Michael MacGarry: The Other Half

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24 MAY – 7 JULY 2012


Yannick from DR Congo, from Chocolate City

g Private Grammar I 2011 District 9 assault rifle, cleat nails, nails, screws, epoxy 21 x 46 x 135cm


The future is here; it’s just not very evenly distributed. William Gibson, in an interview on NPR

There comes a time when we realise that the machine is a form of magic. No bugle call, no ring tone heralds this understanding. It arrives with an accidentally dropped smart phone: strips of plastic and metal welded by a Vietnamese child labourer now lying uselessly at our feet. We gaze down at talismans decipherable only to the initiated – the rolling bones of a sangoma. We are no more capable of fixing our dead phone than we are of resurrecting a corpse. In that instant, we are reminded that we are alone. This should not be confused with garden variety existentialism: God may well be dead, but that’s a minor inconvenience compared to what lies shattered beneath us. Technology has left us behind. There are no phonesmiths, or computermen. Just webs of patents and networks of post-industrial techheads. We are choked off from the past by digital shamans; the only way forward is forward. Which is, of course, mightily, brutally un-African. Consider, then, the works in this catalogue a means by which to decipher the bones at our feet. Our sangoma is either a futurist or an artist – ultimately, it doesn’t matter. His name is Michael MacGarry, and his atelier is a version of Marty McFly’s jacked up DeLorean, odometer set for the year 2050, flaming skidmarks criss-crossing this vast continent. For him, there is a shard of gallows humour embedded in the future – as we drive relentlessly onward, we end up tumbling backward. For MacGarry, fetishising progress is a form of moral rot. And he makes it his business to imagine how progress shall metastasize, so that we will know the tumour when we see it, will marvel at it, will Tweet the pictures.


* Yes, some African cities conform to the bombed-out, dust-strewn dystopias that flicker to life at the end of cable news reports. But we are long past the historical point where the utopian and the dystopian can exist as opposites. The rules of capital have made bedfellows of them. Take Kinshasa’s Gombe, consulates and NGO headquarters dotted along a rolling stretch of the Congo River, Club Med idyllic. Contrast this with nearby Ngaliema, in which a klatch of rural/urban wraiths live between the gravestones of a necropolis – a community of the walking dead. Every African city has its own nature, its own vibrato, its own soul. There are, however, links. Most are carried along by the same precarious present, a stage of economic and social development that offers no real clues as to what the future might hold. Vertigo grips locals and visitors alike – it comes in waves, brought on by change so rapid that it warps time. For a species that intrinsically understands reality through landscape, this is not a happy feeling. All predictive capacity is tossed away with the morning’s newsfeed. African cities are striated, layered, unimaginably fecund. At the top, a caste of super-rich that glide over potholes in four-ton bulletproof Maybachs, for whom the city is a vector to further wealth, linked to a world that is by turns a playground and an ATM. They are paradoxes – at once highly visible, and masters of obscurity. They exist in shadow realm, a hologram version of the city, where everything is available, everything consumable. In this, they are the photo-negative of the ultra-poor, the ragdolls who haunt the streets as a scavenging underclass. It is necessary for those living in an African city to erase these people, to transform them into white noise, to place them in their own parallel hologram. When they are acknowledged, their misery is reduced to theatre: they are a reminder of how close we all stand to the edge.

Chinese Iron Ore Frigates off the Coast of Dar es Salaam, 2048, 2012, oil on canvas, 250 x 110cm

Then there is the elusive middle, a caste so disparate that its existence is purely a matter of convenience. The red blood cells, the oxygen carriers common to any city, linked to the rest of the world by the computers in their hands. Pundits salivate when they speak of this group. The ‘emerging African middle class’, the planet’s ‘last untouched group of consumers’. Despite their manifest differences, these Africans are a target, a strategic position in a battle. Like any target, they are constantly strafed, not with weapons, but with possibility. To be in the middle, to be a bull’s eye, is to live in a state of constant unease. I’m thinking money every moment thinking money, spits Rick Ross. I bust a nut then I’m back to thinking money. Not just money, though. This feeling of being passed by, passed over, of the world hurtling forward at an unimaginable pace. Urban Africans do not get to escape the digital hustle, which simultaneously erases borders and enforces them. An SMS from a cousin in Guangzhou, from a sister in Marseilles. A Tweet from Paul Kagame, a Facebook status update from Rihanna. The dream of a better world, like Johannesburg, or Europe, or the States. The fear that this place, this city was supposed to be a better world, and that, perhaps, no such place exists. * This is MacGarry’s canvas; he knows the tropes well. Once, you would have described a show like The Other Half as ‘multimedia’. Now, that seems like a dead term. How else to convey the real-time frenzy: pen, camera, laser, paint, rice liquor, e-ticket, boarding pass, bodybuilder, gun. The above compendium is entirely descriptive, a Discovery Channel documentary of what it feels like to be alive right now. In MacGarry’s prehensile brain, everything is fair game, everything a ‘found object’. Take the boda-boda – the 125cc motorcycles that are a staple in Nairobi, Kampala, Lagos (where they are called achaba), and Kinshasa (where they are called wey-wah). These cheap Chinese or Indian-made machines have transformed the way people move through African cities. With Motorcycle Fetish, MacGarry has catapulted the boda-boda into the near future. He’s festooned it with the rotted matter of city life, studded it with nails and chunks of metal. Now, the boda-boda is alive, fully expressive of its prehistoric nature as a sort of microbe, zipping people and things through clogged arteries, coughing poison into the air. The boda-boda is infinitely

