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

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.

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