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 7, 2011

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

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