In a somewhat questionable marketing endeavour, the Eastern Cape Region has been sign posted, ‘Frontier Country’ and indeed this is what it is. Historically it is the site of the 9 Frontier Wars and much brutal conflict and living here presently can still seem the edge of nowhere by comparison to many major South African metropols. With Grahamstown at the heart of it, it is also a cosmopolitan space not without vestiges of past pain but - like many colonial outposts in a post-colonial time - it is no longer a satellite to an absent motherland, a mere microcosm of elsewhere, but also a world unto itself.

A potential space of intellectual, debate rather than military conflict – geographically isolated from metropolitan trends – a melting pot of many places, a crucible. In more recent history, this frontier space has been a site of culture, of experiment. Home to an annual arts festival, how is it that Grahamstown with a population of just under 140 000 can command so much creative imagination in novels, plays, poetry and art? Frontier, Border, at the end of the world but not about to fall off – merely at a vantage point to observe a view to come.
- Rat Western

DISCHARGE 2012             COLOUR COLLOQUIUM 2010             SYNTHETIC DIRT 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rhodes Fine Art Colloquium
St Peter’s Building, Room 34 &35, St Peter’s Campus, Rhodes University, Somerset Street
Saturday & Sunday, April 16 & 17

8:45 – 9:00 Welcome, Rat Western
9:00 – 10:00: Bettina Malcolmess & Alette Schoon
10:00 – 11:00: Rael Salley & Maureen de Jager

11:00 – 11:15: TEA

11:15 – 12:15: Francis Burger & James Webb
12:15 – 1:15: Anton Krueger &Josh Ginsburg

1:15 – 2:00: LUNCH

2:00 – 3:00: Paulette Coetzee & Cheryl Stobie
3:00 – 4:00: Gavin Krastin & Athina Vahla

6:00 Exhibition Opening, Albany History Museum, Somerset Street

9:00 – 10:00: Ashraf Jamal & James Sey
10:00 – 11:00: Matthew Partridge & Mary Corrigall

11:00 – 11:15: TEA

11:15 – 12:15: Alex Opper & Dominic Thorburn
12:15 – 1:15: Chad Rossouw & Charles Maggs

1:15 – 2:00: LUNCH

2:00 – 3:00: Imraan Coovadia & Sean O’Toole
3:00 – 3:30: Wrap-Up Rat Western

Athina Vahla: Playing Dirty - An Arena Project

A practice - led experiment in collaboration with Rhodes women’s soccer team for the ‘Synthetic Dirt’ Colloquium (Rhodes University Fine Arts Department, 16-17 April 2011). 

This presentation will be preceded by a workshop performance on 15 April at 8pm at the Rhodes Theatre.  All Welcome.

Arenas are performance case studies based on the notion of agon [Greek meaning conflict, struggle]. Taking place in spaces configured for contest Arenas raise a fundamental question, namely, whether the space defines the contest or whether the contest dictates the space.

The women soccer event is one case study within the broader Arenas project, the aims of which include:
1. The development of Sport Theatre a new hybrid form of performance which uses the language of sports in theatre.
2. The value of sport theatre for the local and broader cultural, social and political arenas.
3. Audiences’ development; bringing sport fans and art audience together.

Project goals
- To challenge the liminal space between sport and art performance, the functional and the aesthetic
- To create a ‘distinct’ artistic voice by ‘mixing’ two different physical practices performed by sportsmen and women rather than athletically trained actors.
- To promote collaborative exchanges between different academic disciplines in order to observe what emerges from this synergy.
- To ‘dirty’ sports, arts, science, and possibly ‘dirty’ the ways we tend to view structures of different types of systems and models.
- To define new territories…

Audiences at the colloquium will be part of a ‘staged experiment’ which will include the following aspects:
A pre-performance routine which ‘pushes’ the mental and physical skills of each player prior to the game .
Subtle ‘interventions’ to subvert the game rules and ethos. The dislocation of the playground, the shifting of goal posts, the reduced number of players, the use of text, all challenge the team’s training as well as the performance experiment.

The ‘dirtying’ of the game becomes apparent in that expressed human effort is revealed rather than concealed. The safe terrain of a highly structured sport is deliberately ‘sabotaged ’. A number of idiosyncrasies is highlighted; the playing field becomes an enclosed theatre, and, perhaps most importantly, the borderland between the private (training) and the public (game) is challenged and exposed. The conference as a hosting structure becomes an arena in which these interventions are played out.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Alex Opper: (Not) Everything counts in large amounts: Dusty Realism and the productive ‘archive’ of the in between

