Author Archive for Michael Matthews



A fixed view of the world or worldview can kill. One such instance is the view of an ‘African’ identity. This view of ‘African art’ or ‘art from Africa’; with its pseudo-scientific narration of identifying the ‘African’ vision has had a disastrous impact on South African art.

Most resent South African artists have been forced to see themselves in this context, a vision that has affected their subjects and meanings. This raises a common problem, the indubitable relationship that exists between the content and form of marginalized artists and how this affects their futures, an image that is produced, disseminated and consumed through the mass media and travelling exhibitions.

The problem that lies at the he/art of this debate is whether contemporary South African artists are the products or survivors of the ‘African vision’ of itself and of a worldview. It is a debate arising from the response to the dominant image of South African art offered by artists and academics and given popular authority through a wealth of museum exhibitions, documentaries and mass consumption items.

As ‘Others’, the ‘African vision’ is regarded only as significant in offering an ‘Others vision’ of the world. Many European art movements during the last century have adopted this vision. In adopting a vision of ‘Otherness’, this vision of ‘Africanness’ has become a label that has forced artists coming from Africa to similarly adopt in order to fulfil the perpetual role of ‘Otherness vision’.

‘Africanness’ or ‘otherness vision’ is best understood as a form of symbolic capital. Like all forms of capital, ‘Africanness’ is implicated in relations of power and ownership. The concept of ‘Africanness’ is a fake that is generated by material interests. The invention of this vision is not only the result of external circumstances but also the artists themselves who have adopted this vision. On the one hand, this venture of ‘Africanness’ operates indirectly, socially and ideologically to secure a framework for boundary formation and maintenance, on the other it is a cultural survival initiative.

Galleries and tourist enterprises, commodify images of ‘Africanness’ to attract an international market to South Africa. This is easy to explain and identify in curio items that offer consumers a view on an exotic world that is ‘Other’ than their own. With digital art, the move has been to offer ‘hyperreal’ encounters that promise unmediated and total experiences of this ‘Others’ world. As with Sue Williamson’s interactive CD-ROM ‘cant forget, cant remember’ that has become a commentary of historical and contemporary injustices that can be articulated through reactive ideological resource becoming a process of identity and experience.

The ‘African vision’ is a vision of the world that attempts to commodify the loss of identity.


Floating on an Unteachable History

Joseph Beuys was born in Kleve, Germany on May 12, 1921. His first one-person exhibition was held in 1953 in Kranenburg. In 1961 he was appointed Professor at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, where he had earlier been a student, and he continued teaching there until 1972 when he was dismissed amidst great controversy, a dismissal that finally, in 1978, was deemed unlawful. From the beginning of the 1970s he exhibited widely throughout Europe and the United States, representing Germany at the Venice Biennale in 1976. Beuys died January 23, 1986, in Düsseldorf, where he had lived for most of his career. Notable among the many retrospectives of his work are those held in New York in 1979, in Berlin in 1988, and in Zürich, Madrid, and Paris in 1993-94.

He attempted in his work to harness his creative energy as a means of redressing the decline of spirituality. He tried to change the world, not unlike William Morris or John Ruskin, he believed in the power of art to mitigate the dehumanising effects of the Industrial Revolution that in the end drew him into political activism.

“Moenie my skiet nie! Moenie my skiet nie!” cry the African-Europeans who cannot stand the march of this new beat. Beuys attempted to use myth and magic to turn us all into artists through symbolic performances. These ideas gained rather than diminished in poetic resonance with the passage of time because they exist for us today only in the realms of memory and imagination.

The change from then till now is equal to an upheaval of self – a moving of house so to speak. One has gathered the baggage from the past and scatters it into the present. What was ordered and appeared logical (Beuys’s works have a strong narrative dimension) has now changed, the matrix of control is now de-matrixised. The gallery is in a de-matrixised space, especially for the ‘babies’ who never questioned if they would be around in 2002 but still are.

Beuys absorbed formal influences both from the Old Masters and from his contemporaries loosing, stealing or destroying important items alone the way. In 1963, when Beuys became an international celebrity, and when he began to concentrate on making monumental artworks, installations, performances and multiples he was attempting “to make people free … art for me is the science of freedom.” What fitted well then now has no place. After the TLC the new space has become a yearning for new castes where the old castes yearn for a familiar place.

