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Thursday, 25 September 2014

SUPERDREAM!

A SUPERDREAM!

I write a blog because I have views and want to share them.  I am not a critic nor am I an established who’s-who in the art world.  I write because I think there is value in sharing ideas (no matter who you are).  This blog I should have written months ago, it is my favourite event this year, perhaps in many years!


What is art and why does it matter? While I was at UJ I would have been too intimidated to answer this question as it is complex and my response would have seen simplified and obvious to people who are really analysing these concepts from an academic point of view. But as Mariapaola, an art lover, I will give it a shot… Art is the way we can communicate with one another in a language that neither of us may understand.  Art allows us to look at our society from different perspectives, to feel empathy, to contemplate and to realise that we are not always alone in our loneliness. 



What was it about this one event that just made me smile and feel so happy that someone had got it right?  I heard about the event and was very excited that something was happening in a park, near my home, in the evening! I had no idea what it was.  To give you a brief background to the context…Jeppestown is a poor community.  It is over populated and this leads to many problems. Crime, security and safety being at the top of that list, but also simple things like lots of rubbish on the streets.  I recently discovered why this happens: the owners of the properties do not want to pay for extra bins and Pikitup only collects rubbish that is in the bins, so the rubbish accumulates on the streets. The area borders on Johannesburg CBD. 

Litter in Jeppestown

  I had never been to this particular park before, but often went to one a little closer to my house.  I am sure the issues are the same.  The park near my house always has broken glass lying around.  My kids and other kids in the area have said that they are going to help keep it clean and we have planned to take rubbish bins and clean up.  The older kids explained to me that the park is a mess because of “skelms” (dodgy guys) that come and hang out in the park in the evenings; they get drunk, shoot and leave a mess.  So this event really excited me as it was dealing with the same issues that I had seen less than a kilometre away.  If the parks are full of people, then the “skelms” can’t ow.

We arrived early to Jeppe Park Superdream, there were a group of kids gathering around a bicycle so we joined them.  The bicycle allowed one person at a time to sit and peddle, this turned a stop animation of photographs and ‘took the rider for a walk through a park in England’.  You went through the paths, seeing the trees and the scenery of the area.  There were hundreds of photos!  The kids lined up to get a chance to ‘take a ride’. 



We then went wondering through artworks which were silhouettes of people and their thoughts on their community and Jeppe Park. 
  


Then on we went to the other side of the park for a game of table soccer. 


There were artworks, lights, stages and projections all over the park,

Ark, Installation in Jeppe Park, Mariam Rezaei

Lights on the brooms as people cleaned the park





The event started at 7pm.  It was dark. It was cold. We gathered around a drum fire for a while as a lady cooked mealies.  

We were all asked to take a seat as a young woman welcomed us. She was soft spoken and nervous.  She said her hellos and asked us to move to another stage in another part of the park.  We ran over as we noticed a movie playing and loud music coming from the screen.  The excitement was overwhelming!  The kids were asked to sit on the floor in the front, the adults behind.  We then watched a short film.  It was funny.  It was Laurel and Hardy African Style.  We were giggling, especially the kids.  The film was about a superhero from Jeppestown.
It tells of a security guard who is the victim of a mugging at Jeppe Park.  He goes to a sangoma for protection muti.  Overdosing gives him super powers and he becomes teh protector of those attacked at the park and throughout Jeppestown.  He hides up trees for a bird's eye view. (Rabbie Serumula)



The film was wonderful, we watched and recognised the areas that the superhero was in.  The kids shouted when there was a bad guy, and cheered when he saved someone.  The audience was laughing together.  At one point a man came and stood infront of everyone.  We all shouted at him telling him to move, but he didn't notice. We were in stitches laughing - complete strangers - he then realised, turned, smiled and sat down.






As the movie ended we heard that same young woman talking from the other stage - we all ran as fast as we could to get a seat, laughing and giggling. She was started speaking: nervous, stuttering.  The audience spoke over her and she got even more nervous.  She then began saying her poem.  It was a poem in Zulu, typical whitey, I didn't understand and luckily the lady next to me didn't mind translating.  Every sentence she said , her confidence built, and so did the response in the audience.  It was a transformation like nothing I had seen before.  Her poem was about taking the streets back: it was saying that it is up to us.  Speaking in her language and speaking about something that she believed in gave her such confidence which changed the reaction from the audience completely.  Everyone cheered for her words and shouted in agreement.  the evening continued in the same light, with dancers, rappers, art and movies and with the same mood of excitement, community and warmth.


