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Cover Simon Gush, 21 Gun Salute for the Death of a Collector, 2007
4 June – 7 July Athi-Patra Ruga She is Dancing for the Rain with her Hand in the Toaster 12 July – 11 August Fabian Saptouw Unravelled and Rewoven Canvas 20 September – 20 October Lerato Shadi Aboleleng & Hema 25 October – 24 November Simon Gush Salute
THE BRIGHT PRESENT
The side gallery became a reality on 1 June 2007 when Athi-Patra Ruga, a young, unconventional fashion designer from Johannesburg, and his maniacal entourage arrived at Michael Stevenson to start installing She is Dancing in the Rain with her Hand in the Toaster. Until then, our idea to show young artists on a project basis felt exciting but rather abstract. Now that we were busy soaking sculptures in canola oil in borrowed garbage cans, abstraction made way for something very tangible. When a stock room was cleared to accommodate what became known, almost by default, as the side gallery, it was agreed that the scheduling would be ad hoc, with space made available when an appropriate artist was found. Ruga’s show was the only one we had planned at the start. Over the course of 2007, we held three more exhibitions, by Fabian Saptouw, Lerato Shadi and Simon Gush. These artists have very little in common, at least at first glance. They are based in locales ranging from the suburbs of Cape Town to inner-city Jo’burg (with Gush currently studying in Ghent, Belgium). That said, with three out of four from the Johannesburg metropolitan area, Gauteng does seem to have an edge over the rest of the country. Ruga, Saptouw, Shadi and Gush also trained at different institutions. Ruga studied at the Gordon FlackDavidson Academy of Design; Saptouw was at Michaelis, University of Cape Town (where he is currently doing his Masters); Shadi graduated from the University of Johannesburg, and Gush did his undergraduate degree at Wits. One could argue, cynically, that they have succeeded despite their schools; that their vision and ambition, not their training, have led them to where they are today. Or it could be seen as a sign that our art schools are strong across the board, and many of them are capable of channeling artists’ creativity into a meaningful practice. What the side gallery artists did turn out to have in common was an extraordinary ability to rise to the occasion. The projects started with little more than a brief conversation, by phone, email or in person. Without
a significant track record, it was difficult to predict the outcome of these conversations, and the process was driven by faith more than anything else. In all instances, expectations were not only met but exceeded. If these artists’ professionalism and creativity are indicative of their generation, the future looks bright. For all four, points of reference are primarily international. Saptouw, Shadi and Gush make no reference to geography or local history at all (though Shadi arguably engages the global politics of the black female body). Ruga does draw on South African iconography, but situated his video in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and his visual and conceptual language is rooted mostly in international fashion and Eighties pop culture. From this catalogue, it becomes clear that another common thread is the ability to give form to ideas. All of the work that has shown in the side gallery has been concept-driven, but these concepts are, without fail, presented in a visually seductive manner – these artists are acutely aware of the significance of the ‘visual’ in visual art, from Ruga’s spectacle of sensory overload to Gush’s understated, all but empty gallery space. Based on the above, it is tempting to make predictions, but for now let’s establish that the present, rather than the future, looks bright. And that is wonderful.
Joost Bosland Curator, side gallery
Athi-Patra Ruga She is Dancing for the Rain with her Hand in the Toaster
She is Dancing for the Rain with her Hand in the Toaster is the first gallery exhibition by Athi-Patra Ruga. Born in 1984 and trained as a fashion designer, Ruga owns a clothing label, Just Nje/Amper Couture, which produces unique pieces only. His debut collection, Die Naai Masjien, was showcased as a nominee in the Elle New Talent Show at the 2004 South African Fashion Week. Since then, the radical nature of his work has caused it to slowly drift away from the fashion industry into a more elusive realm. An installation of garments suspended from butcher’s hooks forms the centre of the exhibition. The clothes, designed by Ruga, have titles such as Get in the car, I am your mother’s friend, suggesting an undercurrent of abuse. They are drenched in rapeseed (canola) oil, an ordinary cooking ingredient that is also used as a substitute for lubricant in working-class communities. The darkness of these dripping outfits is offset by frivolous details, such as zebra-striped gold lamé frills that recall the late Brenda Fassie’s iconic aesthetic. On the surrounding walls Ruga has scrawled a new version of I Apologise, an improvisational textbased piece in which he recounts “a warped moment in the production of child pornography, directed by a bionic hostess who can heal dis-ease with her body”. The installation is complemented by Miss Congo, a multi-channel video work shot on location in Kinshasa, DRC, during a recent residency (part of the final installment of Die Naai Masjien Trilogy), and a performance at the opening by Patra and his team, consisting of performance partner Christopher Martin and personal assistant/production designer Bianca Nobanda.
