São Paulo
An untitled piece by
São Paulo Bienal opens on October 2
The most venerable of the southern hemisphere biennales, the São Paulo, opens for its 24th manifestation on October 2 and continues until December 13. For the 23rd São Paulo Bienal in 1996, the South African representative was Willem Boshoff with his remarkable Blind Alphabet. This time around, the director of the 1st Johannesburg Biennale, Lorna Ferguson, was the curator for the whole of Africa, one of the seven geographic regions into which the world has been divided for the 'Roteiros' (see ArtThrob 13) section of the bienal.
Thirteen artists in total will represent Africa: four from South Africa, four from Mali, two from Benin, and one each from Senegal, Angola and Morocco. Ferguson introduces their work as follows:
Moshekwa Langa (South Africa) is engaged in projects which seek constantly to dislocate the assumed centres of power from within. Through the use of his own mapping devices of erasure, annotation and recordings, Langa inscribes the cartography of his own identity on to that which previously sought to control through definition. Yet he resists the idea that one can possess one's own identity. For this exhibition, Langa will be presenting three new video works in which he resists pursuing the idea of himself as an either/or, positing himself instead as a cornucopia, a horn of plenty.
Langa is one of the most talented of South Africa's young generation artists and as such is being widely sought after as a young post-modernist. He works in a poetic and sophisticated manner to challenge outmoded, stereotypical modes of classification.
Langa writes of his project: "My intention in São Paulo is to invent an accomplice (working name: John Ruskin). Because Moshekwa has to answer stupid questions most of the time - 'Where is Africa in your work?' - we will both be able to answer and I think having this personage might go a long way to deflecting confining thinking. My/our work will be seen in an altered state and not within the limits of simply 'African Art'. I am very keen to make this kind of confusion - whose work is which? - which work is more authentically 'African'? In other words I want to show that there are multiple forms of influence and that I and other African artists meander and incorporate different forms."
William Kentridge (South Africa) will be presenting his most recent projection project Ulisse, gathered from material produced for his re-interpretation of Monteverdi's opera, Il Retorno d'Ulisse. The new video for São Paulo is based on the drawings for the opera's recent premiere at the Opera Bruxelles. The production is set in the late 20th century world of South Africa. Ulisse lies not on the beach of Ithaca as in the original opera but in a Johannesburg hospital bed, hanging onto life in a feverish state of dreams and visions. Associations are constantly set up between the South African theatre of life where brutal and inhuman acts were/are committed and the anatomical theatre of modern medicine. The images to be used range from landscape images, historical anatomical drawings and a range of contemporary body imaging techniques, CAT-scans, magnetic resonance imaging, sonar, angiogram, echo-cardiograms, X-ray images. This was the installation seen on the Vita Art Prize show at the Sandton Civic Gallery in July.
Georges Adeagbo (Benin) will be researching and developing a project over a three-week period in Salvador d'Bahia on the theme of cannibalism, which he interprets within the broader framework of racism, expressed as a devouring, destructive energy. For Adeagbo, history has to be rewritten, particularly the history of slavery. The twin and future histories of Brazil and Africa play themselves out on a daily basis in the streets of Salvador. It is hoped that a period spent by Adeagbo in Salvador will allow him to add in Brazil to his chosen assemblages of found material from Benin. These will form an index - pliant traces of each chosen object's previous cultural, religious, economic and political meaning - and contain within this new sub-structure their various present potentials.
Soly Cissé (Senegal) works with two-dimensional representation in oil and gouache as well as installation using social classifications of identity including gender, poverty and health, overlaid with formal artistic elements, numerological and typological systems, for example bar-codes, as indicators of the increasing homogenisation of subjectivity in the contemporary. Personality traits of social order or disruption are incorporated with traditional medical remedies either to maintain or restore order.
Cissé is a very young artist who has never exhibited outside West Africa but shows extraordinary capabilities in capacity to experiment. Cissé will be collaborating with the Brazilian artist Marepe on a project in Salvador which will seek to give form to previously untranslated Afro-Brazilian communications.