Alexander Opper
Accumulation #1 (2010), Detail (photo by Leon Krige)
(Found dust on paper)
Two recent conceptually linked works by the author, employing dust as vehicle and metaphor for the challenging of established values and meanings attached to the archive, form the basis of this paper. The horizontal cornice surfaces of the Johannesburg Art Gallery’s (JAG) exhibition halls bear testimony to the fact that dust – in its cumulative undisturbed presence – effortlessly bridges the constructed divides between colonial, apartheid and post-apartheid space. The first work (Accumulation #1, 2010) was made for the 2010 show, Time’s Arrow: Live Readings of the JAG Collection.1 It uses the pervasive ‘apolitical’ nature of dust – specifically the more or less 100 year old accumulation of dust on the above-mentioned museum cornices – to interrogate and undermine the traditionally measured and ascribed notions of value attached to the contents of the museum archive. Further the work embodies a response to the exhibition curator’s interest in notions of ‘excavation, doubling and reversal.’
The second work discussed here (Accumulation #2, 2010), unpacks the initial work and continues an ongoing engagement with alternative readings and probings of conventional definitions of the archive situated within the author’s current and broader interest, of a critical-spatial pursuit of the ‘undoing’ of site-specific architectural spaces. Dust is not selected or selective – it is uninvited and invasive and forces its way into every nook and cranny of the recognisable and recognised archive. It is uncannily unsettling in its main characteristic – its tendency to settle. In its stubborn omnipresence it prefers the horizontal position of rest to the vertical surface of display. It is in and of the world and, in the Bourriaudian sense, relational to the core. Ironically, its unstoppable, accumulating and viral presence is the most alive aspect of the dead museum and dead archive. In a sense, it represents a permanently persistent homage to Kasimir Malevich’s 1919 call (in On the Museum) for the reduction of museums and their collections to space-saving powder (via his suggested burning of everything old and outdated, to make way for the new). Dust is ambiguously and simultaneously peripheral and central. It is not to be underestimated: its mostly marginal connotations recently slipped into a radically central position – in its ashen Icelandic form – inflicting prolonged global paralysis on the world’s transport systems. Dust ‘reminds’ the increasingly synthetic world that it is real, and longs to make the virtual world more real – perhaps, through its particle nature, it could ‘learn’, through the ultimate nth degree of pulverisation, to infiltrate the virtual and in so doing, at last, alchemically link the two realms.

1 For an overview of the exhibition, visit:

Francis Burger: Squaring the magic circle

Willem Boshoff, Nothing is Obvious
How do spaces of play become delineated?

How does one draw on weak logic to erect a flexible line that allows for rather than inhibits emergent thoughts, ideas, objects and inventions?

How does one cultivate and harvest spaces of emergence, of freedom? Spaces like Archimedes’ bathtub and Jean Philippe Toussaint’s bathroom, where eureka’s, both loud and soft, fast and slow, mark the arrival of the truth as an event, effervescing all at once across tight networks of people, things and places.1
How does one solicit the unsolicitable, say the unspeakable, fix, formalize, or commission the impossible?

Focusing on experimental artistic research strategies the proposed paper will investigate the above questions through a discussion of merging the estranged bedfellows of quantitative and qualitative research. Taking advantage of the intersection of post-structuralism and complexity studies within contemporary critical theory, the theoretical base of the investigation will extend to include samples from an orphan genealogy of abstract engineers.2 The paper will pivot around the illustration of practical strategies evidenced by artists and other practitioners within a localised community.3 Functioning as a performance, the paper will be presented in conjunction with video and sculptural works from two or more of the above-mentioned artists (See Notes).

Backed by previous attempts at researching the quiet histories of lesser-known South African artists and other intellectuals or eccentrics, the discussion will aim at the articulation of a shareable, ‘sayable’ method that interrogates and intervenes in the writing of current histories via a combination of actions that are simultaneously radical and responsible, independent and gregarious.

1. The ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes is known anecdotally for screeching ‘Eureka!’ and running down the street naked after solving a problem of volume and weight in his bathtub. Toussaint’s (2008) The Bathroom narrates the story of a man who moves into his bathroom in an attempt to secure the ‘quietude of [his] abstract life’.

2. Taken from a comment on Deleuze’s philosophical family tree by Brian Massumi (1987), the idea of my own ‘orphan’ genealogy could emerge here to include anyone from Diogenes to Nietzsche, from Chief Bambatha kaMancinza to Eugene Marais to Enoch Mgijima to Krzysztof Wodiczko, Stacy Hardy or Bp Nichol.

3. Namely Josh and Jared Ginsburg, Anja de Klerk, Christian Nerf, Willem Boshoff and Doung Anwaar Jahangeer as well as practitioners from conservation (Paula Hathorn and Tanya Lane) and complexity studies (André Zaaiman).
sources cited within this proposal:

Massumi, B. 1987. ‘Pleasures of Philosophy’ in Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus; Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by B. Massumi. Minneapolis: Minnesota. (p. x)
Jean-Philippe Toussaint, 2008. The Bathroom. Translated by Nancy Amphoux. Illinois: Dalkey Archive Press. (p. 7.)

Ashraf Jamal: … living in a quake …

The most commonly used phrase in Japanese, expressed in moments of parting, is ganbatte kudasai – “please endure it.” Testimony to a human condition at once gritty and staggeringly inconsolable ganbatte kudasai nevertheless clings to a collective empathy and connectedness in the instant of a rupture. Despite its austerity, therefore, the endurance which the phrase appeals to reminds us that life is nothing without mutual care. That this care is at once human, cultural, industrial, and technological is both fitting and strange given the complex interconnectivity that informs and defines contemporary global life. In the case of Japan, a society, culture, and current catastrophe, we find an in-road into our debate on matters technological and mortal. While this essay turns on the current disaster that afflicts Japan, it is the global impact which this disaster invokes which, primarily, informs this rumination. To live in a quake one need not suffer the specifics of that world; nevertheless it is that world, which is also our world, which allows for the empathy, connectivity, in short the experience which accounts for a radical unsettlement experienced worldwide. Japan functions, therefore, as a coda for the sheer gravity that informs this discussion: a discussion that happens after, because of, and within the trauma that exists as I speak.

