The Musée de Dakar,
one of the main venues
of the Biennale

Work in progress:
Kevin Brand puts his piece up
on one wall of the museum

Jane Alexander
Cadet, Harvester, Harbinger 1997-8
Mixed media
Ht: 120cm

Jane Alexander
Harvester 1997-8
Mixed media
Ht: 92cm

Jane Alexander
Cadet (detail) 1997/8
Plaster and oil paint
Ht: approx 120cm


If it's April, it must be Dakar

"Even though the traditional circuits of art remain in place," commented Okwui Enwezor, director of the second Johannesburg Biennale recently, "in many ways what we know as the biennales have become the new zones of encounter that you will see nowhere else, meeting places for the international art community."

Put like that, from the curatorial point of view, it all sounds wonderfully universal and stimulating, but as every participating artist discovers, all biennales are organisationally challenged and some more so than others. Getting your work up will require every scrap of energy and ingenuity you possess. If it actually arrives, that is. A funny thing happened to Willie Bester's work on its way to Dak'Art 98, the recent Biennale of Contemporary African Art held in Dakar: it got stuck in Djeddah. Air tickets promised to participants failed to materialise, so Zwelethu Mthethwa and Jane Alexander stayed in Cape Town. It was left to Kevin Brand, invited by Cote d'Ivoire curator Yacouba Konate, to head north to Senegal.

The selected piece was Brand's version of Sam Nzima's photograph of Hector Peterson, the first black child to be killed in Soweto in 1976 (see artbio). Brand's method of reproduction is to cut squares of sontape in black, grey or white to duplicate the newspaper dot. The piece required no less than 4 000 such squares, prepared by Brand and his assistant at night and stuck into place over a six-day period, working from a rickety scaffolding attached to the building with ropes. So much attention did the process attract, that the Prime Minister of the Assembly put the last few pixels in place as part of the opening ceremonies.

Jane Alexander sent new work - three pieces made in the last 12 months. Alexander lives on Long Street, in Cape Town, home to numbers of the city's street children, and the strangely stunted little figure, half man half child, entitled Cadet, relates to Alexander's engagement with these children. "They represent an extreme through which I examine a whole lot of other things," says the artist. "They live an extreme form of life. I have no access to it. One thinks they are children, but they are often much older than they look."

Also from South Africa were Owen Ndou, Sam Nhlengethwa and Patrick Mautloa, and exhibiting artists who South Africans might remember from local biennales were the Angolan Fernando Alvim, Body Iseh Kingelez and from Cuba, Kcho, a rising world star - who himself was unable to attend when his visa did not come through in time. In addition to the contemporary art exhibitions, there was a Salon for Creative Textile Design, an African Design Salon focusing on the work of Dakarian furniture designers, and a Salon for Art Education. This way, a wide range of artistic interests were covered.

Funding and organisational problems aside, the Dakar Biennale brought together many of Africa's leading contemporary art practitioners, and as Brand comments, "It is absolutely necessary that we have these opportunities for cultural exchange."



The Electric Workshop,
venue for the second showing
of 'Memorias Intimas Marcas'

Fernando Alvim
Inseparables 3 (detail) 1997
Coiled bed with brain form on one
side and heart on other

Memorias Intimas Marcas

Writing especially for ArtThrob, critic Tracy Murinik considers the second showing of this important exhibition

'Memorias Intimas Marcas' looks at intimate memories and traumatic scars relating to the devastating Angolan war. The project took as its starting point an interaction between three artists: Fernando Alvim from Angola, Carlos Garaicoa from Cuba, and Gavin Younge from South Africa, The artists had spent time together in Cuito Canavale, the site of one of the most devastating attacks of the Angolan war which left South Africa embarrassed and defeated. It also left scars on all sides - physical, emotional, existential. The work that came to the Cape Town Castle last year, then, was largely a response to and a reflection upon this experience.

