Archive for the 'Art Criticism' Category


Got a torturer: 1 & 1 is 3.

“I think it only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them; unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom”. Noam Chomky

Yes/to/day I visited an art gallery, not the nat/u/anal or any/thing, but the more con/temp/ovary one – the one that de/pics the you/th cult, the way/ward/ford. On pen/it/tration it was hard to find the works. The works must be real/lie good because they were so hard to see.

Throughout South African history we are wit/ness to the pre/dit/ors view. The position of the art gallery can be seen as a place that brings out the hunter – the collector. Objects are gathered specifically for the hunter’s enjoyment. The gallery becomes the place that displays the corpse – a place that opens the doors to public vision, thus empowering the predator.

The commercial gallery is like a drive-through-game-reserve.

“…I’d made up my mind that he would like some of my work. What made it worse was his coldness. He seemed so absolutely serious and clinical. Not the faintest line of humour or tenderness, even of sarcasm, on his face. Suddenly much, much older than me…He said, it’s quite graphic, well composed, I can’t tell you details. But it’s not living art. It’s not limb of your body…” John Fowles ‘The Collector’

When visiting the commercial ranches: On entry you/re served a glass of cham/pain. At first ‘site’ the exhibition looks like any other curio shop. Yet among the curios are the prospective art works, which are also camouflaged as curios. Fortunately the camouflage is transparent. The art works have price tags and an outdated catalogue is available, although the catalogue does not always include the works on display. We feel as if we are the aftermath, the viewers of the corpse. This is the gap that acts as a shield to the door of public vision. The art works on exhibition become the victims whose concepts assert the power of the predator.

“The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth – it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true”. Ecclesiastes

The collection policy of the municipal and national galleries tends to be made up of a simulacrum. The issues of collection involve the constrains of a tightly restricted budget that is slowly shrinking each year; the problems of an inadequate staff that often lacks specialist training; the lack of storage; and a policy that tends to focus on art works from the immediate surrounding areas, more specifically local art. Hence the hunter often feels stifled when entering these establishments. And so the answer over the last decade has been to offer travelling shows. Large National travelling shows that give off a sent of promise for the hunter in a way to attract the number game.

“The gallery is deserted because it has adopted the authority of science, a belief in a system that accepts the reality of observation – of preserving the meaning within the thing as a priori. The gallery is a place where the de-certain, de-exact and de-final are presented as un-‘de’ed, a place where the de-stabilised rules of consumerism are embraced by eruditeness”. THE SAARTJIE GUIDE TO THE EPISTEMOLOGICAL DE-BATE OF SOUTH AFRICAN ART OR, PROMISCUITY IN THE GALLERY

To rearticulate our original premises: Walking through our commercial galleries is like walking through an abattoir; walking through the municipal and national galleries is like partaking in a 19th century freak show.

“…we need an o/pen mind to be/have in the Gall(URL)ery: the gallery s/p(l)ace is a maze and the 1 ON(E)ly in/side viewer the hanger of ritural/s”. THE SAARTJIE GUIDE TO Eti/quiet in the Gallery – how to be/(h)ave: a more/al(l) issue?


DI-SECTING A RACE: Art, tech-no-logy and post-da-ride-da.

All sentences of the type “technology is X” or “technology is not X” a priori miss the point, which is to say that they are false. The options confronting us seem to be “just how technology is”. How to translate “technology”? a “technology”?…

The link between technology and art is something often disregarded in history. When technology is identified in art, it is usually, rashly, seen as a type of negative theology, a theology that tends to look for the negative components in a system or approach. This dismantling of the structure of aesthetics into a techno-aesthetic is a regression towards a ‘simple element’ and results in a preconceived notion that predetermines understanding.

Through a complex and subtle process, certain ideas, certain ways of looking at the world, are promoted and come to find their way into our heads. This is a sort of “negative thought control”. Chomsky points out that we are controlled as much by what is not there, as by what is. When technology influxes art, it is a process that does not await the consideration or organisation of a subject, rather it offers a system of thought that determines the outcome and the way reality is understood.