Candice Breitz (South Africa) (see Artbio) will be presenting her Rainbow Series (1996). The images are a conglomeration of body parts of women gleaned from porn magazines and ethnographic tourist postcards. The works can be seen specifically as a response to the post-apartheid metaphor of a South African "rainbow nation", a metaphor which tends to elide significant cultural difference in favour of the construction of a homogeneous and cohesive national subject. However, the images have an important echo when considering the spread of sexual tourism where cannibalism takes on a different meaning and the bodies of women of different ethnicities or perceived exotic cultures are commodified. Breitz insists that feminist discussions around pornography and exploitation must be extended to other struggles around identity, eg race, class and ethnicity, to have any power or efficacy.
Breitz is currently doing her doctorate at Columbia University (NY) and is one of few women from Africa confronting the double-edged sword of both racial and gender discrimination, which she does with candour, courage and complexity. Her work is confrontational and combative and she is the only artist on the 'Roteiros' exhibition (of 50 artists) whose work speaks about these aspects of the identity debate.
Fernando Alvim (Angola) extrapolates on the effects of war on the psyche of the individual and landscape. This exploration is centred primarily on the Angolan Civil War in which at one lingering stage South Africa, Cuba, Russia and the United States were the principal protagonists. In Alvim's work the battlefield hospital becomes the site of multiple incisions, sutures and amputations of the traumatised subject. He is concerned with the difficulty of giving expression to national trauma so extreme and yet so proximate that it appears to exceed representation. He mediates on the phantoms left behind after the defining historical mutilations. Within Alvim's project, film editing by South African Thomas Barry of images of South African Defence Force soldiers in Angola is included, as well as collaborative work by Cuban artist Carlos Garacoia.
Touhami Ennadre (Morocco) The thread of death which underpins Ennadre's work places him within the rambling art historical tradition of the memento mori and vanitas. His photographic interrogations of skin, birth and still birth, carcasses and seafood, ecriture, religions and historical sites such as Auschwitz, Herculaneum and Assisi are all redirected towards examining the only truly universal concept - life which is cannibalised by death. A Moroccan Muslim by birth, Ennadre's ubiquitous range of subject matter, including also Judaic-Christian iconography, places him within the ambit of a truly all encompassing African commentator.
Thomas Mulcaire (South Africa) and Joseph Kpobly (Benin) will be constructing a "set" in the style of a reading room containing texts (discourse) on Africa by Africans, dealing in varying depths and degrees of inscription with the expectation, production and reception of African art. Viewers will be able to seat themselves in the space and consult the selected books, which will be in English, French and Portuguese. The intention is for visitors to the Bienal to play an active part in the shifting aesthetics of this art work and to engage with contemporary African theory.
Associated with the Reading Room will be a cyber archive of submissions online, available on a PC in the space. Several prominent African theorists will be invited to submit material to structure the initial discussions and the daily input will be moderated either from Africa or Brazil before being read online.
A section exploring the work of four Malians is being researched and developed by Awa Meite (Mali), a young curator who lives in Bamako. They are Abdoulaye Konaté, represented by an installation entitled 'Genocide', and three generations of Malian photographers - Seydou Keita, Malick Sidibe and Makki Kante. Two photographers dealing in different ways with interrogating the African identity (and in the case of Kante, dealing with the abuse of military power) are to be exhibited on display devices attached to the African Reading Room in close association with the (French/Brazilian) photographer Pierre Verger.
The Kulturhuset in
A detail of Isolde Krams'
'Dreams and Clouds' opens in Stockholm
Stockholm is the cultural capital of Europe for 1998, and as part of its official programme is hosting a comprehensive cultural project focused on South Africa, including the exhibition 'Dreams and Clouds' at the Kulturhuset, the Stockholm Cultural Centre. The show is intended to give the Swedish people, who have always been one of the new country's strongest supporters, "a vantage point for our reflections on the changed cultural climate in South Africa".
The Kulturhuset has a vast gallery space of 11 000 square metres, which, says the press release, "should supply the chosen artists with ample space to define their understanding of selfhood and the relationship of that identity to the contemporary South African cultural climate". Indeed it should. Defining their selfhood and obsessions will be Siemon Allen, Kevin Brand, Willem Boshoff, Maureen de Jager, William Kentridge, Isolde Krams, Ledelle Moe, Santu Mofokeng, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Albert Munyai, Jo Ractliffe, Tracy Rose, Johannes Segogela, Hentie van der Merwe, Sue Williamson, Konrad Welz and Sandile Zulu. Clive van der Berg will fire up new "drawings" on Sergels Torget in front of the Kulturhuset on opening night.