The exhibition subsequently moved to Johannesburg, to the Electric Workshop. The experience of it was quite different. More artists, a massive industrial space: different to the over-determined context and physical vulnerability of the Castle. But besides the more obvious differences of these physical spaces, there seems to have been a temporal shift and slight detachment from the immediacy of the works and their reflections at the Castle. The dialogue created between Alvim and Garaicoa, for example, has become layered and intuitive; the one warns of the danger of convenient amnesia relating to the past, while the other craves the relief of no memory. Both reflect on the trauma of remembering and of existing.

Added to the exhibition in Johannesburg were South African artists Wayne Barker, Lien Botha, Moshekwa Langa and Colin Richards. Cuban artist Sandra Ceballos was also included. The artists used spaces still in place after the Biennale, literally "squatting" in the space. In many ways, the vulnerability of the works in the intimacy of the Castle became even more acute in the Workshop's immense space, creating an atmosphere that was often quite chilling.

"Squatting", as a phenomenon, was eloquently observed through public interaction in one of Carlos Garaicoa's works at the opening in Johannesburg. The work comprised a maquette of a headless Napoleon mounted on a plinth, set on a floor of salt, with images of the actual monument being projected behind it. By the end of the opening night, people had graffitied their names into the salt, sending their children also to make their marks. A interesting reminder of the ways in which monuments become defaced and are reclaimed by their environments.

In Cape Town, Gavin Younge's Kwaggas hung in the Castle in close procession suspended from the low ceiling of the Officers' Mess, comfortingly contained within the blue-painted walls. They appeared fantastical and child-like, yet simultaneously eerie, ghost-like captured in the vellum markers of what they were. In the Electric Workshop there were fewer casts hanging. They appeared defenseless and abandoned, hanging destitute without containment; lost and threatened within the massive architecture.

Lien Botha's work for the exhibition, Salver 8/24, consisted of a series of wooden trays precariously balanced on metal mounts arranged along three walls of a cubicle. On them were printed images of prostheses, hands and feet that created an unsettling visual and literal play of the limbs that serve being offered on the serving trays themselves. Scattered in the centre were about two dozen glass tumblers, arranged "like landmines" on the floor. Invoking a range of definitions and associations from the title, one was left grappling with its complex, often contradictory meanings, from military service, to domestic servitude; the surrogate service of prostheses necessitated through the effects of landmines; "salve" as soothing balm; redemptive in "salvation"; military forces in "salvo". The experience of walking through the work, carefully trying to dodge glasses, created an acute awareness of your own potential to be destructive with every move. By the end of the opening night, most of the glasses lay smashed, and many people had thrown their own wine glasses into the space as an act of defiance/acknowledgement/empathy.

Moshekwa Langa presented work in two adjoining spaces. In one space hung a series of photographs, greatly enlarged and becoming so grainy in appearance that they read ambiguously as paintings/photographs. They were images, mostly, of singular figures captured standing with arms out, in "phantom" pose; or lying down, or sleeping. On one wall was a group of people (including the artist) gathered at what looks like a picnic in a park, dissolved in acid green light. The effect was strange and beautiful. The figures appeared to hover in space; as "memories" of the moments that they represented, they were vague, uncertain. A similar tension was followed through in the video work of the adjacent room where three different reels of footage played together on three large screens. One could make out, again vaguely, a boy kicking a ball on one screen, images of people sleeping on the lawns outside the Pretoria Art Museum on another. But Langa again played with the textures, colours, speed and overall feel of the videos. He slowed them down, created psychedelic mirages, added some more acid light, instigated some "snow", for example. He played with negative images, cleverly throwing in visual contradictions that one might read as insights into the way that memory operates, as well as commenting on the ephemeral existence of human beings. People occurred as vacant silver shadows against a backdrop that remained intact.

