SIMON GUSH WORK
After the Work Stopped II ¶ 2013 ¶ HD video, stereo sound ¶ 28 min
Let there be light Helena Chávez Mac Gregor ¶ ‘Lifting one’s thought to the level of anger, lifting one’s anger to the level of a work. Weaving this work that consists of questioning technology, history, and the law. To enable us to open our eyes to the violence of the world inscribed in the images.’ — Georges Didi-Huberman, How to Open your Eyes
¶ It is said that the first real motion picture ever produced was the film Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon in 1835 by the brothers Lumière, but, as Harun Farocki has observed, it would be more accurate to say that it was the first camera in the history of cinema pointed at a factory. In any case, ever since that moment, the history of images has been entangled with the history of labour. An image is not only a trace of the real but also an aesthetic and epistemological production of visibility, a representation that establishes places and roles, functions and forms of participation. The representation of labour produced by cinema, television, photography, sculpture and literature during the 20th century was important for the construction of a social force that operated until very recently. We cannot forget that labour was at the core of most political struggles, nor that the agency for the political subject was the worker. The dismantling of labour as a social force, at least in the form that took in the factory, mine, union or field, has had radical consequences in the political construction of the present. Simon Gush’s recent production insists on creating an image of work today. His work is based in the juxtaposition of long-standing representations of labour and the questioning of his own practice. Post-Marxist theory thought that art was the last human production in which work could be understood as creation and origin, but in times like this in which art has changed both in its production and in its object, what could the ontological status of the work of
art be? And more importantly, given the condition of the artist as labourer, what kind of image can he or she create? In order to respond to his time and to lift his anger to the level of work, as Didi-Huberman suggests, Gush searches for an image of what has been obliterated, of what has become invisible although it is engraved in our cities, in our monuments, in our memories, in our fantasies and in our bodies. Assuming the responsibility of location, Gush has produced a palimpsest of images and representations to confront labour in 21st-century Johannesburg. Always taking the city as the site of emplacement, Gush goes from the places of work to the absence of the worker in a city that was built as a product of capitalism. Johannesburg, also known as Egoli (City of Gold), is a place where labour is entangled with colonialism and race but also with struggle and political action. If the worker was for the brothers Lumière the form to generate the illusion of movement, in the worker’s absence, light is the form that shapes time in Gush’s moving images. Always filmed in black and white, his images play with the tradition of documentary film but only to betray any purpose of instruction. The moving image is taken from cinema and brought to visual art in order to create forms of intervention, whence to respond to a politics of representation that has failed to create an image of labour able to generate affects and effects. Closer to poetry than a cinema of denunciation, Gush’s works emerge from the clash of a personal reflection, always as an interruption of the image as text, and a city that forces the perusing of a critical image. In the work of Simon Gush there is no way to separate the history of labour and personal experience, and with this operation what is cancelled is any subsumption of the particular. It is in the tension between history and experience that the representation of labour collapses. It is perhaps in this fissure that we can overcome all the melancholy of failure and dispossession and gain some force for what is to come.
Helena Chávez Mac Gregor is a researcher and curator. She lives in Mexico City.
After the Work Stopped I ¶ 2013 ¶ HD video, stereo sound ¶ 33 min 30 sec
After the Work Stopped VI ¶ 2013 ¶ HD video, stereo sound ¶ 31 min 6 sec
¶ Iseeyou Script by Simon Gush
¶ When I first moved to Johannesburg, it was to study. I left after seven years in the city to continue my education abroad. Upon my return to Johannesburg, I was greeted by an old acquaintance on the drive in from the airport — the statue of a miner discovering gold that stands next to the Albertina Sisulu Highway. He gazes up at the gold in his hand, a monument to aspiration. The miner invites you into the so-called City of Gold, suggesting that there is more here for everyone.
¶ Thousands of people from all income brackets move to the city every year in search of employment. One of the reasons for my return was to look for work. I knew there was a greater possibility to find employment in this metropolis. While I write this, I am working multiple jobs.
¶ I am not sure when I first took notice that Johannesburg is full of representations of work and workers. I was recently thinking about the Monument to the Miners outside the Civic Centre. The sculpture is close to the University of the Witwatersrand, where I studied. It was on my route to university and back, but I think I took it for granted for most of my student career. For a city founded as a mine camp on a gold reef, it seems natural that such sculptures pervade the landscape.
¶ Johannesburg, both historically and today, has been defined by labour — the organisation and control of it, its needs and the need for it. The Industrial Commercial Workers Union (ICU), which started in Cape Town and later became a national presence, was one of the most important early unions. Founded by Clements Kadalie in 1919, the organisation played on its acronym, ICU, to take up the telegraphic address Iseeyou.