Motorcycle Fetish, 2012, found object, steel nails, tubing, bolts, pressed steel, enamel paint, 108 x 205 x 74cm


customisable, it has a specific cultural cachet everywhere it is used. It is a marker of the African present, and thus an arbiter of what is to come. It has a companion in the FARO™ RLV 3-10, a weapon built by the Federal Nigerian Army, circa 2052. The way MacGarry sees it, the United States will attack the Federal Nigerian Republic in the next 30 years or so; the FARO, an unmanned artillery field cannon, is designed to strike back. Its kinship with the boda-boda is obvious: it is an object built for the city, crusted over with the city. It is both mechanical, and utterly alive, its insect-like legs bringing to mind inyenzi – cockroach – a term ushered into common usage on the Rwandan killing fields during the mid-1990s. Then, the Festooned series, seven sculptures that remind us of ceremonial masks, unbeautiful creations mashed together from what looks to be the world’s largest garbage dump. A coin for an eye, an orthodontic impression for a mouth, a pig’s snout for a nose. We can imagine these masks donned by the same digital shamans who graph our future, dancing over silicon chips and cell-phone chargers, conjuring avatars from plastic and dust. Now, we start to see a narrative emerging. Not a story, necessarily, but a sense of things – the same way we cobble together a coherent memory of a cage fight, blow after blow added to the account, so we can say: this is what happened. We start to understand that MacGarry’s reconstituted objects have a relationship to the atavistic – they’re an umbilical cord, mimicking the cultural lifeline that has lashed Africa to its ancestral past since the first humanoids came down from the trees. Presiding over all of this: Iceman, a portrait of the artist as a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, action-figure ripped – body borrowed from the plaster cast of a bodybuilder. In the next room: from the 1000 Suns series, a large-format painted canvas of Maputo, juiced on growth from newfound oil reserves, thrust into the latter half of the 21st century. Also, a model of African Union Headquarters, Addis Ababa, 2048, a reboot of the recently inaugurated headquarters, built and paid for by the Chinese government.

FARO™ RLV 3-10, 2012, laser-cut steel, found and bought objects, enamel paint, 160 x 246 x 203cm

* Our new friends, the Chinese. Our boon companions in human rights violations and plunder. Providers of cheap, strings-free capital and soccer stadiums and plastic sandals. The wild card in Africa’s development miracle, the catalyst that has sparked all the growth, all the talk of emerging markets. Chocolate City, a series of photographs by MacGarry accompanied by four pieces of his micro-fiction, is The Other Half’s sad-eyed, neon-bathed soul. The southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, one of the shining lights of the Pearl River Delta, the greatest experiment in free market capitalism in the history of our species. In 1985, the delta was mostly farmland with a GDP of $8-billion. By the late 1990s, it was driving Chinese growth, a humid monument to the rise of Red Capitalism, generating $89-billion a year. African leaders came to gawp. Africans came to work. And so rose the neighbourhood of Chocolate City, the name a reference to the skin colour of those that hustled its streets. Despite all the talk of Sino-African kinship, the Chinese authorities have not exactly embraced the newcomers. The size of Chocolate City’s population has shrunk over the past few years, and nascent families have been separated by fathers or mothers forced to return to Lagos or Dakar or Cape Town. MacGarry records faces, he documents clothing shops and discothèques and high-rise compounds. But in the two lonely images of mixed-race China Born Babies, or CBBs, the themes of The Other Half coalesce. These are creatures born of technology – long-haul flights and biometric scanning devices and late-night techno music hook-ups. But they are also born of love. They are hybrids, yes, but more than that, they are human. We gaze at their pictures, and we feel the stream of life course through us. We feel the meaning of the word future.

Mother and China-Born Baby (CBB) at the Deng Feng Market, from Chocolate City


* A story: the Obstetrics Ward, CHS Hospital, Gondar, District of Ethiopia. Meet the firstborn son of Gabra Heitch, remarkable for any number of reasons, but mostly because he is the eight billionth human on earth. The year is 2024, but the way MacGarry imagines it, there is nothing foreign about the room and the baby within it. There is nothing foreign about the future. It is merely the present, with the volume turned up. It is the past, flipped on its head, digitized. But The Other Half wouldn’t be what it is if it were only concerned with soothsaying. Here’s something that MacGarry knows about the vast African urban middle ground, that last untouched group of consumers. He knows that they are not a herd of bovine zombies. They are in the fight, throwing punches, deflecting blows. Everything they touch, they change. Every object, every concept that MacGarry generates carries their fingerprints. He reminds us that the consumers are individuals; he links them with what came before, and what will come after. The Other Half is a tracer round fired from a FARO™ RLV 3-10, a brief arc of luminescence that we follow into the dark. MacGarry creates objects for a time when he will be dead, when you will be dead. He rolls the bones. And in doing so, fuses the future to the past. Which is, of course, mightily, gloriously African. Like a form of chemo, he shrinks the size of progress’s tumour. He allows us to feel a little less adrift, and a little less alone.