Evidence of his fundamental idea of bringing art and life closer together is found in Beuys’s multifarious use of materials. He incorporated materials from the “outside” world rather than just paint and canvas. This led him to venture through many different styles, including multiples, sketches, and performances. Whether it is felt, fat, food, honey, or iron, these materials symbolised his past. Cornelia Lauf points out that through the fusion of rituals and their fetishes, Beuys believed that art and artefacts could not always be distinguished from one another. Matthew Drutt noted that he developed this further in the larger environmental installations dating from the last years of his career. They are enormous in scope, magnificent in their intention, and involved hundreds of participants. They centre on a single theme, a call for a change in thinking that developed out of his personal understanding rather than from any technological advances. Beuys said of his ‘Nine Oaks’ work: “I believe that planting these oaks is necessary not only in biospheric terms, that is to say, in the context of matter and ecology, but in that it will raise ecological consciousness — raise it increasingly in the course of the years to come, because we shall never stop planting.” — Joseph Beuys, 1982.

What is evident is that Beuys in a search for place attempts to interact with the author, the text and the reader. He creates a place where the viewer has to use a process of interpreting and imagination to interpret the text in various ways. Beuys points out that without the reader, there really would be no text, for it is the reader who brings the text to life, through his realization of the ranging interpretations. As Alexandra Reese explains, “for Beuys the value of the written text is to provide the core knowledge, while the unwritten text is greatly needed to fuel the imagination and spark the viewer’s creative ideas”. It is what the text implies in so many different ways that allows the reader to develop a picture image of the story.

According to Hans Dieter Huber, Beuys’s work is especially adaptive to systems theory. Not only because of the basic system operative in Beuys’ works, the elements and objects and their relational links, but also because it accounts for the environment as an entity equal to that of the system itself – the environment allows for the artwork’s “aesthetic effectiveness.” The perception of an artwork by a viewer plays a role in such a system and can be seen as a variant of literary theory known as “reader response” theory.

Space and place in today’s galleries is an arrangement that talks back to the 1980s offering us a concept of culture. So the new space may require us to rise up, but this time there is no alternative, there is no symbolic overtone of comfort and healing anymore.

In the new space we look at walls that are too close, that cry “leave us alone, let us determine our own future”. The future is in it seizing itself, which can only come from a tool (within the de-matrixised structure). We live in this time where the disordered boxes of the past litter our reality creating a dis-structure that makes us seek for meaning where meaning may not exist. We search through a chaotic structure left by mad men and see meaning at every turn. “Why this box here, why this order? Where is the other related content? There must be meaning…”

In other words, we are still operating in a metaphoric place where we are being played backwards.


The living canVas stretched 2oo thin

The ancient art of pain\ting and coll/aging the body is closely akin to the primitive mind. By its own inventiveness body art has ranged from painted manifestations <chalk>, relief <scarification> and sculpture <piecing> raising the issues of form and concept.

North African, particularly Kenyan Maasai tribesmen, commonly plasticise their ears with ear piercing. The carved flesh and collaged items of Ethiopian, lip disks, are used by Surmaian’s to signify web [www] like codes [C://], a kind of metalanguage [a language used for the formal des/cription of another lang\u/age]. In the Karoo the bushmen have used extensive scarification, a language of .’s [dots] and /’s [slashes] that are thought to signify great beauty. In Kenya, the Turkana’s use ‘plugins’ that are attached to every conceivable vantage point, upgrading the per\form/ance of the adorned.

In many cultures the painting, scarification and piercing are coupled with masks, the stretching of limbs and the shaping of body hair e/x\uding a smoothness foreign to most art – an interrogation of the production of beauty, while at the same time attesting to the possibility of making something beautiful out of that interrogation [DATAFLOW LANGUAGE].

All these forms of body art are Alive and re-birthing in urban comm/Unities on a scale that is frighten.Ly similar to, the sp/read of a virus on the Internet – works of art that are not afraid to be beaUtiful. One of the most common forms in yougth culture is the tattoo. The tattoo allows for behaviour-like descriptions of logical cultural circuits [ABEL]. Tattoo’s and pubic hair shaving has infected the urban yoUth cultures and range from the secretive to the public. The sub-cultures and expErimentalists both do research that eventually blossoms in culture. They become a comment on the dominance those images exerted in a culture of the spectacle.