Matthew Partridge: The Everyday and The Extraordinary Dave Southwood’s ‘Milnerton Market’

Dave Southwood – Black & Decker, 2003
Milnerton Market, on the periphery of Cape Town is a virtual treasure trove of the discarded, the no longer wanted, the second-hand object. Erected every Sunday this zone becomes a site of economic trade peopled by a mass huddled among green balustrade fences, searching for paths of existence cast in the junk of others.
The photographer Dave Southwood has explored the characters that filter through such a trade in his artist editioned book titled simply ‘Milnerton Market’. Launched at the AVA in November 2010 with a photographic series of works contained in the book Southwood has explored the aesthetic relation of people to objects.

As Ivan Vladislavić describes in his text:
Wittingly or not, in setting out their stalls the sellers create small tableaux of domestic life. These scenes evoke the absent worlds from which the objects have been banished. They are as moving as photographs of forced removals or evictions, where household effects standing out in a field or on a street corner, stripped of their privacy and exposed to the elements, call to mind the walls and roof of a lost home.

If supermarkets are orderly suburbs of commodities within the gated communities of the malls, then flea markets are informal settlements on the margins of exchange.
What this paper intends to discuss is the indexical relation of photography to the typology of people that Southwood explores. The banal and the quotidian, rendered in the visible in the photographs of objects and stalls, serve as intricate traces of the extended lives of their sellers.

In this sphere of lasped commodification nestled in the margins of exchange, emerges portraits that celebrate the everyday, the dirty and the synthetic, whilst at the same revealing the raw humanity that finds its definition in such objects.

Sean O' Toole: Death of a Critic: the who, when, where and how of Ivor Powell

In his slender but influential 2003 volume, What happened to art criticism?, James Elkins offers that, “Art criticism is not considered as part of the brief of art history: it is not an historical discipline, but something akin to creative writing.” The evidence of contemporary criticism does not entirely bear out this statement. In the context of the wholesale disassembling or dematerialisation of art practice across the span of the twentieth century, it is surprising, at least to me, that much of what is understood as art criticism remains Catholic, hidebound and formally conservative. I think in particular of the review, a standard editorial device that functions as a sort of eye away from.

In a 2010 lecture, curator Tirdad Zolghadr remarked: “The review is by now the most musty of master forms, the oil painting of art writing.” However, unlike painting, which has brokered an understanding with its anachronisms, art criticism has, for the most part, refused to inhabit art’s “expanded field”, to repurpose Rosalind Krauss’s famous phrase. And so the review remains the prevailing mode of engagement, a rhetorical device that defuses the "creative writing" latent in art criticism in favour of something approaching a bland, descriptively inclined interpretive text. This is particularly pronounced in South Africa where art criticism's ontological fuzziness has only been tentatively been engaged by a handful of writers.

This paper will focus on the work of art critic Ivor Powell, an influential if furtive critic whose writings chart an epochal shift in South African art and its critical reception. Literate, argumentative, undisciplined, Powell was closely associated with Possession Arts, an early 1980s neo-Dadaist group of artists, dramatists and writers. In the late 1980s he was appointed as art critic for the newly launched Weekly Mail, a position he held until the mid-1990s. After the failure of Ventilator, a short-lived post-apartheid art magazine launched in September 1994 and edited by Powell, he started concentrating on investigative journalism, which eventually led to his appointment as a senior investigator with the now defunct Scorpions, an arm of the National Prosecuting Authority. His arrest on January 22, 2008, on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and resisting arrest after he sped away from police attempting to arrest Igshaan Davids, leader of the infamous Americans street gang, then wanted for car theft, forms an interesting sidebar to a career that, at least in writing, is marked by its commitment to a critical eroticism, to borrow from Sontag.

Sean O’Toole is a culture journalist, art critic and writer. A PhD candidate at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, he formerly served as editor of the magazine Art South Africa (2004-10), writes regularly on photography for the Sunday Times and contributes a bi-monthly art column to frieze magazine.

James Sey: Infospherics and a new South African psychogeography.

The relationship between place, memory and representation has become an increasingly contested one in the digital age. The processes of globalisation and its consequent displacement of populations have meant that the intervention of technologies of representation into the everyday experience of a culture have become ubiquitous, thus problematising the representation of culture per se. Google Earth is a prime example, but a generalised knowledge, through various infospheric channels, of global geography gives rise to the impression that the infonaut is in possession of knowledge of the world, and is thus transcultural, or somehow outside anthropology.
This attenuated relationship between experience, technology and place gives rise to interesting new imaginative and aesthetic possibilities, in particular that of a more developed ‘psychogeography’ than that imagined by Baudelaire, Benjamin and Debord. While more recent psychogeographers like Sinclair and Moore have explored these possibilities in mostly literary art forms, it is in ironically more technologised aesthetic forms that some of the dirt of lived anthropological knowledge and experience might be reintroduced to the infosphere.
South African art provides an excellent example of this. For decades now the country’s imagination has been concerned with excavation – not only of new forms and new aesthetic possibilities, but either with literal digging up of dirt, or with the metaphorical excavation of an imaginary geography itself. This paper argues a case for such a new aesthetic in SA, adducing various examples.

