South African Cultural Observatory

Be kind. Please rewind.

BY Dr Danny Shorkend 11.07.17

A NEW vision, one that focuses on the medium of film and video, a first for this country, is perplexing, riveting and surprising all at the same time. The gallery blurb describes the show as one that “seeks to explore the various complexities of video’s relationship to the construction and perception of history and memory”. Whether aesthetic and sensual “stuff” is merely self-referential or in fact is a narrative corresponding to extra-aesthetic (history, memory…) concerns is unclear. Is art purely formal or purely part of other narratives (history, memory…)? I would argue in a dialectic between the two, which is what makes art a method of reading signs. Signs are the material embodiment of the abstract idea. Yet signs are arbitrary and draw attention to themselves.

Cape Town based artist Carla Inez Espost installation is overwhelming, incorporating as it does a number and great variety of things – film, computer key boards, sculptures, disks, pictures, books and other things – in a pattern where no order or decoding is obvious. A pieta -like video acts as the backdrop and complexifies the odd relationships between the things that make up the artwork. Is there a unity – a correspondence between form and content? Only if one so chooses. Perhaps the artwork is a shrine.

Tanzanian artist Rehema Chachage has created a strong work where image and text create an emotional connection to her narrative as a mother, with her mother and in relation to her grandmother. I found the work beautiful in both form and message, which, as the title “letters to…” suggests that traditional knowledge systems need not lose value.

Lucia Nhamo, a Zimbabwean artist has produced a large, enigmatic image of the Chiremba Balancing Rocks. These powerful, almost sculptured rock-forms is the national monument and iconic symbol of the Zimbabwean currency. Formally intriguing one wonders what the clad figure in purple is doing rolling around on a rock surface at the foot of this mammoth natural wonder and now symbol of a cultural, institutional and political structure.

Martin Wilson and Kyu Sang Lee collaborate in an interesting piece of a strange trapeze-like structure with cut flower-like arrangements at the end of one pole. Yet that is the shadow of the video piece which also reveals a form such as this. But which is shadow and which real (if “real” can even here apply?). Is not the flat video - the shadow - and the actual stuff – real - being three dimensional and the like? Yet it is not clearly so. Does science study the shadow or that which is real? Many philosophers have concluded that one can have no knowledge of that which is real – that is, reality. Hence do we not live in post metaphysical times? For the storm in the video with the Romantic image of the lone figure struggling on suggests that indeed one cannot subscribe to a “grand narrative”.

Francois Knoetze, a Cape Town based artist, explores dance, performance, costume and objectification through video interventions that show a high degree of aesthetic and special effect prowess. In the process, one might find an ambiguity that reflects a digitisation and disassociation from the body or perhaps complete surrender. It seems to suggest that gone are the spaces in between as the clutter, fragmentation, claustrophobia and pressure that is expressed in the video piece, deny the possibility of video (life) commenting on video (life). The medium will always limit. Yet without the medium there is even less (from the perspective of a time-space-matter continuum).

The title of the exhibition: “Be kind. Please rewind” appears to contest certain structures experienced currently and asks one to ponder and remember the past. For that memory contains the seed for what is to follow. But you retort there are no origins, no essence and centre. The artists’ in this show seem to be pointing (at least in this interpretation) to a haven that can be found in living outside the system. That this is found in reclaiming the past and moving forward or more accurately – rewinding. What does all this mean in practical terms?

In terms of art-making it was great to see the power of video art. In terms of what effect such art has beyond its commodity value and cultural-affect, is not certain. On exiting a rendition of Le Misérables, does such a person more readily give a coin to a beggar?

 

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