Other People's Memories
Goodman Gallery Johannesburg
28 january – 26 february 2015
CANDICE BREITZ / ADAM BROOMBERG AND OLIVER CHANARIN / NOLAN DENNIS / MOUNIR FATMI / KENDELL GEERS / DAVID GOLDBLATT/ HAROON GUNN SALIE/ ALFREDO JAAR / MOSHEKWA LANGA / WILLIAM KENTRIDGE / LIZA LOU / MIKHAEL SUBOTZKY /
“Imagine them reconstructing the conceptual framework of our cultural moment from those fragments. What are the parameters of that moment, the edge of that framework?” K Eshun (2003)
Other People’s Memories is a group show which explores the ways in which history and memory exist in the process of making, as well as the process of viewing, and by extension, the relationship between the artist, the artwork and the viewer.
The works included in the exhibition are the result of the artists’ relationship to something which has already happened, so that the artwork becomes an act of insertion, where the artists’ personal history becomes part of the historical, social or cultural moment which is referenced. In some instances the physical presence of the artists and their surroundings is consciously transferred to the artwork.
In Moshekwa Langa’s drawings, the artist uses string, tape and paint to map his memories and encounters. He includes domestic items like salt and wine, which he works into the fibrous paper and permeable string, so that the marks he makes are made viscerally – making overt the artist’s physical presence.
Transferral and human presence is also evoked in the beaded canvases of Liza Lou, who along with her team of skilled Zulu woman beaders, produces visual meditations on imperfect artistic production. The canvases retain traces of sweat, dirt and even blood which are testament to the fragile delicacy of her production and become a site of memory, recording the long struggle and sublime discomfort involved in the act of making.
Mikhael Subotzky’s work Sticky Tape Transfer 03 is formed through a process, developed by the artist, whereby adhesive tape is applied and then removed from images that feature in the artist’s personal history. In this delicate process, the tape picks up pigments and fragments of the original image so that a replica is formed. The pigments and fragments from the image are not all that is transferred onto the tape: dust and grime from the studio also become trapped in the glue, so that the image is made up not only of itself but also from the physical surroundings of the artist. Subotzky’s images then, become a meditation on memory itself. Like Subotzky’s transfers, a memory – each time it is evoked – is revised. Some parts are forgotten and left behind with the splinters and fragments of context replacing them.
The physical presence of the maker is made apparent in Kendell Geers’ work Foiled – where the artist has imprinted a religious figurine of Christ on the Cross on a large sheet of tin foil. Due to the delicate nature of the tin foil, the dents and folds deliberately made by the artists to demarcate the indented image are not the only marks on the material. As Geers manipulates the tin foil to create the image at its centre, his movement is picked up by the material so that the foil retains not only a visual “memory” of the devotional object but also a memory of how it came to be. The exhibition also allows for an exploration of how the artwork exists not only as something which contains the artists’ personal history – which happens in the process of making – but also how the viewer’s own history is projected onto the referred moment during the process of viewing and interpreting. Nolan Oswald Dennis’ work Tunnel 001 investigates the use of fire and what the artist terms “civil burnings” in the historical formation of South Africa.
The work consists of a plywood tunnel, the interior of which is covered in a thin layer of paraffin wax. Historical and personal accounts of how fire and burning existed in the formation of South African independence are carved into the wax. Like the foil in Geers’ work, the brittle yet stiff surface of the wax in Tunnel 001 means that in rewriting the texts, the artist physically changes what was originally written. Mistakes are made and words are scratched out, the wax breaks and obscures words, sentences run into each other and it becomes difficult to determine a precise starting and ending point. The size of the tunnel, which is just high enough to accommodate a human body, means that viewers are unable to gain perspective, and are forced by the physical constraints of the work to look at the carvings as fragments, and read the altered texts in pieces, so that each viewer has a different experience and constructs a different narrative and meaning. Where Dennis replicates and reworks texts onto a new surface, William Kentridge works directly onto archival documents, merging his drawing process into all that is contained by the archival document. Kentridge has worked with pages from an old cash book from East Rand Proprietary mines from 1906. In this way, the artist has worked the writing, texture and marks on the pages of the book into the landscapes – so that the history which the pages record becomes intrinsic to the landscape.