Cheryl Stobie: Synthetic Dirt in District 9

Beginning with a contextualisation based on pertinent ideas of Nicolas Bourriaud about the function of and effects associated with contemporary art, I move on to an analysis of the representation of literal and synthetic dirt within the film District 9 (2009), directed by Neill Blomkamp. The film mixes genres, but is mainly to be viewed as science fiction. Its gritty grounding in the realities of the South African cityscape acts to reintroduce the element of pressing social reality which has retreated to the background in much recent science fiction film, which has emphasised clean and clinical special effects. I use Istvan Csicsery-Ronay’s critical work on the implications of the significance of the encounter with the alien as the ultimate contact zone between self and other to analyse District 9, quoting his suggestive observation, “Aliens are our shadows, and we are theirs.” Ways in which entry can be made into the consciousness of the other include the perceptual, sympathetic and symbolic.

Using this starting point, I concentrate on the physical, emotional and aesthetic effects achieved as the main protagonist of District 9 moves from a human to an alien embodiment. I chart the progress of the body-horror and ethical development entailed in this change of state, making reference to ideas first developed by Mary Douglas in her anthropological work, Purity and Danger. The viewer’s responses are shown to be complex and muddy, composed of warring impulses of revulsion and admiration. This is appropriate as aliens are ambiguously depicted in the film as technologically advanced but consumers of human flesh.

As the central character, Wikus, becomes an alien his body becomes a rich symbolic ground. His ingestion of cat food and his increasingly leaky, abject body reflect ideas which can be interpreted universally, but more specifically within the South African context reveal anxieties about the cohesion of a minority group. I conclude by analysing the end of the film, which is moving, future-directed and insistent on the significance of art in society.

James Webb: Yumei na wa ju-go pun

I would like to present a critical overview of my project, “Wa,” an interventionist performance at a large, public art event at the Castle of Good Hope in 2003. The performance was billed as a concert by famous, female Japanese noise musician, Wa. The event was attended by just under 8’000-people and the gig’s highlights were broadcast on E-TV news. Being the first Japanese DJ to play in South Africa, and what with the local audience’s limited experience of harsh noise music, the concert was received with a mixture of chaos, exoticism and awe.

Unbeknownst to the audience, Wa was a fictitious character invented by James Webb. Webb hired a Korean tourist, taught her basic DJ skills and had her “perform” his noise music to the hyped-up crowd.

Biography: James Webb (b. 1975, Kimberley) has been working on both large-scale installations in galleries and museums as well as unannounced interventions in public spaces since 2001. His work explores the nature of belief in our contemporary world, often using exoticism, displacement and humour to achieve these aims. He has participated in exhibitions including the 3rd Marrakech Biennale, the 2009 Melbourne International Arts Festival and the 9th Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon.

Notable recent projects include “Scream,” wherein the artist invited members of the gallery staff of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid to scream at Picasso’s Guernica, “Autohagiography,” an installation consisting of audio interviews conducted with himself under hypnosis, and “There’s No Place Called Home” an on going, world-wide intervention using incongruous foreign birdcalls broadcast out of speakers concealed in local trees, for example the calls of South African summer birds in Japanese trees during midwinter.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dominic Thorburn: Dirty hands or hands-off? – the printmatrix in a mediated milieu.

As with language the printed image is never static but constantly evolving. Printmedia by their very nature have always been in flux, ever changing in their technologies and thus latent expressive powers and reach. This perpetual shift remains its forte and has ensured the survival of printerly images within our visual psyche.

Since the first images were made by dipping hands in natural pigment and pressing them on cave walls in Lascaux and Altamira artists have been getting their hands dirty to make their mark. The making of multiple images today though can be a more hands-off affair to ‘do the dirty’ (so to speak), often harnessing new media and utilising digital imaging and technical collaboration.

In the past boundaries which defined the activities of printmaking were limited to technical categories – most often the traditional techniques or mediums used to make prints. The print was defined as the map and not the territory the map describes. Contemporary print may stake claim to new creative territory which goes beyond any map; the meaning of the images and interventions produced by printmedia now often become the expanded terrain of the exploration, the border crossings in a larger picture.

Print today is not a technique, a category, or even an art object - it is a mediating matrix, a theoretical idiom for developing ideas and dialogue. In the same manner as language cannot be defined as alphabets, words, or grammar, contemporary printmedia cannot be defined merely as a series of technical activities. It is more appropriately defined by its function, its philosophical approach, and the conception and evolution of concepts and images it generates and synthesises.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Gavin Krastin: A Retrospective, Altered Daily - Synthesising Meaning from ‘Dusty’ Dances

Alan Parker and Gavin Krastin Retrospective5 - Chandelier Photograph: John Hogg
Premiering at Dance Umbrella 2011, Retrospective – Altered Daily, choreographed and performed by Alan Parker and designed and performed by Gavin Krastin, is a kinaesthetic and visually framed durational performance art event that surfaces discourse encircling ideas of originality, meaning making and intertextuality:

What if...
 What if the movement really does mean nothing?
What if you add a little something to nothing?
Does the nothing become something?
Is the something something new or is it something else?