Body art is the graffiti of the skin, an assembly language [a symbolic representation of machine language]. Although these art forms date 5000 years, with modern techniques that have progressed concurrently via sailors, criminals and pop idols, the creators of this art form have limited their stylistic expressions to cliché’s and illusionist content, in a similar way that urban graffiti has done.

Body art is a virus that affects the youth cult like the mould of live fungi that grows onto the rot that the virus has left in a recontextualising of I/cons. Like graffiti, body art is mainly found on neglected edifices in economically suppressed environments – like industrial paint on con/ex\crete. When it grows onto chrome and polished surfaces usually we can see the designer’s touch/ the interior decorators arrangements, the truth of pornography revealed in bodies broken down into bits and pieces of eclectic pre/history.

The mould of body art has grown off the concrete and onto the flesh portraying an attitude rather than inane concreteness – the exposure to spores released by these moulds is known to cause or worsen social allergies – a kind of Stachybotrys chartarum [toxic mould]. As Henry Lick once pointed out: “Mould is replacing asbestos [fashion] as the next issue for industrial hygiene”.

The Nazi’s tattooed swastika formed an aggressive symbolic unity amongst S.S. soldiers in W.W.II. They volunteered to have the swastika patriotically tattooed onto their skin [BIGWIG], but this attitude in terms of meaningful content is a meaningless participation of individuals in the hypocrisy of the world [a participation that combines all the elegance and power of assembly participation with all the readability and maintainability of assembly participation].

Body art has become the last and first frontier of all fa://s.C.hion/ists.



The Voiceless – case No. 33: A minimal form of expression.


Since the WWW://NET view of the world, a synaesthetic vision has become mandatory.  This, synaesthetic vision, is a blending of opposite effects, and in South Africa, is an authentic reaction to ‘Africanness’.

This synaesthetic view of the world re-opens the age-old question to make art or not to make art. The act of creation saturates the concept of art and experience becomes ungraspable in any form outside of the ‘virtual’.

The virtual view provides us with an intimate and literal materiality of actuality creating a deeper sense of unreality in the participant. The viewer is negated and replaced by the participant in disembodied bits.

Fixed categories and habitual behaviour are denied for open distinctions. Hence, the result often opens the participant to a theatrical experience. The result is extreme artifice.

The distinction between making and representing is destroyed. The matrix becomes a charade of reality: collapsing the contextual meaning of events and creating an ambiguous content – a hybrid reality.

Virtuality forces the participant to be obedient to one’s own understanding – time-based experiences become essential. This is a didactic solution to conceptual art where the vision is consecutively time based.

The individual author is removed. The artist becomes a DJ and not a disc jockey and a way of making permanent the throwaway culture that technology has created.

Virtuality is a way of building non-control and non-order into an artwork – a way of burying of the past.



Minimalism in the 1980’s signified the end of art because it was a way of negating the past and ignoring the present. With minimalism there was no room for the past. The message is the same as Huxley’s Island birds: “Here and Now, Boys”. It makes a vacuum of the present, leaving the signified a space to artificially expand consciousness fractal-ly, hence, the growth of particle thinking, which has led to a conceptual view of the world. The conceptual experience is the zooming in on the fractal matrix.

For the artist this has meant a loss of style and the introduction of a non-style.

>> Enter the content without context (con-ceptual art).

The masters of this charade in South Africa are: Kendal Geers; Wayne Barker; Piet Pienaar and Co. (the new order Wit gang).

>> Place the fractal theory here.

Conceptualism is the objectification of ideas in a collaged manner. Collage fragments the idea into an atomised allegory with the symbol at its nucleus, and the symbol is always fixed in the linguistic. The weakness is that the allegory can and often is overlooked, thus the meaning itself can become dis-funct. Lets take the wasted seamen or the lost foreskin as an example. The meaning becomes an reaction to what went before it and the signified is the sum total of the allegory – the process of removing the visual and replacing it with the possible. The works in this vogue are as snappy and popish as the ‘cola’ cans that Warhol exhibited back in the psychedelic 60’s.