Miss Congo 2007 Three-channel video, sound Duration 4 min 44 sec
Fabian Saptouw Unravelled and Rewoven Canvas
Born in 1984 and currently a Master’s student at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Fabian Saptouw spent much of 2006 conceiving and executing a single project: unravelling and reweaving a section of blank canvas. The resulting work encompasses the reconstructed canvas itself, as well as elements that were discarded, the equipment used and documentation of the process. With the prevalence of automated processes, manual weaving has become all but extinct, as Saptouw explains in the text accompanying his work: “Textiles are hand-woven primarily in three areas: where this technology is not available, as a craft/art, or when imbued with some religious significance.” With this in mind, Saptouw chose not only to restrict himself to manual labour, but also to manufacture all the required hardware himself. In a gesture marked by subtle irony, he relied largely on online tutorials to teach himself the old-fashioned craft of hand-weaving. Saptouw also set out to methodologically document the process. First, he installed a CCTV camera in his studio, which recorded the project on VHS tapes. Second, he used a stopwatch to time the different elements of the unravelling and reweaving at set intervals. The results of these qualitative and quantitative observations became integral parts of the installation, and are exhibited in the form of the full collection of tapes, selected video footage and accompanying graphs. Despite its obsessive qualities, Unravelled and Rewoven Canvas is, above all, an exercise in futility. As Saptouw himself notes, he failed in practically everything he set out to do. A notable example is that manual weaving proved unable to recreate the density of the original canvas, which was produced in a factory. Saptouw writes: “In this sense the very premise of the project becomes more like an idealistic goal, rather than an achievable outcome.” As such, it is the failure of his project that embodies its ultimate success.
Lerato Shadi Aboleleng & Hema
In Lerato Shadi’s Aboleleng, we see a figure against a green background wearing an odd costume in a tone close to the woman’s skin, suggesting full nudity. The figure in the video is Shadi herself. She starts to pull a knitted string, hidden in the costume, from between her legs. An image of vulnerability and strength, Aboleleng considers the moment where our innermost ideas are set up for public scrutiny, like an artist first exhibiting new work. The woollen string itself is displayed on a plinth across from the video projection. The bright green background of the video soaks the room in an eerie glow; for those familiar with television production it is recognisable as the green screen used for adding images in postproduction. It suggests a space for projection of ideas onto the work, moving it from a deeply personal realm into a more public place. Hema (or Six hours of out-breath captured in 792 balloons) takes a public space as its starting point. The work is based on footage of a performance staged by Shadi at the offices of the advertising agency Ogilvy in Cape Town. For the performance, the artist spent exactly six hours seated on the staircase in the centre of the building, exhaling every single breath into balloons. This feat was possible because of her experience with meditation and breathing techniques, but it left her physically and mentally exhausted. On top of this, her fingers developed bloody blisters from tying the balloons. By the end of the performance, a colourful collection of nearly 800 balloons had formed on and around the staircase, physically encapsulating six hours of Shadi’s breath. For the video, Shadi has played with the editing process to capture the essence of the performance, rather than document it in its entirety. Like the green screen in Aboleleng, Hema’s method of production indicates an awareness of and concern with the medium of video. Shadi graduated from Johannesburg University in 2006 with a B-Tech honours degree. She lives and works in Johannesburg.
Left: Hema (or Six hours of out-breath captured in 792 balloons) 2007 Digital video projection, sound Duration 5 min 26 sec
Aboleleng 2007 Digital video projection, wool Duration of video 4 min 59 sec
Simon Gush Salute
Simon Gushâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Salute, his first solo show in a commercial gallery, takes the relationship between the artist and the collector as its starting point. Controversially, the figure of the collector has gained prominence in the art world in recent years, with some collectors attaining celebrity status. Gush enters the debate against this backdrop, and distils his thinking into a single work in the gallery space. The work, 21 Gun Salute for the Death of a Collector, consists of a certificate which, upon sale, becomes a legally binding contract. It stipulates the staging of a 21 gun salute at the funeral of the collector who acquires the work, an honour usually reserved for military and political leaders. The work cannot be resold prior to the collectorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s death, eliminating its status as a tradable object. Through this intervention, Salute becomes at once an embrace and negation of the current art market climate. Salute is characteristic of Gushâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s meticulously context-specific practice in which a recurring theme has been a fascination with the mechanics of the art world. Gush graduated with a BA(FA) from the University of Witwatersrand in 2003, and is currently a CandidateLaureate at the Hoger Instituut van Schone Kunsten (HISK), Ghent, Belgium. He founded and curated the Parking Gallery, an artist-run temporary project space, in Johannesburg for six months of 2006.
Acknowledgements Athi-Patra Ruga would like to thank Christopher Martin and Bianca Nobanda. Fabian Saptouw thanks Ausha van Zyl and his family. Lerato Shadi thanks Visual Impact Magus and Camera Facilities, Johannesburg, for supporting the production of her videos; Ogilvy Cape Town for hosting her performance, Hema; and cameraman Dushko Marovic and editor Tamsyn Reynolds. Simon Gush thanks Tony Meintjes, Ruth Sacks and David Gush.
Catalogue no 33 December 2007 Curator Joost Bosland Editor Sophie Perryer Design Gabrielle Guy Installation photography Mario Todeschini Image repro Ray du Toit Printing Hansa Print, Cape Town
MICHAEL STEVENSON www.michaelstevenson.com