Repeated each day for eleven days, the ‘dance’ (dubbed Trio F) is an extension of ideas presented by Yvonne Rainer in her seminal work, Trio A. Much like the original, Trio F, is a relishing of all things ‘un-dancey’ – no phrasing, no virtuosity, little rhythm, no variation or repetition and, essentially, no intended meaning. Every day the extraneous theatricalities of another production are then ‘pasted’ on top of it. (Alan Parker in the programme of Retrospective – Altered Daily, 2011) 

Not only does Parker paste the theatricalities of various old (‘dusty’) dances onto his anti-metaphoric and anti-metonymic body, with the aid of Krastin, but alternatively Parker inserts himself into pre-existing works, imploring the questioning of the originality of the work. Furthermore, by placing meaningful signifiers (through music, costuming and design, which each have their own historical context, story and intertextual resonance from the original productions, from which they were taken) in a meaningless dance phrase and space, Parker engages with alternative methods of meaning making.

This paper serves as a critical appreciation of the poignant aim of Retrospective – Altered Daily; to flatly question, or undermine the hallowed principles of originality, intention and expression. It will excavate the system of meaning making involved in the work, and ultimately how the work synthesised meaning from a meaningless body due to the proximity and involvement of indexed objects, sounds or visuals in the performance space, or near to the anti-metonymic body.

The paper is the result of a qualitative process of collecting and engaging with critical texts (primarily in the form of academic texts, journal articles and reviews sourced from Library services and internet facilities), related to the topic, as well as interviews with the artist Alan Parker. In addition, there is an interpretative and embodied method of research involved, as I am the designer and performer of the work.

Mary Corrigall: Spatial tourism: ‘Interspatial Commerce’ within Contemporary South African Art

Vaughn Sadie and Bronwyn Lace: Unit for Measure
Nicholas Bourriaud proposes that a branch of contemporary artistic practice is designed to engender “interhuman commerce”, a brand of heterogeneous art which evokes what he terms relational aesthetics. Hence it trades on and generates an alternative communication zone where new models of sociability can be advanced. Consequently this theory of form comprises of engineered social interactions instigated by an artist to create the conditions where “the individual struggles with the Other.”

A relational aesthetic product in the South African context would more than likely be burdened by identity politics, given that social relations are often haunted by the baggage of the Apartheid era. In charting a course beyond the self/other dichotomised coupling, which predominated contemporary art at nascence of the post-apartheid era, a number of South African artists, primarily based in Joburg, have developed a kind collaborative practice that chooses to explore and challenge the spatial conditions that have contributed towards fixing relational dynamics between individuals. Most of these artists operate from self-reflexive positions in that their practices also evince an awareness of the impossibilities inherent in mapping space and how representational models and new media such as Google Earth engender virtual maps, which often flatten the character of space.

Given the concerns that drive this ‘spatial aesthetics practice’, the art forms are often site-specific performance or installation works of an interdisciplinary nature – with such a keen spatial awareness dancers are ideally positioned for this work. The artist operates as an intermediary and the performance or intervention a tool to foster new relationships within socially/ politically loaded spaces such as no-go zones in the city or townships . In these instances depoliticising and demythologising areas of the city are the end product. This practice is centred on generating an ‘experience’ that is both synthesised and real, which is intended to “set new ways of living and models of action” .

In outlining the characteristics of this practice or form of art this paper will touch on the work of collaborative artworks/interventions by Marcus Neustetter and Stephen Hobbs, and Bronwyn Lace and Vaughn Sadie as well as interdisciplinary site-specific initiatives such as the X-Homes and In House projects, which encompassed dance, theatre and performance art.

Mary Corrigall: Art Critic and Writer. Research Fellow at the Research Centre for Visual Identities in Art and Design, at the University of Johannesburg

Chad Rossouw: The Paranoia of Ron T Beck

Ron T Beck is corrupt, international and invisible. He is the opposite of the corporate spin-doctor. Ron is the doer, the producer, the enabler. Moving from dodgy mining deals in Russia, to dealing arms in Iran, Beck is multi-talented, nonchalant, and enormously immoral. He embodies the filthy underbelly and maneuvering that enable gross corporate profits. He is also an artwork, an invention of artist Charles Maggs, and probably your friend on Facebook. Beck only exists through images and abrupt statements on social networks. The images are generally found on the web, and are characterized by all the eyes in the picture being censored. The statements range from geographical to philosophical, with a spy fiction paranoia that is distinctly familiar.

Charles Maggs scans the internet for images and ideas that reveal the hidden structures of Capitalist power. Like a true paranoiac Ron T Beck can be found lurking anywhere. He washes up like the dirty foam on the shore of the internet. By using Facebook, Beck becomes close. He is part of our network, someone we know. The implication of our own complicity, or at least indifference, is revealed by his presence.

This paper aims to investigate two points around Beck as an artwork. Firstly, it will look at how Maggs constructs the character on Facebook from a variety of sources. And secondly, the importance of the context of the character, both in terms of social networking and South African art production.