>> Well I suppose that sums up the vision – a coke rush that relies on ego-centred quirky aphorisms that is appreciated by the hipsters and other privileged addicts who are about to loose their gold chains in the near future.

These are ideas op pop culture and can be seen as a way of distancing itself from the mainstream opposition culture.


For the gallery this has meant that the recent past is pushed aside to make room for the emptiness of the stark gallery where the gallery is the thing on exhibit. The place for signification becomes the signified. thus the justification for these out dated institutions who are more than happy it appears to forget the past.

>> Sometimes this is needed. When the past is too bad to be acknowledged.

Fractal art is the way galleries can move with the times and crop them into a satirical present. It is no wonder they have become the institutions of dis-grace. But, maybe this is a way of justifying the different modernism’s that have birthed and offers a new way of seeing, a way of forcing the individual into a community way of understanding, a kind of governmentisation of individualisation. Meaning and the subject are a product of assimilation through arrangement and taste. The signifier becomes the curatorship.




Remember what the ‘new culture makers’ | ‘God’ said in Douglas Adam’s ‘So long to all the fish’ as an indication to the meaning of life,. “I apologise for this inconvenience”, well SAARTJIE may add, “as wE move to Egloi”. SAARTJIE is REBOOTING to JHB – and this is no commercial move but rather a crusade to find:

content <<<<>>>> context.

For most of this century one of the issues in art has been a continued rebooting of style in its search for content where the content is both visual-and-sexual, a kind of neo-Wolfe “provocative Vegas buttocks décolletage” – if you don’t believe me ask SteviE Cohn, he still hasn’t grown out of it! The American crusaders picked this methodology up from the European inquisitors at the beginning of the 20th century and have flagellated it till it became an enthralled hallucinogenic transformation by the 1990’s – an art of dissimulation, an inversion, and a perversion of normal and natural relationships. This attitude has consequently become current in South Africa, ten years after, with clone idealists like ‘Wane’ Barker.

In this century the focus, in art, has changed from content as an end-in-itself to content-related-to-context. This oxymoronic rebirthing (the African Renaissance is one of those other moronic things), of this *bright* age, makes us look to the placement of meaning in order to understand the dis-placement of the content – in a word: custom-content. This mental monkeynastics is nothing compared to that which future displaced meaning is to hold for those who follow the placement of their displaced-content into the replaced future-context. In the future this attitude will be a testimony to humanity and innocence through poetic vision. Paul Klee, the poetic visualiser, saw the possibility of future-contexts as an expression of the soul. He saw these visualisations [contexts] as “an exercise in self-analysis”. What he realised is that this shift in time [displaced-content] and space [replaced-content] is not sufficient as an individual isolated effort. He said: “Uns trägt kein volk” – we have no sense of community, thus he inadvertently emphasised the importance of community.

[All] works of art have a context and we experience these contexts on multi-levels. Firstly, there is the original-context, the manufacturer’s context that in historical terms is experienced by proxy only. Hence, when viewed historically it is always a facetious-context, something like the images hidden in Plato’s cave theory – an attempt at re-familiarisation. Then you have the intermediate-context, the painting in time as countless/nameless ‘others’ see the meaning and the placement, the shadows that Plato saw fleeting past the entrance of the cave. This is deferred meaning. Then we have current-context for contemporary works, which results in compounded meanings, one of which is the original meaning\s – a kind of de-familiarisation. Community is the buzzword of system theorists and the digerati. The digital age has reintroduced into art, something architects have always known and that the digerati have only just begun to surmise, that “content is community”. Thus context is a synthetic immediacy justifying a cause – a trace expressed as:

Intermediate-Context (M)*Current-Context (C) 2

This Einsteinian formula of understanding context leaves us in a ‘post-E-context’ (E = energy | the consequent results started at Hiroshima and Nagasaki) neurosis where the 20th century’s ‘deformities’ haunt us. The contents we experience are a reminder of those past atrocities that we committed. The past corporeal realm of matter as violence on memory inhabits the act of content. The truth is that we, the after-birthed post-modernists, are those deformities – art encased in past sediments of violence. We are a generation of sexual bizarreness – we are the content-less generation of disk-placed meaning. We are locked into all meanings and contexts without having a common community (content + context) of our own. We can list our meaningless-meanings as accurately as Marquis De Sade lists his encyclopaedic sexual pleasures in ‘The One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom’ where the ultimate pleasure is in the very act of eliminating pleasure.