The crowds watching the performances

Jeppe's superhero




My last two blogs have been about the lack of viewer engagement in our galleries.  I have received quite a lot of responses, often against my words and views, which I welcome (I welcome positive feedback too!).  The one point that many have raised is that artists need to make a living and the white cube concept and methods allows them to do this.  I hear them completely.  I understand the need to make a living, I am sure we all do!  What concerns me is that the commercialization of art has become the identity of art.  Our galleries are where we meet, where we see art and discuss art. Our galleries bring in an audience that is well educated, middle class and often open minded enough to be questioning the ideas artists are raising.  We are happily patting one other on our backs, complimenting and feeling very smart - together, preaching to the converted.  Are we having any real impact within society?  Do we care?  



The Jeppe Superdream was a huge success  for a number of reasons.  The artists allowed their creativity and skill to facilitate the ideas and imaginations of the people that are affected by the issues raised.  There was no sense that an outsider had landed, done something cool and moved on.  There was a strong feeling that this was about community.  The issues being spoken about were highlighted artistically, through dance, music, film, art.  There was no preaching, there was no judgement.  Sitting in the audience there was a strong feeling of positivity and excitement at the idea of change and at the idea that WE are that change!

Could this have been achieved without art?

Many argue with me that art has always only appealed to the minority within society.  Art has always been exclusive and that there is nothing wrong with that.  Really?  Your justification for the methods we use within the art world is that it has always been done that way?  Well in that case nothing within society need to change - woman can remain second class citizens, blacks can remain oppressed by whites, and so on.  History is not enough of a reason to keep things as they are.

This event proved that art is not elitist, nor pretentious.  Art can be loved by all.  It is a method that allows us to engage with one another, to discuss difficult topics in a way that everyone can understand on some level.

Who knows maybe the only thing that is missing from our society is art that is for everyone; art that does not follow the rules of history and creates new methods of engagement and relevance within society.  I truly hope to see and be apart of many more events like this one!







Monday, 8 September 2014

DEGREES OF SEPARATION - ABSA Gallery

Many months ago Mandy Coppes-Martins sent me a whats app message - "Do you know where I can get those tiny men that the architectural students use."  I had no idea, but that was the beginning of her thought process for a work which she exhibited today - a work that used over 4500 of those tiny men! The exhibition is titled "Degrees of Separation' and is a response to the comments made by art critic, Mary Corrigall who observed that 'artists don't look enough at each other's work.' This exhibition involved 20 emerging artists who took part in this 'process-driven group exhibition that encouraged collaboration, conversation and peer review.'

Did Assemblage achieve their objective?  Absolutely!  I know many of these artists and in this exhibition I could see how closely they must have worked with one another.  I also saw growth in ideas, skills and workmanship.  What is even more valuable is the successes behind the exhibition.  Assemblage has managed to create a community of artists that supports challenges and teaches one another.  It is an environment that is addictive and once you have experienced it you never want to leave!  Yet at the end of this exhibition I left feeling slightly foolish, a little irrelevant and not inspired in the least...

My concern, once again, is not about the works exhibited but rather the rules and expectations that come with the space that they are exhibited in.  The 'Degrees of Separation' between the viewer and the artist was very evident at this exhibition.   What is it that happens when an artwork is removed from the studio where it is made and put into the gallery? Where does the pretence and discomfort come from?  Where does the conversation and fascination in the actual art disappear to?  I say this and I know these people - I know the artists, the curators, I am connected to this world.  If I am feeling uncomfortable and somehow irrelevant - where does that put the viewer who is not from this world at all?  I want to see conversations encouraged, 'realness' created, that the viewer feels welcome.  