The evidence suggests that artists’ dependency on technology and mechanical devices has been not only extensive, but also long-lived, going back centuries, and questions the unity of the ‘image’ as ‘made’. Charles Paul Freund, in his article Traces of Genius, points out that Leonardo Da Vinci was familiar with the camera obscura, the architect Filipo Brunelleschi pioneered vanishing-point perspective, and Jan van Eyck appeared to use mirrors and lenses to aid in the acuity of the world.

In his controversial book, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, David Hockney argues that optics began to influence painterly representation as early as 1350. He argues that painters were secretive about such aids because they were trade secrets. What this suggests is that the artists were using modern devices to re-invent an understanding of the world, a world that was progressing from a mystic to a more mechanical and operative reality – a democratic reality. It also suggests that artists were embarrassed by their reliance on mechanical processes that removed the human ‘organic’ quality from their work, reducing the elitism of the art/craft and opening it even further to mass-production and mass-consumerism.

Technology has been and was seen, as a mind-manipulating strategy used by ‘corporate enterprises’ to manipulate the way reality is understood. This implies that the use of technology in art results in a kind of ‘democratic mind’ manipulation that re-inserts an ‘articulated’ way of seeing. Chomsky points out, that thought control in democratic societies does not happen through totalitarian, Big Brother-style mechanisms rather it is the result of “a filtering process empowered by economic and political power operating in a free market system” – he points out that there is no design or conspiracy. Artists are not prevented from choosing ‘unfriendly’ approaches and concepts, they just never ‘encounter’ them and so assume they do not exist. The artist appears to use technology as a ‘device’ without understanding the full impact of the system that they are using.

Chomsky entered this debate on techno-aesthetics when he pointed out that one of the traditional and obvious ways of controlling people is to frighten them. “If people are frightened, they will willingly cede authority to their superiors who will protect them”.


A Shell Fish Place

Recently, in my not too distant past, I went to a museum to visit that old coffee shop. You know the one with its slightly tarnished furnishings and slow <<< s l o w >>> service – the real art experience kind of place. The place that is filled with ‘he art’. >> A place to stuff your face and empty your mind.

Well, to my surprise the curator had taken down all the ART! The walls were as BARE as the unwashed backside of a third rate movie star. The guard’s were guarding an empty gallery. I began to ponder on the importance of space in a world where the earth is treated like some kind of bottom/less garb\age can. >> Are we guarding an empty space???

The age old turdified question of “is it art?” was not even a question, I mean, even the toilets were locked. I suppose the ‘artists’ saw the public act of peeing as too participative. Too ooooOOOOOOOooo much of a work of Art. Confusing the art works intent with the activities of the selfish third-rate gallery goers Art activity.

So when I visit the toilet these days in a gallery, at least I know I am making a formal Art statement. I suppose this is why the Coffee Shop in the gallery is always open, stocked, and frequented. It is the Directors contribution to the participatory ongoing artwork. An art gallery without a Coffee Shop is…

On the other hand, this empty gallery stuff is also the way a society/curator/artist/s confiscate/s Art making it political. The problem is, it’s mainly the curator-artist/s who are doing this emptification. In the 1980’s, the South African artist’s greatest fear was detention – detention for thought and freedom of expression, for presenting ideas contra to the popular public view, for presenting a message of truth as believable. Now it is the curator-artist/s detaining the artists by surrounding them in a quagmire of ‘spacelessness’. >> Yes, a quagmire of spacelessness, a place that is the sewage pipe of oxymoronic systems.

The other day I went to the gallery and f**ked leisurely in the gallery antechamber – the South African and Contemporary rooms. >> It is the safest place, because no one ever visits this space anyway. The thing is, I went to the gallery to make love and ended up in turning love into art. The gallery is a place that functions as the Modern Alchemists pharmacy – a place where used materials are remastered into new materials. The material of ART, and yet it is a place that is being continually emptied of meaning. It is a space that is lost in the gap between the oxy-and-the-moron, locked between the thighs of a yellow concept.

We get down on our knees to make life and the patriarchal curator/s stand over us swing>>ing a giant dildo, and … >>no they don’t present us with the porno-videos of the 1990’s, rather a porno-emptiness and we love the vacated spaces and the Euro-centricity of it all.

So the other day my artwork went to the gallery and the antechambers were still empty I was not there anymore…



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.