Allen will show one of his screen pieces, last seen on the Vita Awards show. Kevin Brand will instal Here XVII, a titular reference to the original Dutch masters of South Africa. In Brand's comment on the heritage they left behind, a series of papier-mâché youths, endlessly reaching out, have been cast aside on wooden pallets. Willem Boshoff has sent two pieces from his Tree of Knowledge series, made, says the artist, "to commemorate the tree in its sacrificial form - the book; and to celebrate the end of the book, if that were possible. To make paper, we bludgeon the corporate tree into dispirited splinters and slivers. Then we re-admit these deconstructed, shattered pieces of wood as paper to fulfil the 'noble' role as bearer of information."
'Dreams and Clouds' will run at the Kulturhuset until January 10, after which it will travel to Gothenburg.
Huang Yong Ping
Images above courtesy
"The most important exhibition of the 90s"? - The international reportback on the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale|
At the beginning of this year, ArtThrob promised a roundup of comment in overseas journals on the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale which opened in October last year. But not much could be found. Now, with a substantial report in the latest issue of Art in America to reach our shores, and with a one-year break since the Biennale to give a certain distance from the event, it seems an opportune moment for a reportback.
Eleanor Heartney, a freelance critic based in New York, wrote Report from Johannesburg: Mapping the Postcolonial for the June issue of Art in America. The July 1998 issue of World Art carried a review by John Peffer-Engels, a New York-based academic who has spent considerable time in South Africa. Jen Budney asked Who's it For? The 2nd Johannesburg Biennale in the British quarterly Third Text, and in the January issue of Artforum, Dan Cameron, senior curator at the New Museum in New York, included a section on the Biennale in his review of 1997.
"As an exhibition devoted to a model of multiculturism grounded in hybrid identity, nomadism and decentralisation, the Johannesburg Biennale consciously separated itself from the more romantic notions of authenticity and ethnic purity which have governed many previous efforts to grasp the new shape of global culture. In sharp contrast to the groundbreaking 1989 Paris exhibition, 'Magiciens de la Terre', and even to the South African offerings in the previous Johannesburg Biennale, Enwezor's approach avoided a focus on tribal art, traditional craft and pre-colonial art forms as the primary contribution of non-Western artists. Instead, the concern with the notions of trade and migration made for a more conceptual approach which emphasised art whose ideas and forms travel beyond local boundaries. Rather than focusing on what is unknowable and incommunicable in the art of the Other, 'Trade Routes' suggested that artists need not be grounded in a geographical place or locked in some timeless identity to express their diverse cultural positions.
"The entire Biennale was based on the idea of mobility and change. Hence despite its sober assessment of the problems of the post-colonial world, it was ultimately a hopeful exhibition." - Eleanor Heartney
"This is the artistic payoff that everyone who's been traipsing the globe this year has been waiting for. 'Trade Routes: History and Geography' is the first global exhibition to transform the promise of postcolonial theory into a tangible reality, thereby almost completely exorcising the ghost of l989's 'Magiciens de la Terre' from the curatorial lexicon. The scale and breadth of this exhibition enables the most intrepid viewers to immerse themselves for an entire week in what may turn out be the most important exhibition of the 90s. Why is Johannesburg II such a triumph? Part of it has to do with the fact that Enwezor, originally from Nigeria, is thoroughly immersed in both scholarly issues and the art of the African diaspora. Unlike comparable projects in the US and Europe, however, race becomes more subtext than excuse, reflecting the fact that the hotbeds of intersecting cultural drives in the most vital artistic centres today (London, New York) are producing innumerable hybrid positions." - Dan Cameron
"By most international accounts ... the Biennale was a great achievement, the first major exhibition to present contemporary African, Caribbean, South African and Asian artists as equals and, in the current wave of post-colonial studies, often the betters of their European colleagues: some people have heralded this Biennale as the most important show since the Centre Georges Pompidou's 1989 'Magiciens de la Terre', or as the most important exhibition of the decade." - Jen Budney
"Coherently conceived, relevant and intelligent international art exhibition … This biennale demonstrated and critiqued the extent to which culture itself (in the form of 'other' histories and geographies) is a new 'raw material' from the Third World which is increasingly in demand in the global economy." - John Peffer-Engels
Perception of local conditions:
"Realised under extraordinary conditions - support from the cultural authorities seems more symbolic than real, the skeletal support staff is more overworked than any I've encountered before, and conditions surrounding the downtown site lend the whole proceedings a bunkerlike mentality ..." - Dan Cameron
"Budget problems and an antagonistic local press plagued the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, resulting in the event's unplanned, temporary closure over the Christmas break, and the bankrupt city council sending early dismissal notices to the Biennale's staff. During the opening, many South African artists and audience members complained of the exhibition's inaccessibility and lack of engagement with the community; one local newspaper went so far as to post on telephone poles around the city advertisements for its evening edition, asking in bold type, clearly legible to motorists speeding by: 'Is the Biennale a Fraud?'