Some may argue that there was respect for the guest; we were catered for right down to our dietary requirements.  We received drinks for the total 2 hours, there were good speeches, and there was secure parking. We even had to RSVP. What am I complaining about?  
I am complaining about the unsaid - the mood - the importance of certain people above others.  The look of shock when my child laughs too loud or I spill some of my wine.  The feeling that you shouldn't ask too many questions, you should know the answers. The arrogance, the self-proclaimed importance that oozes out of the gallery, down the escalator right into the covered parking lot.  Some may think I am being touchy, but I promise you I am not!  There is a reason the same 100 people attend exhibition openings (half being artists exhibiting or wanting to exhibit).

It is this 'unsaid' - that causes much of the problems we face in the visual arts industry.  You can say I am a guest and give me wine and food till the cows come home, but if you do not say hello with a smile; or allow me to ask a question without feeling foolish, or simply make the space feel like I am invited there, then I am not your guest.  I just don't understand how this huge shift happens.  Artists are storytellers, they like to talk about their process, sometimes their ideas, or how they came to the final work.  The artworks are a full stop of one sentence, with many more to follow, and yet the gallery shuts that conversation.

In an explanation of The White Cube, Doherty writes "As modernism gets older, context becomes content. In a peculiar reversal, the object introduced into the gallery 'frames' the gallery and its laws" (Inside the White Cube, 1986).  Has this exhibition succeeded if its intention was to reflect a concept which the gallery cannot uphold?  The gallery does not offer the space for that dialogue which the works speak about. 

Perhaps my frustration with ABSA Gallery goes back to a conversation I had with Stephan Erasmus over a year ago.  I was speaking to him as the curator of FADA (Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture) gallery about viewer engagement and how do we get more people interested in coming to galleries, engaging with galleries and art. His response really surprised me; he said that he would rather have one investor walk into his gallery, than a hundred people just having a look.  In a country where only 2% of our population step into a gallery each year, and only 1% of that are potential investors (according to VANSA report 2011), I find this kind of arrogance very short sighted.  Yes artists want to sell their works, but if we could increase viewership and increase interest in the visual arts, then we could also increase the potential investors.  On top of this his statement concerns me as he is seeing more importance in the sale of a work, over the sharing of ideas and concepts. Artists need to make a living, therefore artists need to sell their works, but art is not about selling - Coke is!  

The Degrees of Separation that our gallery system forces between the artist and the viewer is what makes galleries remain empty, and artists hesitant to express their profession (as Anthea Pokroy's work describes). No one likes to feel unwelcome, irrelevant or unimportant.  No one will choose to go to a space, in their free time that enforces this.  Artists are important within society, not because of how many works they have sold, but because they are a reflection of a time, they are visual philosophers challenging the way society is and what it does.  Their value can only be respected when the pretence is removed. What is the purpose of challenging ideas and concepts within a society and then exhibiting those concepts and ideas in a space that upholds what is often being challenged?  Most important is that we are far past a modernist society - why are our galleries still following the rules of that way of thinking?  When will the galleries start living in this post post-modernist paradigm?  Elitism, exclusiveness is no longer the ways in which we function, they are out-dated and irritating concepts. Can’t we leave them behind and move with the times?


When leaving the gallery there were 6 security guards as we went down the stairs (yes… 6!). I took my son's plastic gun and shot them all, they laughed and a little bit of 'human' was finally seen, but not enough to improve the whole experience! 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

SITTING ON THE FENCE - Johannesburg Art Gallery

Today the road took me, once again, to The Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG). My previous blog has left me thinking about this space a lot. I live just over a kilometer away from it, and it is the closest gallery to my house, so it is not very surprising that the road would lead me here.  I always prepare myself for the visit:  there will be no other people there, the security guards and shop assistants are not being rude, they are just unbelievably bored, a gallery is meant to be a quiet place, etc., etc.  But somehow even with preparation I always leave the JAG feeling so disappointed.

The Entrance to JAG

So why do I keep going?  In my late teens and early twenties I discovered the Johannesburg Art Gallery and The Market Theatre.  I say discovered as it was the first time I was choosing to go there and not going on my mom's culture club, I was going by myself as a young adult.  The Culture Club was wonderful.  All the way from Springs a group of us from school would get on a big bus, drive for over an hour, and go experience art and culture in the city.  My mom's ingenious idea!  She was adamant that we would not wear uniform and that we would have free time wherever we were going, to wonder around and enjoy the space.  Many teachers believed this was a bad idea - 'They will run riot!  We will not be able to find them!'  My mom believed otherwise, she believed that you give them responsibility and they will act like adults, broadly speaking she was right!