Charles Maggs: Distorted Echo

The politics of imitation, real world mash-ups, and other accidents of ultra-mediation in contemporary society. 

In our ultra-mediated societies today, constructed behaviours and actions from popular culture are increasingly reflected in day to day reality, like a powerful feedback loop between the synthetic, processed or constructed world and that of the analogue, human or ‘real’ world. The medium may be the message, but the question is what happens when you hold up a giant mirror to this signal.

This paper is concerned with the politics of imitation, real-world mash-ups and other accidents of ultra mediation in contemporary society. It is less about Elvis impersonators or people who act out scenes from Star Wars in their back gardens, and more about how these imitations and coded behaviours have began to invade the mechanisms of state.

These invasions are where the primary accident of ultra-mediation is located. An identifying symptom of this accident is the proliferation of imitation and repetition. More and more events and situations in the real world, and in the mechanisms of state, are similar to each other and to those from popular culture. This paper will identify examples of these reflections and point to their origins in the world of popular-culture.

Following this it will explore the politics of imitation and try to contextualise it both at the level of the individual, and South African society today. It will conclude by looking at how identifying these feedback systems is a productive creative strategy in the context of relational artworks by exploring contemporary South African artistic practice that reflects these concerns.

Paulette Coetzee: Authorship and Authenticity in the Post-Post-Past

This colloquium’s call for papers is an interesting text, which offers a rich brew of ideas while simultaneously gesturing towards and avoiding what it implies and elides. The oxymoronic term, “synthetic dirt”, invites a wide play of interpretations. I will focus on polarities around (im)purity and multiplicity/singularity. These polarities – and the overlapping, blurring continuities within and around them – exist within a larger temporal framework; the brief directs us to the contemporary, the now, the new. We are called to the cutting edge, the “front-line” of culture, to witness and bring-to-being, in a manner both exciting and prosaic. (Our lived present largely comprises our shifting re-imaginings of pasts and futures; what we imagine we help make, though not quite as we please.) The colloquium’s framework is geographical as well as historical, with the slippery term “South Africa” presented as a nexus between local and global, and between (apartheid) past and (“post-post-”) possibilities.

The invitation-text posits dirt as “raw” and “human” versus cleanliness as “cooked […] synthetic”. I have simplified a complex range of associations around dirt and cleanliness as two sets of interweaving yet opposed, value-charged oppositions. On the one hand, dirt may mean evil, diseased hybridity, uncontrolled sexuality, death. Cleanliness, meanwhile, is good, healthy, uncontaminated. On the other hand, dirt may signify down-to-earth authenticity, children of the soil, honesty, fertility, acknowledged mortality, humility, humanity. These positive attributes are set against cleanliness as threatening modernity, sterility, fascism, dystopian scienticity, cyborg technology. Polarities of multiplicity/singularity in artistic composition seem to work in a similar way: multiplicity may signify communal customs, archetypal well-springs of tradition, or ultra-modern (death of the author) mixings and fragmentations; singularity may suggest (Western) individualism (as imposition/invention) and suspect grand narratives, or straightforward purity of traditional method. In all the above, one can read lingering or returning discourses associated with certain posts and their tethered pasts.

My exploration will draw on the following texts: a song recorded by Hugh Tracey, Ivan Vladislavic’s novel The Exploded View and poetry collections (recent and forthcoming, respectively) by Sonwabo Meyi and Anton Krueger.

Paulette Coetzee is a PhD candidate in the Department of English and works in the Registrar’s Division at Rhodes University. Her PhD research examines Hugh Tracey as an example of late-colonial whiteness. She has also published poetry in New Coin and Aerial and in a collection titled As Each New Year Opens (Aerial Publishing, 2006).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Josh Ginsberg: I am Equipment: Artist as Interface

The proposed presentation outlines I am Equipment, a project which situates myself as a part of the artwork allowing participants to engage me in conversation to which I respond with imagery, video, text, audio and voice. The database that facilitates response is of my own design with regard to both content and structural mechanics. It is a complex dynamic network, comprising +-­‐ 20 000 discrete objects (text, video, still and sound) organized entirely by subjective association. A highly idiosyncratic tagging system facilitates immediate access to elements by both formal and oblique references, allowing me to respond by speaking through the media. As a function of the database’s networked and associative design, related or oblique elements presence during searches. This results in unexpected nodes upon which to forward conversation. The work (a performance comprising the database and myself) is designed to encourage questions leveled at it. It is in effect, a contemporary response to Robert Morris’s Box with the Sound of its Own Making (1961): I become an interface fielding questions related to the work’s own making. Broadly, this project is invested in the space between art and the discussion of it, and as a result the conference platform (with the presentation mode of address) is an ideal site for its activation.

Josh Ginsburg is a practicing artist, currently completing a Masters in Fine art at the University of Cape Town where he also teaches on the relationship between art and technology.