"Most visitors to Johannesburg were confined to the Biennale grounds in an atmosphere as tense as it was joyful. We were repeatedly told by our hosts that rather than 'improving', Johannesburg is more violent than ever, too dangerous to walk about even during the day." - Jen Budney
"Despite financial and technical crises (the latter included Internet projects that couldn't be connected, installations dependent on mismatched and incompatible electrial systems and late-arriving work), Enwezor pulled off an impressive and provocative exhibition, realizing his 'Trade Routes' theme in five separate shows." - Eleanor Heartney
"The most exciting aspect of the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale was its across-the-board selection of artists from places like Cuba, Japan, Mali and Slovakia not as 'other' artists - beneficiaries of a kind of charity or praiseworthy openmindedness, which is the norm in most curating - but as mere artists with something interesting to say." - Jen Budney
"Other locals who wanted to participate in the biennale's festivities were frustrated by a lack of public information regarding the African film festival, artists' bios, etc - and these were informed, middle-class academics and professionals. As South Africans David Koloane and Pat Mautloa have pointed out, 'most people in our country don't even know what an art show or a Biennale might be'." - Jen Budney
"Though conceptually strong, this biennial was organisationally weak on the outreach front. The First Johannesburg Biennale trained young curators and held workshops for artists in the townships. This one was more top heavy, prompting one local gallerist to complain that it had more directors than staff - a situation which all too closely parallels the Third World aspect of South African society. Perhaps a smaller selection of artists, with more attention paid to local needs, would have been able to drive the concept home with more force." - John Peffer-Engels
"Hosting an international biennial in a nation with such a tiny leisure class merely emphasises the problems of exhibition practices existing in all countries: questions about 'whose story is being told, whose history, whose religion, whose meaning, whose future', not to mention who gets to participate in the making of institutionalised culture and which audience benefits and how. In many ways, the Johannesburg Biennale underscored the hopelessly bourgeois nature of the art world in general." - Jen Budney
"One was immediately struck by the difference between those transnationals who are powerfully poised to harness emerging media and those who are eager to do so, but have been refused the means." - John Peffer-Engels
"According to artist Mmakgabo Sebidi, South Africa is 'like a new baby born', and she hoped that overseas artists would help to show 'where to go from here'. Unfortunately for Sebidi, many of the painful images on display in the biennale were 'what we already know', after half a century of racial oppression, and not the kind of healing images she sees as crucial for South Africans today. Much of the work in this biennale concerned strategies of negativity, with little celebration of won struggles - particularly odd in a place like South Africa. According to curators Enwezor and [Colin] Richards, the role of art today is to move against the grain, to make people uncomfortable with the status quo. - John Peffer-Engels
"It's impossible to deny the growing awareness that global art has finally passed from pipe dream to the paradigm of our times." - Dan Cameron
"In South Africa, it's somehow possible to read such a diverse and pluralistic exhibition [as the Biennale] as more than the tokenism of a well-funded institution. It might be the setting, whose all too apparent conflicts became a kind of micro-location; or in another light, we might see the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale as the beneficiary of earlier, sometimes discounted or revoked efforts by museums such as the Whitney [New York] to give voice to this new, more diverse generation of artists and curators. Under Enwezor and his staff, the Jo'burg Biennale may have upped the antes from all previous 'post-colonial' exhibitions." - Jen Budney
Two of the three panels
Lisa Brice in her studio
Detail from a photo
Martin Kersels' prosthetic
Close-up of Gavin Turk's
Turk in his recreation
Detail of the above
Sue Williamson's London Journal
Monday, September 21: Here in London! Where to first? There's always something worth seeing at the Tate, so it's a good place to start. At the back, in the Project Room, is a show by Fiona Tanner - text meets canvas. Tanner takes texts of popular culture, and in some way transfers these to wall pieces. Three room-high canvases have the words of Dylan's You Gotta Lot a Nerve cut out in stencil style. The letters make shadows on the wall. The stretchers supporting the canvas are clearly visible. The piece is loose, relaxed, yet controlled and satisfying. On the floor, oval, round, or cube shapes in white polystyrene turn out to be full stops in six different typefaces blown up 1800% and given volume. In stories, says the artist, full stops are almost unnoticed, but indicate that very important point, THE END. She is giving them some attention. Again, the quirkiness of the concept provokes a slight smile.