Nas, from Nigeria, and his Chinese girlfriend Lily at the GBOOZA club night at TownBar on Zeng Cha Road, Baiyun, Guangzhou, from Chocolate City

Historical Materialism 2011 Bronze (verde patina) 77 x 40 x 38cm Edition of 3


Appoggiatura 2012 Graphite, pencil crayon, enamel paint 112 x 77.5cm

Jet Black Pope From the Festooned series 2012 Marble 36 x 24 x 27.5cm


We Travel Long Distances for Short Meetings 2012 Graphite, pencil crayon, Copic marker 112 x 77.5cm

g Adult Fun From the Festooned series 2012 Cast polyurethane 50 x 21 x 32.5cm

Gaudeamus Igitur From the Festooned series 2012 Marble 41.5 x 24 x 26.5cm

g FARO™ RLV 3-10 2012 Laser-cut steel 210 x 150 x 120cm


Fuller, Further, Faster, Better 2012 Polyurethane, epoxy, South African pine, nylon hair 256cm diameter x 154cm


Young, Loud, Fat Communists 2012 Graphite, pencil crayon, enamel paint 112 x 77.5cm

f Heard You Was a Screamer From the Festooned series 2012 Cast polyurethane 48.5 x 22 x 25cm


Motorcycle Fetish 2012 Found object, steel nails, tubing, bolts, pressed steel, enamel paint 108 x 205 x 74cm

f Riddle Me This From the Festooned series 2012 Mixed media 55 x 21.5 x 27cm

Surplus Passion 2012 Wheelbarrow, metal tubing, stamped metal, acrylic paint 138 x 74 x 61cm


f Insects 2012 Polyurethane, wood, nylon hair, metal 200 x 132 x 95cm

Dutch Coward From the Festooned series 2012 Cast polyurethane 41 x 31.5 x 34.5cm


f La Maison d’une Artiste 2012 MDF, 56-note mechanical musical movement 66 x 65 x 63cm

Reclining Figure, 1959 2000 Digital video Duration 30 seconds


The Healthy World of Primitive Building Methods 1999 Digital video Duration 30 seconds

g African Union Headquarters, Addis Ababa, 2032 2012 Polyurethane, marble, brass 85 x 95cm diameter

Disappear and Be Replaced 2012 Graphite, pencil crayon, Copic marker 112 x 77.5cm

Long Youth 2012 Polyurethane, industrial foam, acrylic paint 190 x 82 x 39cm


g Iceman 2012 Mixed media 118 x 37 x 33cm

Maputo, Mozambique, 2046 2012 Oil on canvas 108 x 218.5cm

The Price of Being Wrong From the Festooned series 2012 Cast polyurethane 58 x 24.5 x 35.5 cm

Packs and Swarms V 2012 Found petrol tank, metal 63 x 48 x 31cm


Michael MacGarry (born 1978 in Durban; lives in Cape Town) holds a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from the University of the Witwatersrand. He was the Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art 2010 and is the recipient of a Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts Fellowship, University of Cape Town, for 2012. He has previously held solo exhibitions at Stevenson Johannesburg in 2011 and 2010. Recent group exhibitions include Contested Terrains at Tate Modern, London (2011); ARS 11 at Kiasma Museum for Contemporary Art, Helsinki (2011); and Life Less Ordinary: Performance and Display in South African Art at Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham, and Ffotogallery, Cardiff (2009-10).

CAPE TOWN Buchanan Building 160 Sir Lowry Road Woodstock 7925 PO Box 616 Green Point 8051 T +27 (0)21 462 1500 F +27 (0)21 462 1501 JOHANNESBURG 62 Juta Street Braamfontein 2001 Postnet Suite 281 Private Bag x9 Melville 2109 T +27 (0)11 326 0034/41 F +27 (0)86 275 1918 info@stevenson.info www.stevenson.info Catalogue 64 June 2012 © 2012 Text: the author © 2012 For works by Michael MacGarry: the artist Front cover Gaudeamus Igitur, from the Festooned series, 2012, marble, 41.5 x 24 x 26.5cm Inside front cover Riddle Me This, from the Festooned series, 2012, mixed media, 55 x 21.5 x 27cm Inside back cover The Model That Couldn’t, from the Festooned series, 2012, cast polyurethane, 51 x 24.5 x 28.5cm Back cover Long Youth, 2012, polyurethane, industrial foam, acrylic paint, 190 x 82 x 39cm Editor Sophie Perryer Design Michael MacGarry Photography and image repro Mario Todeschini Printing Hansa Print, Cape Town

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