Anton Krueger: Digital Dirt – On the Raw, Rough Works of Aryan Kaganof

Aryan Kaganof works in the widest range of media imaginable – text (poetry, prose, philosophy, blog); fine art (etching, painting, photography, performance); music (blues, noise music, dub); and, predominantly, in film (feature, documentary, experimental.) As a film maker, Kaganof considers himself to be principally an editor; remixing and splicing together cultural artefacts from the detritus of the overproduced late 20th century. His pieces could be described as dirty on at least two levels – the subject matter is often crude, vulgar, offensive, sometimes involving incest, sadomasochism, suicide, urination and vomiting. Also (since most of his creations are entirely self produced in quick bursts of energy) the technical quality of his work is often rough and somewhat underproduced, i.e. “dirty” in the sense Peter Brook uses the adjective to define the Rough Theatre.

The latter has lead to a sometimes less refined product; and yet, there is certainly a case to be made for the necessity of roughage as a source of fibre in any artistic diet hoping to combat the belly- ache of white bread commercialism. With reference to the other pivotal keyword of this colloquium, “Synthetic”, Kaganof has been on the forefront of the digital revolution in cinema. He was the first film maker in the world to boost a digital feature film on video up to 35 mm – (Naar de Klote / Wasted [1996]); a process he then took to Japan when he made the first Japanese digital feature – Shabondama Elegy (1999).

Kaganof also made the world’s first cell phone feature film boosted up for screening, SMS Sugar Man (2007). It seems paradoxical that despite his manifestos on digital production – what could be more synthetic than numbers? – his themes still favour sensuality, and bodies bursting out of the confines of the great synthetic synthesizer of social mores. In this paper I’d like to consider how these two opposite elements play off each other in Kaganof’s works. Drawing on a range of examples, I would like to focus chiefly on his role as the editor of digital dirt. BIO:

Anton Krueger has published in a range of genres; including criticism, poetry, prose and drama. He teaches in the Department of Drama, Rhodes University.

Maureen de Jager: Playing dirty: earth/water/wind in Lindi Arbi’s Last One Standing

Video Still from Lindi Arbi's Last One Standing
Frustrated by the bureaucracy impeding her South Korean residency, 2010 Spier Award winner Lindi Arbi threw her materials down the stairs. Picture it: 40kg of expanding polyurethane bubbling and puffing, filling out the negative spaces like an abject Rachel Whiteread. Then she wrapped this inverted staircase in plastic and took it to the beach, for her altogether uncanny performance, Last One Standing. In the resulting video – a collaboration between Arbi and Korean film-maker, Junebum Park – we see Arbi and her assistants tethering and securing the ominous parcel. The tide comes in; the parcel is adrift. The tide goes out; the parcel is beached in glutinous mud.

In the context of this colloquium, I introduce Last One Standing to reflect on the status of real dirt in a glib technocracy – the kind of dirt so dirty that it resists being sampled and streamlined into the synthetic. How does technology cope with excessive materiality, I ask, and what happens to the dirt on our hands when its matter is mediated and dematerialised? In Arbi’s video, allusions to real dirt predominate. The terrain is muddy, the tethered sculpture is muddy, even the palette seems a dull, muddy grey. Ironically, however, the performance was recorded at high resolution; thus the scene may be muddy but the picture is crystal clear…
In response to this paradox, I argue that technology’s aversion to dirt is amply in evidence, as is its tendency to sanitise. At the same time, I suggest that the real dirty-work of Last One Standing lies not in the visuals but in the sound (or, more accurately, in their disjunction). For the clarity of what we see is distinctly at odds with the deafening, distorted crackle that we hear: a ‘bad’ recording of the gusting wind which drowns out almost everything else. In effect, the soundtrack captures the wind not as a sound but as a presence – as a series of waves which assault the recording equipment and then, in turn, assault our ears. Being a register of impact, this ‘dirty’ sound ruptures the sanitising screen of the synthetic: it reaches us materially (albeit invisibly), carrying real clout.

Raél Jero Salley: “A beautiful way we go impossibly”: Dineo Seshee Bopape’s Changing Same

In this paper I argue that the poetics of Dineo Seshee Bopape’s work re-­‐imagines contemporary life with a mixture of awe, excitement, and romantic vision, while also challenging the status quo about what is seeable and sayable about South African artists and their artworks. Bopape’s work is charged by an energy that re-­‐assembles the visible constitution of beings articulated by political debates, including race, gender, sexuality and African existence. Working in South Africa and elsewhere, Bopape’s work highlights the fact that contemporary “mash-­‐ups” from Africa actively respond to questions about individual being and contemporary social belonging, but also valorize contemporary blackness. For instance, Changing Same (2010) is a series of digitally assembled videos that reference new-­‐ media technology, cybernetics, biotechnology, and/or altered states of consciousness. These images insist on visual process that reframes understanding of the body, history and our world. Changing Same is a contemporary artwork that explores correspondences between the appearance of beings framed by geo-­‐political discourse, the circumstances of that framing. The artwork also re-­‐imagines by using digital manipulation to unravel would-­‐be indexical links. Taking Bopape’s Changing Same as a case-­‐study, this paper interrogates various meanings of the visual in relation to contemporary African visuality, as well as its political, cultural and ideological forces.

Raél Jero Salley, Ph.D. is an artist, cultural theorist, historian and Senior Lecturer in Painting and Discourse at the University of Cape Town. Salley’s research is focused on contemporary art and visual production, primarily the visual practices of Black and African Diaspora.