Wayne Barker's piece, Memory/ Forgiveness, had, at its centre, a structure made out of burnt sheets onto which footage from a "state of emergency" township under attack by police, and other footage of South African soldiers in Angola, was projected. Imbued with green and blue filters respectively, the sheets seemed to swim in a fluid tirade of violence and terror, the burnt holes invoking gaping wounds, the sheets becoming a physically punctured body. This was engulfed in a cubicle densely layered in wax, underlaid with poetic text and narrated personal reflections, and overlaid with rich, bruised colours.

Fernando Alvim installed Love's Body, work by Colin Richards originally made for the 'Faultlines' exhibition at the Castle. Photographs of military items, including a medal and a flaming heart, reflected, through a series of plastic sheets, suspended in the centre with post-mortem drawings printed onto them, onto a small broken cherub's head gently lit in its small niche. The "dialogue" created between these elements was at once tragic and redemptive: the cherub became both funereal marker and lightly angelic; the plastic sheets shroud-like, finally laying brutal memories and a devastating past to rest. At the entrance to the cubicle, Richards included a traumatic account of a young soldier, being driven to his army camp by a father who is sure that his son is being sent to Angola. The soldier adamantly insists that his father is wrong. Still idealistic, still na•ve of his own usefulness in a system he does not want to suspect, he finally recounts his gradual realisation of being implicated in the very setup that he has denied.

Update: The next manifestation of 'Memorias Intimas Marcas' opens in the vast African Window Museum in Pretoria on June 24. Here, Wayne Barker will install a piece once again using old army uniforms, old articles of clothing and SADF paraphernalia, as he has in the past with his The World is Flat, shown on 'Scurvy' at the Cape Town Castle, and on the second Johannesburg Biennale. Barker is appealing to the public to donate any such items to be a part of this piece, and, says Barker, by so doing they will become part of a cathartic act, symbolising a process of reconciliation and forgiveness.

The uniform piece will later be shown in Angola and possibly other parts of the world.



Jo Ractliffe
A video still from Balaam,
her piece on Karoo donkeys,
first seen on the Johnnesburg
Biennale, now in Paris

Jo Ractliffe and Tracey Rose in Paris

If you are in Paris before June 13, call in at 'L'Art Dans le Monde' (Art in the World) in the Passage de Retz, Rue Charlot. Beaux Arts magazine in Paris invited critics from 24 publications around the world to curate young artists for this show, "covering the creation of five continents". From South Africa, Brenda Atkinson, art critic of the Mail & Guardian, who also attended the seminars on the opening week, selected photographer and video artist Jo Ractliffe and Vita Awards finalist Tracey Rose. Both artists showed videos: Ractliffe's contribution was her engaging piece first seen at the second Johannesburg Biennale, on donkeys in the Karoo, and performance artist Rose submitted Ongetiteld (Untitled) on shaving herself, and Lus (Lust), made especially for the show. More about Beaux Arts magazine can be found on the website of the AFAA.

The woman on the contents page is
laughing because she was on the
receiving end of an eyeball-to-eyeball
confrontation with Barend de Wet

A cut-away view of De Wet
and Pienaar in their
performance To Be Viewed

This photograph of the duo
was taken last year. Now
they are in heavy training
at the gym under a former
Mr South Africa as part of an
ongoing art project

Everything is Art
Performance at the Joao
Ferreira Gallery

The Peet and Barend show

One Saturday morning in May this year Peet Pienaar, he of the green lamé rugby evening ensemble, and Barend de Wet, who not long ago placed his baby on a plinth, photographed him, and used the photo to make a postcard announcing his retirement from art, were due to give a performance at the Joao Ferreira Gallery. The performance was to be called Everything is Art, and was going to be an update of the famous photograph showing Marcel Duchamp playing chess with a naked female opponent.