¶ I see you is an idea that highlights an interesting ambiguity about visibility and representation. To the unrepresented worker, the union might be saying, ‘I see you, I see how you are treated, you are not invisible to us.’ But the power of invisibility is also part of the power of the unions. You are no longer an individual who can be singled out, but part of a unified voice, a crowd. Because of the power of the collective, invisibility can be as valuable as visibility.
¶ The Monument to the Miners was erected in 1964, during Hendrik Verwoerd’s time as prime minister of South Africa. It depicts three miners, one white and two black. All of the miners are portrayed in a heroic stance.
¶ The representation of work cannot be separated from the creation of a labour force. Work features predominantly in our lives, it occupies large amounts of our time and influences our free time. Despite its centrality, it is not necessarily rewarding or stimulating. Images of work are created through its public representation to ennoble the act of labour.
Iseeyou ¶ 2013 ¶ HD digital video, stereo sound, DVDs (endless copies) ¶ 13 min 50 sec
After the Work Stopped I ¶ 2013 ¶ HD video, stereo sound ¶ 33 min 30 sec
¶ I have met very few people who don’t believe in a work ethic. We tend to think that hard work is intrinsically good and will uplift us. Yet this idea is not as natural as it often appears. Its origins have been linked to the Protestant reformation and the advent of Calvinism that came about 500 years ago. In my own artwork, I know that a good idea, which can come to me in a moment, can be more valuable than a year’s work. But each time I start a new piece, I think to myself that, if I work hard on this, it will be good and the more time I spend on it, the better it will be. When I see someone else working hard, I think they must be a good person. It is an ideological blindness I struggle to shake, even when I know that I am doing it.
¶ I have never actually seen a miner removing gold from the ground, yet our economy depends on it. Our lives resemble a hotel where the labour that sustains us is increasingly invisible. In hotels, we leave our rooms and, when we return, the bed is made. We order food and it arrives as a finished product. Most of my possessions are produced in countries far away. I have never been to these places and can hardly imagine them. There are few things I own that have been made in South Africa.
¶ In Sauer Street, over the road from the Chamber of Mines, there is a large mine headgear. I find it interesting, both as an object and in what it might represent. These structures stand in as visible symbols of the vast shafts and tunnels that spread below Johannesburg. The representation of mining through its mechanics is symbolic of the mechanisation of labour within the industry.
¶ It might be that, because we see less and less labour directly, images of work have become nostalgic. Or that those images seem to capture something about a simpler time, when politics seemed more defined and power was easier to articulate.
¶ Driving towards the Monument to the Miners for the filming of this piece, I passed a man digging a hole. The hole had grown so deep that he was no longer visible. Only his pick appeared above the edge. The pick, an iconic object, recalls the labour of the first miners in Johannesburg who extracted gold from the ground manually. At first, I continued to drive, but the image stuck in my head. Unable to shake it, I returned to the site to film the process.
¶ As he dug deeper, the worker disappeared more. He sunk into the hole and the soil pilled up higher around him. His own labour was obscured by its representation.
After the Work Stopped IV ¶ 2013 ¶ HD video, stereo sound ¶ 28 min 10 sec
Reflected Time (detail) ¶ 2013 ¶ 7 anti-clockwise clocks with mirror faces ¶ 34cm diameter each
¶ Sunday Light Script by Simon Gush
¶ Johannesburg is a workday city, defined by the rhythm of employment. On the edges of the city, high-density areas such as Hillbrow, Berea and Joubert Park contain many residential buildings. However, relatively few people live in the central business district.
¶ I moved into the centre in 2004, coinciding with my first full-time job. At the time, I began to observe Johannesburg’s rhythms. Now, after 5 years away, I have moved back. Like many people, I find that there is more work for me here. I am fascinated by the flow of movement in the city. The bulk of the people who use the shops, markets and amenities are on their way to and from work. More than a million people pass through every day. Leaving for work in the morning I see the traffic, the taxis and buses that fill the roads. When I return in the afternoon, there are queues stretching around the block as people wait for taxis to go home.
¶ At night, Johannesburg is a different city to that of the day. There are still people around and the streets are slow to empty, but most have left. A stillness descends.
Âś Sunday brings its own quiet. It is on Sundays that the idle city, the city of time off, is revealed in the light. I can still hear the noise of those who live here or make use of it in some way. The deafening cheers and triumphant vuvuzelas from soccer games suggest that many people are present, but, if you look out of the wrong window, the streets appear almost empty. The sound flows from the few bars that are dotted around, their presence disproportionally felt.
