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

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

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.

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