We are locked into the act of removing meaning from content in our attempt to establish context as meaning through a process of disk-placement without a common network. We are attempting to create a new mythology that is not based on common-life but rather on a narrative formed purpose-less community. This is a new structure of non-presence, a pluralism of content that is arrived at through the multi-tasking of contexts.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of or exploring
Shall be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T.H. Bradley


// hacking the very substance of art [part III]: e-NTERING THE PLANE/

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For R700 you can go out and buy a video output card, connect it up to a digital video camera and after visiting, download some of the latest ‘cracked’ software.

Make a video at broadcast quantity, or alternatively, you can create images or sounds of high quality for studio publications and get them printed or recorded for under R800 at most print or recording studios.

The digital age is NOW and AFFORDABLE!


The digital artist is working in the platform of the programme conceptualisers’ ideals. The limitations on the artist are those placed on the artist by the programme development team. We even find that the software being used is system dependent. The digital artist’s vision of the world is limited to the current digital developments, and hence, that vision may become time specific and tied to a current vision of the world. As Louis Rossetto points out: “Most of what (developers) describe as content is really raw data”.

The problem is that the resultant work is still about this era’s technological developments. The meaning becomes as dated as pop music’s immediacy and as specific as pop music’s mass appeal. You can immediately identify music out of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Photography has had to go through a similar process in order to offer us a vision that speaks louder than the limitations of a 1000th/second and the placidity of chemical colours on gloss paper.

The other issue is that digital artworks border on graphic art. This is Warhol’s kickback – the fine line between the graphic designer and the digital artist is and has become negligible. More experienced and suited to digital art is the Fine Artist that has been trained in Graphic Art. This type-training programme prepares the digital artist for a more thorough technical- cum-digital training that is needed in digital art than is currently available in the Fine Art courses.

Although many Fine Art tertiary departments have begun to try their luck by providing the hardware, they still lack the expertise to train digital artists, and usually rely on an unstructured student-teach-student approach – or what is called the masticator approach.

In terms of training it appears as if a course at a film school with animation would be more meaningful technically to the budding digital artist. Experimental Animators’ Sites state that animated fine art is rarely seen in galleries, theatres, or on television, and the greatest artists in this medium, such as Oskar Fischinger, lived in poverty and obscurity. “A tragic irony is that this most disenfranchised of all art forms has been until now the only truly Twentieth-Century art medium. Another irony is that it takes more time and work to produce each second of viewer experience than any other art form.” — SXA


“For most of this century we have viewed communications as a conduit, a pipe between mystical locations on the planet. What’s happened now is that communication has become more than a conduit, it has become a destination in its own right – what in the vernacular is called cyberspace” Paul Saffo.

The digital artists solution to placement/displacement of content is possibly to use a multitasking and multi-platform approach to the digital art-making process. Jaron Lanier has suggested that “the main thing that computer-based media do that’s entirely new to the world is to make abstractions real”. Lets face it, currently the content of digital art is:

About the limitations of contemporary technology.

The artists training and understanding of the medium.

The meaning of the programmer’s corporate mandate.

The limitations of a progressive and electronic world view.


Digital imperialism is more than we can expect of any other medium at this point in history. Sherry Tarkle even sees current technology as providing new ways of looking at “mind and life and intelligence”. Digital art and its hype unfortunately is about the pixelisation “(Any new communications technology brings with it the fear and loathing of the ruling classes”, says Mike Godwin. Essentially he sees the goal as power and control) of meaning and its translation through a Western dogma (a creed that started with Newton and has culminated in quantum physics). Paul Saffo sums up the current views: “We are performing a great unwitting experiment on ourselves by introducing all this digital technology into our lives. Where it ends up is anyone’s guess. But wherever we end up, we are in for a fascinating and utterly surprising ride”.

“Life is short. Create your heart’s desire. It will outlive you.” – Joanna Priestley on Experimental Animators’ Sites and Saartjie-in-the-making with everything else that connects with live.

.-. Disclaimer:
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<<<were harmed during>>>
I###H ==I===|_[X]_|___|_| the ma+ting of this info.

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