It was 1999, my first year at Wits Technikon, and JAG was just so wonderful.  Was it the amazing art? The history? The incredible art library which made it so wonderful?  Well, um, the first thing that comes to mind was the Hare Krishna restaurant.  It was cheap!  They served big portions!  It was yum!  We went there regularly, at least once a week, looking at art, visiting the library, eating yummy food.  It was part of the culture if you were studying art.  I was not aware of the demographics, of rich or poor, black or white, I was aware that it was a cool place to be - there was a vibe, a mood when you entered. My facts may even be wrong, but the memory has lasted!

Today it is something else...


The gate separating two public spaces




Joubert Park



Today there is no mood.  There are no people.  The gallery is completely empty and I do not see anyone else in the space except the security guards.  The restaurant is closed.  There is no where to sit and have a drink.  The courtyards feel sad, no music or vibe exists.  I left feeling unsatisfied, I left feeling uninspired.  There are a few exhibitions on, some of them are quite interesting and challenging.  There are some amazing artworks to see, but the mood on entering has already affected me so much that I cannot feel inspired or challenged by the art.  So I leave and on walking out, I am faced with the green fence separating JAG from  Joubert park.  I notice that in Joubert park there are lots of people; some eating lunch, some sleeping, talking, relaxing, and I wonder why those people aren't here.

Alex Opper pointed out something very interesting in his talk at JAG a month ago: he pointed out that the green fence separating Joubert Park and JAG is a fence separating two public spaces; two spaces that appeal to two different types of public.  Just think about it for a minute...2 spaces that welcome the public, that are paid for by the City of Johannesburg, that are free, that are intended to be for the public - separated by a big green fence.  If there was ever a visual representation of the true nature of galleries and museums this is it.  'Yes, of-course we welcome the public, this space is for everyone, just not THAT public!' 

On the one side we have.........no-one.  No-one who is from the RIGHT public wants to go to the wrong part of town.  So I stand by myself, with the security guard of course because I most definitely am the RIGHT public.  I am educated, middle class, and white.  No THAT public is not for me, as the security guard quickly warns me.  I challenge her about this idea of two public spaces and ask her why THAT public can't be on this side?  She replies saying that THAT public will just sit around or do crime and that they are not welcome on THIS side.  She goes on to warn me that I mustn't go on that side because it is very very dangerous.  I challenge her once again, why is it dangerous on that side?  I live down the road, what is different between THAT side and the rest of Jozi?  To this she speaks to the other security guard and advises that I go inside and ask them my questions.  Instead I go to the fence, them shaking their heads, and I speak to THAT public.  To my absolute amazement no large weapons or guns are pulled out at me.  I even have a phone, and my car keys are in my car door, but no-one jumps up like savages at the gate (OK I am getting a bit carried away here!) But I went to the gate and started speaking to the guys on the other side.  I asked them if they know what this big building is, one answers a police station, another says he has no idea, a third says isn't it a place that has pictures inside?  I asked them if they have ever been inside and of course the answer is no. Why? I continue...that space isn't for us.  I ask them who that space is for, but they have no idea.  I then tell them 'Do you know that you are welcome to go into that space, that it is for the public.'  They couldn't believe it, they said that they have no money to go into places like that, and so the conversation went on.

Then as I was walking away and said good bye another man said hello to me and asked me if I was a journalist.  We started chatting, he was not from South Africa, I am not sure where he was from his accent was strong, maybe Congo.  He asked me what was in the gallery, so I explained that it is art, sculptures, paintings, it is for the public to come look.  He then asked me "Will I find inspiration in there?"  I smiled and said yes.

The gallery is not for THAT public, I am not even sure it is for THIS public.  It sits on the fence.  The one public is there, but does not know about the gallery, is not welcomed into the gallery, and if they did know or were welcomed would they be interested?  The other public doesn't like coming to Jozi.  The Northern suburbs are full of THAT public, and they will try their utmost to not come into the CBD. They are scared, they hate the filth, they hate being surrounded by a majority of non-white working class.  So the gallery sits on the fence, unable to please either side.  

