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

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:

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