To publicise the event, Pienaar and De Wet had the lower portions of themselves photographed frontally, seated, naked, with their cocks tucked neatly out of sight. These photographs were put in a street level gallery display window covered in black paper with two eyeholes cutout for passersby to look in. But then the two found they got a stronger reaction from a viewer by gazing back at her or him from the other side of the window. Most found this unexpectedly intimate proximity with two unknown human eyes most disconcerting, often provoking a little shriek. In other variations, viewers got to see the photos first, then one or other of the duo would leap up and gaze fiercely through the eyeholes.

In any event, there was quite a crowd on hand for the Everything is Art performance the following Saturday. Dressed in a black tuxedo, Pienaar faced De Wet, naked except for a black bobbed wig, across a Monopoly board. The pair were seated in a cage of milky polythene, which gave a softness and a necessary distance to the performance. The game lasted precisely an hour. People enjoyed it. There is to be a follow-up performance entitled Nothing is Art. Watch this column.

Lisa Brice
Staying Alive (detail) 1997
Wood, vinyl, steel, resin

Lisa Brice shows in Brussels

From May 9 to 24, Lisa Brice was one of nine artists on a show curated by Alain de Wasseige called 'Body, City and Society', one of a series of shows making up the 'Artists' Circuit, 1998'. The venues were in the Saint-Gilles area of Brussels, the artists' district, and Brice's show was in the Ice Factory, an old warehouse-type building, where her Staying Alive installation, seen at the Hänel in Cape Town and at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, was hung to excellent effect.

William Kentridge with masks
from his new production of the
opera, The Return of Ulysses

Kentridge's show at the Palais
des Beaux Arts features drawings
made for all his productions,
including the new opera

Double triumph for Kentridge

Definitely William Kentridge's year, this one. "In Brussels last week a mesmerised audience cheered Kentridge and the Handspring Puppet Company's opera The Return of Ulysses, set in the emergency department of the Johannesburg Hospital," wrote Laurent Devèze in the Sunday Independent of May 17. "The Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi has certainly never been served with such devotion as with Kentridge's setting." The production once more combined Kentridge's video backdrops of animated drawings with puppets handled under the direction of Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, and live performers.

Meanwhile, back at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, Kentridge is receiving his first comprehensive solo exhibition, which includes an important series of his films and drawings, and for which a substantial catalogue has been produced. This exhibition will run until August 23.

And the art world waits to hear the announcement from New York of the winner of the Hugo Boss award, for which Kentridge is one of the finalists.

Laurent Devèze with
artist Steven Cohen

Laurent Devèze leaves Jo'burg

Au revoir, Laurent. And merci beaucoup. We'll miss you. With the departure to Paris of Laurent Devèze, director of the French Institute in Johannesburg, the South African art world will lose one of its most enthusiastic and articulate supporters. IFAS opened its doors in the Market Theatre precinct at the time of the first Johannesburg Biennale in 1995, and since then has been instrumental in funding any number of cultural initiatives. But as important as the sponsorships have been, Deveze's contribution to the development of the post-apartheid discourse on art has been equally significant.

Writing in the Sunday Times (May 17), Deveze had this to say: "The power of expression and the artistic mastery revealed in such brave works as William Kentridge's play Ubu and the Truth Commission and Robyn Orlin's dance Naked on a Goat make contemporary South African artists heroes of the modern age. In a world that has grown comfortable and is tired of producing art, the liberated South Africa is like an Eldorado. In South Africa there are no conceptual prisons. When he wants to, Kendell Geers is able to use both words and video; William Kentridge both puppets and the opera. The mental block which would prohibit such liberties in Paris seems not to exist here."

And as a final piece of advice: "Tactfully speaking, I should not be saying this to you, but as your friend I must. In general, and my opinion, South Africans suffer from a serious malaise: a lack of trust in their own artistic production. Cricket, soccer, rugby and the smell of braais do not have to be incompatible with the passion of art."

News continued: Awards and lectures

...ZA@PLAY   MWeb

Email us

contents | listings | artbio | project | news | exchange | feedback | websites | archive | home