Cape Town artist Lisa Brice is in temporary residence at the Gasworks, the London equivalent of Johannesburg's Bag Factory and another Robert Loder initiative. The Gasworks is not exactly inside one of those huge green drum structures, as I'd always vaguely imagined, but a white three-storey building next to the gas tanks. There's an exhibition space on the ground floor, and about 12 smallish studio spaces. Johannes Phokela is one South African artist working here, and past residents include Claudette Schreuders and Leora Farber. The talk among the artists this morning is whether Chris Ofili will win the next Turner Prize, or indeed, if anyone else has a chance against him. He would be the first black artist to win. Ofili is English born, of Nigerian extraction, and, after a workshop in Zimbabwe where he saw elephant dung handmade paper being sold to tourists, decided to use the dung in his own work, as a jokey response to his African ancestry. Since he lives in London, this dung is delivered to him by the London zoo - a further muddling of references. The mounds are used as collage elements in his large colourful canvases, which are also rich with brilliant colour, and dots which float in layers of resin.
Tuesday, September 22: Elke Krystufek is showing at the Emily Tsingou Gallery off Oxford Street. She is the artist representing Austria at the São Paulo Biennale this year, and one of the so-called "bad girls" of art. This show is called 'A Kind of Beauty' and consists entirely of photographs, drawings and videos of Krystufek by the artist herself. There is a gallery warning that the video is "pornographic". If you are prepared to sit through about 15 minutes of Krystufek panning sloppily over her untidy bedroom and her untidy studio you get to a part where Krystufek bares one breast, and having finally managed to pull a condom over a handy cucumber, spends the next 15 minutes using it as a dildo on herself, a process which judging by her pained facial expression is both tedious and uncomfortable.
Thursday, September 23: Meet curator Nicodemus Heller to discuss his project 'Divide and Rule', which, if it comes off, will involve eight writers and artists, two each from Germany, Russia, Ireland and South Africa. In this case, I would be the writer and Barend de Wet the artist from South Africa. The Whitechapel Gallery has turned the project down. Now it is being considered by the Serpentine. We visit the Saatchi, where 'Young Americans 2' is up. A prosthetic leg by Martin Kersels is attached by a tangle of leather strands to a motor at the top of a wall. Periodically, the motor rotates, causing the leg to kick violently against the base of the wall. After I photograph this, the security guard tells me it is not allowed, so I can't show you Tom Friedman's wall with such pieces as a plank of pine painted to look exactly like itself and a chewed ball of bubblegum plonked in one corner of the room, and the strange paintings of Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin.
At the South London Gallery in Peckham Road is Gavin Turk's 'The Stuff Show'. Turk is one of the YBAs - Young British Artists - who took part in last year's 'Sensation' show at the Royal Academy. Lisa Brice, who is with me, went to the opening of 'The Stuff Show' and along with all the other guests with their by-invitation-only cards found that all the sculptures and wall pieces had been wrapped so that nothing was on view - a joke not appreciated by many who had braved rush hour traffic to get to this obscure part of London. Now everything is on view, and a very strong show it is too. One life-size sculpture is a self-portrait of the artist as lurching, drunken bum, one eye almost closed, cardboard shoes on his feet. The major piece on the show is a masterly sculptural recreation of David's famous painting of the death of Marat, with Turk posed as Marat, not dead, but sleeping. Wall pieces include several versions of Turk's own signature - one fabricated from a rectangle of hundreds of white egg shells set side by side, with Gavin Turk pricked out of the shells on the diagonal across the sea of eggs. Lisa says she's glad she's made the effort to come back to see the show.