So I propose a different solution to the JAG problem.  What if JAG accepts that it lives on the fence. Surrounded by THAT public, wanting THIS public and instead of not appealing to either, begins to appeal to both??
Sounds crazy, and perhaps it is, but what if the restaurant upstairs was run by a mama who is a caterer in the area, and serves pap and vleis, among other things.  What if it was cheap?  What if there was music playing in the outside courtyards for people to sit in, and yes, feel inspired.  The music could be African jazz or something that also sits on the fence between THAT and THIS public.  What if certain rooms in JAG did not show art, but taught basic computer literacy in one, dance in another, or CV writing.  What if THIS public was invited to donate their old suits and business clothes and there was a room that was set up for THAT public to get a nice outfit for a job interview they may have.  What if Joubert Park and JAG were open to each other and there was music heard between the two.  What if performers and poets, ice cream men and photographers (who are already there) were invited to come every weekend, to perform.  What if small public concerts were held at Joubert Park coinciding with an opening at JAG.

This idea may seem completely crazy, but I cannot take ownership of it.  Johannesburg CBD is this already.  The city lives on the fence between different races, cultures, classes, languages, not just from South Africa, but from Africa.  I will give two examples of this, that impact my daily life...
   1.  On Friday afternoon the area I live in starts getting animated.  There is more laughing, joking and hanging around.  It starts with Jeppe Boys' across the road, playing bagpipes.  The kids practice over and over again traditional Scottish songs.  Then I hear my neighbors on the left with their music - soul/hip hop is their choice.  The people behind us prefer reggae, then on Sunday morning I hear African gospel, and someone in the distance is playing jazz.  There is pop or trance coming from somewhere too, and then I hear from the park down the road African drums being played, it is guys practicing their gumboot dancing.
This sounds completely chaotic, noisy and unbearable, but you would be surprised how quickly you look forward to the life that you hear from everyone.  This is not heard in suburbia.  In fact, suburbia is dead silent and I often wondered if I actually even had neighbors.
    2.  On the walk to my kids school, which is about 8 blocks, I first pass a mosque which has Nigerian, Indian, Senegalese and Arab Muslims,  then a Catholic church which is as mixed as the mosque, a Chinese old age home, 2 garage shops, and then my kids school which is Hindu based.  If I walked less than a km towards town I would get to the Spiritual Mountain where many Z CC and other African Christian faiths worship, down the other road I would get to the Buddhist center.  This all within walking distance from my home, never mind all the people who gather in homes to pray which is also sometimes heard.

The most common thing between one another, in Jozi, is that we are not the same.  In our differences there is some kind of comfort and acceptance.  But we must come together equal and willing to acknowledge each other and give space for each other to be.  JAG, and the way galleries function does not acknowledge anything but itself.  It is not just a white space, empty for people to contemplate, it comes with baggage and a very specific culture attached to it.

JAG, you are one of the lucky galleries.  Your location gives you the opportunity to challenge the idea of a gallery and become more like your surroundings.

 THIS public will come, THAT public is here, it is up to you to allow the platform for them to co-exist.





Thursday, 3 October 2013

Our South African Landscape-12 May 2013

Our South African Landscape-12 May 2013
Paper
1500mm x 750mm

This work was begun after the Anene Booysens case.  She was mutilated and horribly raped.  The media started highlighting the crisis of rape in South Africa and a few radio stations beeped every four minutes in representation of a rape victim.  I began wondering what so many women would look like.  How many rape victims a day if it is estimated that there is a victim every 4 minutes?  I did the calculation and came to 360 women.  I wanted to visually see how many that was, and so began this artwork.  Only the most gruesome, the most shocking and unbearable cases get media attention, all the rest go unnoticed.  My first women were cut out with incredible detail, showing muscular structure and facial details; by fifty women the detail was simplified. I was getting bored of cutting them out, but I decided to allow the process to continue.  By the end the bodies had become silhouettes; the hands and feet simplified to shapes and the bodies were just piles on my studio desk.

This is the crisis we are in in South Africa.  We do not have the ability to grasp the actual numbers nor the detail of this reality.  Whether you have been raped, know someone who has been raped or fear that one day you may be raped this is a statistic that affects every South African. 