The archive, in this case, is directly altered by the artist’s charcoal landscapes, allowing for a rumination of the effect of the past on the landscape and exploring the tension between the reclaiming of damaged ground by the ever evolving and growing landscape – and the extent to which landscape remembers trauma. While Kentridge explores the extent to which trauma and social injustice is evoked in the landscape,
David Goldblatt considers the ways in which loss and memory are contained within manmade monuments. In his 2014 series, Structures of Dominion and Democracy, Goldblatt continues his reflection on the structures and monuments that frame a particular vision of South African history. The new series concentrates on, but is not entirely devoted to, the period after the fall of apartheid, and features images of makeshift memorials, public monuments, and artworks which memorialize moments of trauma and allow for attempts at national catharsis. The works interrogate the practice of memorializing history and the ideologies that govern this practice. Whereas Goldblatt documents and investigates the ways in which monuments are constructed amongst different groups, Alfredo Jaar works with a historical photograph of Italian artist Lucio Fontana after his return from his native Argentina to Milan in 1946. The image shows Fontana standing amongst the ruins of his studio which was destroyed during World War II. The image, which the artist sourced from the Farabola archive in Rome, has been enlarged to a 2,5 × 2,5 metres square. Beyond the evident display of destruction and loss caused by war, this image marks an extraordinary moment in history where a group of artists and intellectuals were able to overcome years of isolation and devastation and reintroduce Italian culture to the world. This group includes Fontana in visual arts as well as Rossellini, Visconti and De Sica in film, Moravia, Pavese or Ungaretti in literature and the later generation of filmmakers like Antonioni, Bertolucci, Pasolini and artists like Pistoletto, Boetti, Calzolari and countless others who illuminated the cultural scene of Italy and the world.
Jaar first showed this image during the 2013 Venice Biennale as part of his project Venezia, Venezia, which was a call to artists and intellectuals across the globe to rethink the current unbalanced structure of contemporary art display and representations of the world in general. As Jaar points out, “artists create models of thinking the world”. By alluding to the power which culture demonstrated back in 1946, the artist encourages culture to once again overcome the present social, geographical, political, and cultural imbalances still aggravating the world.
Haroon Gunn Salie begins from the point of a South African identity of Diaspora – and a history of colonialism and slavery.
Gunn Salie has produced a metal cut out of the words KOM OOR DIE SEE – a line from the popular “Kaapseklopse” and slave song Die Alabama. Working in The Belfast Exposed archive – which contains photographs documenting the Troubles in Northern Island – photographers Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin were interested in the process of selection, and the physical marks made on the photographic contact strips in the archive.Marks were made both by the succession of archivists who worked with the archive, and as the archive was made open to the public, marks and cuts made by individuals who defaced images of themselves.
The archive, then, is not only a collection of images which document the troubles, but the images themselves – they too become surfaces which bear testimony to the physical manipulation and handling of history and documentation.
In the works on the exhibition the artists have brought to light the process of selection and deletion by uncovering parts of the images which have been covered by archivists’ stickers and deleting the rest of the image. In the process of exposing what was covered and deleting what was not, the artists make over the ways in which cataloguing and selection impact on an archive. When the works are installed in the gallery the images – now devoid of their context – trigger different responses in the viewers, who must use their own backgrounds and history to make meaning of the images’ sequences.
Mounir Fatmi works within the realm of art history and visual culture. Taking the Italian Renaissance artist Fra Anglico’s painting The Healing of Deacon Justinian as his starting point, Fatmi questions the possibility of traversing ethnic and cultural barriers. A digital replica of Angelico’s painting has been printed on a mirrored surface. The painting depicts the Catholic hagiology of the Deacon Justinian, whose cancerous leg was replaced with that of an a dead Ethiopian by the saints Cosmas and Damian – twin doctors of Turkish descent who were martyred in the Catholic faith after they were beheaded under Diocletian persecution.
Fatmi places composites images of modern surgeries and trauma rooms onto the Angelico image so that the saints and the deacon appear as ghostly forms in the modern world. Like so many of his works, in Blinding Light, Mounir Fatmi does not provide the viewer with an answer or solution to ethnic and cultural barriers – but rather through a merging of media, time and origin he includes the viewer in the a process of complicating and questioning the past.
The mirrored surface of the work means that in the proccess of looking, the viewer becomes part of the layered imagery. Bodies are reflected in the parts of the work which are still reflective and hidden in the parts which have been been covered by the photographic print. Again, medium is used as a visual analogy for contemplating that which has come before, where the viewer, as in Frangelico’s painting, becomes a ghostly presence in a reworking and re-imagining of the past. In her dual channel video work Treatment, – Candice Breitz also works with insertion and reception, through revising and editing David Cronenberg’s iconic 1970’s horror film The Brood.
Breitz enlists herself, her own mother and father, and her real-life psychotherapist to inhabit and re-create a series of scenes from The Brood.
As with the Cronenberg film,Treatment resists indulging concrete autobiographical information, denying onlookers voyeuristic access to Breitz’s actual relationships with her parents and therapist, and focusing instead on the psychological horror that potentially lies within family life.
Once again the work deals with the hidden that exists underneath the observable – and asks the viewer to engage with the reference, the artist’s intention and the narrative potential of their own history being brought to bear upon the works.