Author Archive for Michael Matthews

20
Jun
17

Till Dusk Sending 1 Mars by Michael Matthews

15
Jun
17

AWake: ambivalence 05 by Michael Matthews

15
Jun
17

BACK IN THE 1980s

IMG_6129

Drawing of a warthog in oil based map marker (1985).

01
Jun
17

SAARTJIE Guide to the New Europeans. Neglected Histories: Part 2.3

 
The ‘A’&‘C’ brain-drain is a state of continual concern to business and political leaders in South Africa. It is a problem in this country that has reached alarming proportions, phenomena that is the result of an increasing number of academic and professional people emigrating to countries that promise security and wealth.

In art, the brain-drain process has been accelerated by the world demand for art from Africa. This demand has opened possibilities that were never available to South African artists in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Now the doors are open and the potential for art from Africa is an acknowledged reality. South African artists have the chance of making a living and being ‘understood’ in ‘other’ countries.

For a creative person it would seem pointless to exhibit in a country that offers little financial and physical security. The local galleries have had their budgets cut and are reluctant to acquire new artworks. They have a largely diminished purchase budget coupled with the lack of adequate storage spaces. Patrons of the arts are few (Australia a popular choice) and far between.

Apart from the evaporating creative pool, the Gallery became an unsafe haven for art admirers; with the ever increasing statistics of urban crime and violence many cultural houses host ghosts and cretins. Galleries have been forced to close their doors, leaving two or three successful independent galleries surviving on the left-overs of the 1980’s activist art, the affirmative cases of the 1990’s or sensationalist events.

The possibility of a new order, when the international doors of Art opened to local artists in 1991, took on a perverse logic when 70% of the electronic equipment disappeared from the multi-media exhibits at the First JHB Biennale. The ensuing survival course of the 1990’s that the Biennale launched, was to educate Artists and Gallery owners to survive by selling their items and services to the more lucrative international markets. So was the move of the Cultural Centre in JHB, and the loss of the Contemporary Everard (to name one gallery) to Cape Town and beyond, (the rebirth of the Castle, but this is another story) part of the symptom of demise, but not the cause.

The Capetonians, it seems at second glance, have kept the light of culture ablaze in South Africa, at least in this millennium! It is coincidently also the ‘happiest’ foreign visitor’s paradise and the last white outpost. Maybe it is also the last place left on the African continent that offers the promise of the Colonialist’s dream of power and freedom; the run by colonialists to flee violence has resulted in the recreation of another haven for laagered elitists.

So, in this light, Cape Town is possibly the city of the African Renaissance that President Thabo Mbeki so openly talks about, the place where the ‘cultural life’ is held high by tourism and a larger mentality. The rest of the country, to take the analogy to extremes, is part of the Dark Ages. Out there we sometimes find isolated centres of culture that are fighting a battle that is faced with impossible odds.

One wonders if it all means that artists and adventurers are forced to ply their trade to more affable markets. The result is hopefully one that mirrors the cyclonic effect often found in nature. There may be a trail of destruction in the current cyclonic wake, but there is hopefully also the promise of new growth after such an unnecessary waste of resources – and positive minds to reverse the depressive logic of post-violence disturbance.

Ghost in the Machine

25
May
17

Slices of JHB number 3

SLICES OF JHB 47

15
May
17

AWake: ambivalence 04 by Michael Matthews

01
May
17

THE SAARTJIE GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING HISTORY: Part 1.01. Surviving the Mid-Life Crisis.

 
What is the culture of visual understanding in South Africa?

In recent years, due to cultural boycotts, South Africans have been limited in the breadth of their visual experience. This atrophied visual understanding may have resulted in an ‘innocence of vision’, a vision that is inward looking, static and isolated.

The question that is foremost is whether the contemporary South African visual understanding is a ‘developing’ or ‘potentially active’ one. This question is based on the premise that the South African vision is an ‘innocent understanding’ of the ‘virtual’ image – an image that is always changing or in a state of potential fulfilment, in other words an innocent understanding of a potentially active environment. Therefore, what is implicit in this question is that the ‘innocent eye’ may reveal a mind that is disempowered, rather than an informed one.

The next question in untangling this mystery is if empowerment can be achieved through an innocence of vision. Here one may think that the question includes only the artist or the artworks, but our history of disempowerment can be encountered in the gallery system as well – a system that has, for the last century at least, offered the public images in a pristine vacuum of Neo-Colonialism. In South Africa, in the 1980’s, the gallery system embraced artworks that were treated as isolated from the experience of collective visual meanings, or that had been created by proxy. This gallery system was structured in such a way as to establish a visual comparison with other images in similar circumstances – images in a state of decontextualisation.

The situation of a disempowered visual understanding in society is not unique to South Africa. What is unique to this country is that the images South African artists and historians have been exposed to over the last 30 years or more are pedantic reinterpretations of badly printed photographic magazines, such as ‘Art in America’ and ‘ArtForum’. These magazines have been sold at selected stores in competition with other magazines, such as ‘Stag’ and ‘Hustler’. Not to belittle the role of these photo-journalistic magazines of women, but, as with pornography, the understanding of the determining signifiers (the images of women/printed images of art), in universal cultural meaning (the ‘ideal’ depiction of women/the art object) has always been by proxy and has led to an erogenous and erroneous view of women/art. As the photograph of the, so-called, desired or observed object is removed to the conceptual vision, so too with the South African understanding of contemporary art. The effect has been devastating in many ways. In others, it has led to a genesis in creativity – albeit a genesis based on misconceptions.

Under these circumstances the South African artists, galleries and historians that matured after the 1980’s do not offer an “innocence” of vision. Their so-called innocence of vision is a misinterpretation of visual coding. This misunderstanding of meaning has led to a way of coding that reassesses the virtual coding process itself. The result is that South African art, not fed into art from consumable culture as with most art trends in Europe and America, has used processed ‘international high art’ as a consumable culture, before it itself has been re-ingested into ‘contemporary South African culture’.

At this point in South African cultural history we are at the age of becoming. We have had to rely on our misinterpretations of Western Art on the one hand and our misunderstood indigenous heritage on the other to form a coding system that has morphed out of the virtual system. This has resulted in an independent system: the result of the removed sanctions is a unique system that is dynamic, a virtual system of its own that is a virus to the dominant systems’ infecting and changing them. We are now in our so-called mid-life crisis waiting the high period of the African renaissance. Or…

Surviving the crisis