My work is cut out of paper.  There is fragility in paper that appeals to me.  One wrong cut and I must start again.  The women are dancers, strong, muscular and feminine.  They lie in piles unrecognisable and simply silhouettes of their previous selves. One by one they fall to join the rest within the pile of abuse and rape.  To me there was no need to show them in trauma and horror as the saddest part is the loss of their strength and femininity.  I have called this work Our South African landscape 12 May 2013 as our mountains are not the beautiful Table Mountain, or Drakensberg, but rather the mountains of rape victims that are created daily in this country.  This work was completed on 12 May 2013 and therefore represents the rape victims of that day.

BACK FROM THE DEAD!

It has been many months, perhaps even a year that I have not been active on this blog.  This is not because I have not been active within the arts but more because I could not quite define what it is that this blog page was about. I am clearer now and have decided that this blog will be my works, my views, my thoughts relating to the visual arts. 
The nature of the art world within South Africa is a confusing space, and as a 'young' artist, there is so much to learn.  Luckily the avenues to learn are readily available and although the appearance of this art world may be pretentious, it is often the exact opposite.  Many people in this industry are very happy to talk and teach young artists about the ins and outs of the industry.  Gordon Froud is always ready to answer a question, Louise Ross, Anthea Pockroy, Gordon Massie never hesitate to advise and give their perspective on issues and topics.  This may be true, however, there are many egos to deal with and much of this is based on insecurities that come from the artists rather than the art industry. 

Sadly I have left ASSEMBLAGE, New Arc Studios and find myself questioning where exactly I will be producing my art from?  The ideas are endless, and the content overflows within my mind. Perhaps every artist needs moments of contemplation before moments of action, I do hope that this is one of those moments and will end some time soon!

The last 2 works which I have produced where difficult works to do.  I found myself becoming more fearful and more aware of potential situations where rape could happen. Producing works that deal with rape within South Africa and the quantities reminded me of the possibility of becoming just another statistic.  This is a tough world we live in and producing art that reflects its difficulties can become exhausting and disillusioning.  Dianne Victor recently spoke to the Visual Arts students at FADA and I was very interested in her reasons for producing art...she expressed that her art is often of the things, people, conditions  that repel her, she produces the works to remove them from her subconscious.  Perhaps we all do that to some degree, well except the big 5 painters that is!

So I am back, and will be blogging away...

I will post imagery of my most recent works very soon...

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Digital Prints

I will now be having a limited addition of 10 digital prints per work.  Each print will be signed and printed on archival paper.  That means that it will not fade or distort for atleast 100 years. 
The digital prints will cost less thatn the original but are still classified as an artwork.

 Let me know if you are interested.  The originals as well as the prints can be posted any where in the world.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Mlungu Islands of South Africa

.The Mlungu Islands of South Africa


On a trip to Venda last year with the Honours UJ students many of my some what idealistic views on poverty, race and segregation were challenged.  We stayed with a local family for three days experiencing rural life.  The locals were so intrigued by the white students which led me to ask our host, a Venda woman, if there was any difference between me, a Jozi born UJ student, and the white American Boston students that had been there three months before us.  Her response with a small grin finding the question a little silly was 'a white is a white, you are all foreighners'  (Mlungu being the word for a white person)
I clearly felt like a foreigner there, as did the black students, but on returning to Jozi I started noticing how separated whites are from blacks, even simply by language.  I have heard so many white conversations reminiscent  of 'Die Swart Gevaar' Expressing fear of twonships, fear of too many blacks moving into white suburbia, schools becoming 'too black.' The new South Africa is wonderful as long as my white world is not compromised!

I wanted a visual representation of just how many whites there are in South Africa compared to blacks.  Based on Stats SA website I created The Mlungu islands of South Africa.  This series of works shows statistical estimations on the ratio between whites and blacks in each province.  It also expresses the 'Black Sea'  that whites only pass through if necessary to get to their 'White Islands.'


I have chosen to make these works out of beads. Beads are used by many African cultures as a method of communication.  I am expressing my thoughts via this method suggesting that perhaps if whites do not want to feel like foreigners then they should open up to the reality that they live in Africa, and maybe communicating in an African language or method is the first step to changing this.


.


Northern Cape

Kwa Zulu Natal

Gauteng

Limpopo

Free State

Western Cape

North West Province

Mpumulanga

Eastern Cape