Alette Schoon: Digital sh1t: mobile phones, gossip website Outoilet and the marking of territory

The digital urinal: mobile phones, gossip website Outoilet and the marking of territory The notorious and recently banned mobile phone based website Outoilet has been using gossip, insults and explicit sexual commentary to create specific experiences of space and representation among communities in South Africa. While some have hailed the advent of the mobile internet as an escape from the local to the global, characterised by "timeless time and the space of flows", Outoilet's ghetto anarchy questions this sanitised notion of technology with its idealised freedom. Through a flurry of crude text-based postings on its geographically-specific bulletin boards, the hyper-real township here becomes simulated on the mobile telephone screen.

Outoilet's interface allows one to highjack other people's identities and discard them at whim, so creating layer upon layer of representation and doubt, generating speculation, talk and community. Through communal surveillance practices of everyday scrutiny these text postings become visual and spatial, drawing boundaries which are both geographical and social, policed by online notions of the logic of the streets and the neighbourhood.

Alette Schoon teaches Mobile Communications and Television in the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes. This paper is based on her MA research into young adults and mobile phones. Before working in academia Alette made documentaries and educational films in Johannesburg, taught activists how to produce media in Cape Town, and programmed computers in Pretoria.

Bettina Malcomess: am I a victim of this wicked game

Synthetic dirt vs. Aesthetic clean

Synthetic is usually used in the sense of synthesis, the combination of two or more parts, whether by design or by natural processes. Furthermore, it may imply being prepared or made artificially, in contrast to naturally. The Greek root ‘syn’ translates as ‘together’. In philosophy of law, a synthetic person or legal or juridical personality refers to the characteristic of a non-human entity regarded by law to have the status of a person (in Latin, the person ficta). This is central to the philosophy of law, allowing one or more natural persons to act as a single entity, such as a corporation.
Adapted from: Wikipedia definitions of Synthesis and synthetic person and synasthesia 

Athi-Patra Ruga
...the naivety of Beiruth 4
The title comes from Pipi-lotti Rist’s ‘I am a victim of this song’, her appropriation of Chris Isaak’s melancholic ballad: ‘Wicked Game’. I would like to argue in this paper that South African art practice in general approaches an aesthetic that is much more ‘clean’ than ‘dirty’, and in fact its ‘synthesis’ of the experience of the present results in a product that is most often object based and readily commodifiable. Work rarely challenges the aesthetics of clean, clear, discrete display in gallery spaces or museums, and often when work does this it is left out of the critical conversation or edited and reframed for museum displays, or cropped for magazines and catalogues. I propose that South African media and the representation of political language and events are where the real ‘synthetic dirt’ is located. Debate around the current access to information bill is playing itself out in a much more ‘dirty’ fight, with the ‘Right to Know’ campaign wearing masks of the current minister of security to a meeting in parliament. This kind of disruption, which makes use of the image in a ‘dirty’ way, presents an interesting counterpoint to the much ‘cleaner’ mode of image production that mostly dominates contemporary South African visual art. A ‘clean’ aesthetic poses few questions to modes of representation in museum or galleries, and hence to the reception and the structure and status quo of audiences. I propose that the reason for this disavowal of these structural concerns is an obsession with our own ‘synthesis’, the invention of our own ‘togetherness’, so as to emerge as the fictional collective identity: the South African contemporary.

This paper would propose to look at contemporary image making in South Africa in general, across a spectrum of disciplines and modes of popular and fine art production including newspapers, magazines, music video’s, television commercials and the internet. I would look at some artists who I would argue have worked ‘dirty’ and ‘clean’. This includes Tracey Rose, Dineo Bopabe, Athi-Patra Ruga, Gimberg Nerf, Ed Young, Gerald Machona, The Joubert Park Project and Donna Kukama.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Imraan Coovadia: Curveball 2

“Every book by Vladimir Nabokov is a blow against tyranny, every form of tyranny.” 

Vera Nabokov’s 1968 formula puts in the clearest form the emerging Cold War identification of freedom and a certain kind of difficult literature. The literary-historical evidence is not so unequivocal concerning tyranny and masterpieces: King Lear did no damage to the Jacobean police state, while Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Lincoln’s account, was one cause of the 1861-5 Civil War (but it may not be a masterpiece and Lincoln’s words to Harriet Beecher Stowe were not recorded until 1896). Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago put the Soviet regime on trial, yet Coetzee’s Disgrace, channelling white racial fears about their loss of power under majority rule, may have done no favours for the new democracy in South Africa.

For Vera, as for her husband, the authoritative style claims the self-evidence of the statement. She allows no exceptions to the rule (“every book” and “every form of tyranny”), referring to her husband not as her companion of forty three years but as a phenomenon to be addressed in its objectivity. In 1968, a year of insurgency in France and Vietnam and Mexico, the most searching challenge to tyranny was mounted by Nabokovian literature. While political revolution could fail, or substitute one tyranny for another, or reduce one form of tyranny while neglecting its other manifestations, each of Nabokov’s books, although explicitly devoid of any express political purpose, struck “every form of tyranny.”

Synthetic Dirt Colloquium 2011

16th and 17th April