Âś The occasional open shop seems strange and out of place.
Sunday Light ¶ 2013 ¶ HD video, stereo sound ¶ 13 min 16 sec
¶ I think it is being employed again, and the unusual hours I work, that has brought about my fascination with the working day. I am as likely to work on a Sunday as I am to have Thursday off. This lack of a coherent working week seems to make the structures around me more visible. I count the hours of my work, matching them up to the standard.
¶ In the early part of the 20th century an international movement for the 8-hour working day was gaining momentum. A slogan emerged, no one is exactly sure where from: ‘8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for what we will’. What the slogan highlights is how much our lives are structured around work. In the last few decades, working hours have generally been on the increase. Most South Africans in full-time employment work more than 9 hours a day.
¶ Often, spending more time at work is seen as a sign of one’s commitment to a job and perceived of as being healthy. We tend to think that work is, intrinsically, good. But as the extra hours eat into our time away from work, we have less time to ourselves, less time for other pursuits, and less time to form an identity independent of work.
¶ Oscar Wilde, in his essay ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’, suggests that it is time apart from work that is the most important. This is when we can form ourselves in relation to other pursuits. The question ‘What do you do?’ is almost always an inquiry about what form of work you do. We are expected to identify with our jobs, whether or not they are fulfilling or we pursue meaning elsewhere in our lives. Those without jobs are seen as lazy, regardless of the economic and social circumstances that create unemployment.
¶ Johannesburg, like many big cities, is often described as vibrant and chaotic. This is true for the most part, but it has another life that exists outside of the clichés projected onto it. Sunday in the city is not a day of trade, industry or consumption. Nor is it a day for business. As a result, it is a space in which the character of Johannesburg can inscribe itself. This is a city that works and sleeps and, on Sundays, does as it will.
¶ On Sunday, to be on the streets is to not go somewhere or do something. It is about just being there. It is living time.
¶ Every Sunday, for a number of months, I went out and filmed bits of Johannesburg for this project. While filming next to the high court, I was struck by a scene of four men lying on top of a glass atrium, high above the street. They were working, something I had so far avoided recording, yet I filmed them. The image spoke of something else.
¶ Besides the overalls and hard hats that signal the reason for them being there, they might seem to be relaxing. Their work presumably, takes place on Sunday because it is in conflict with the work of others. It is noisy and disturbing and would interrupt the routines of the building. But, at the same time, their activities no longer appear as work.
Analogues: Vacancy ¶ In collaboration with James Cairns ¶ 2011 ¶ HD video, stereo sound ¶ 14 min 9 sec
Analogues: Plainsong ¶ In collaboration with James Cairns ¶ 2011 ¶ HD video, stereo sound ¶ 12 min 53 sec
Analogues: Distance ¶ In collaboration with James Cairns ¶ 2011 ¶ HD video, stereo sound ¶ 17 min 10 sec
After the Work Stopped III ¶ 2013 ¶ HD video, stereo sound ¶ 32 min 32 sec
Work Sleep Leisure ¶ 2013 ¶ Powder-coated steel ¶ 40 x 460cm
Calvin and Holiday
¶ Calvin and Holiday Script by Simon Gush
¶ My wife was in Paris, so I had a reason to go to Europe. She had been away for a few months for her work and I had just finished an exhibition, so it was a good time to visit and have a break before going back to my paid jobs in Johannesburg.
¶ It was a working holiday but, to others, it could have appeared not to be work as I stood in public spaces with my camera filming buildings, tourist sites and monuments, probably looking like an overzealous tourist. One woman did ask me if I was from the local news, but I think she just wanted to be on camera.
¶ Most of the Parisians had left the city by the time I arrived there in the hot summer month of August. Many had closed up shop and headed south for their holidays, with a healthy disregard for tourists visiting the city. My working holiday instead took me to Geneva to look for images and resonances of Jean Calvin. For many years, I’ve been interested in an aspect of Calvinism: the conception of a work ethic that is naturalised within most of South African society.
¶ Calvinism was a term I heard often when I was younger in 1990s South Africa, in particular in relation to the racialised form of the ideology known as Afrikaner Calvinism. This dogma was used by the Apartheid government through the moralisation of work. South Africa still feels the side-effects of Apartheid’s migrant labour system in the form of homelands, townships and so-called Bantu education. I continue to hear the word Calvinism used in many contexts, often as shorthand for work ethic. It seemed appropriate to explore this deeply embedded idea of work while I was on holiday.
¶ The description of my hostel in Geneva in the online reviews was ‘clean and efficient but without soul’. This seemed to sum up the ingrained stereotype of Calvin from my youth.
¶ Calvinism encourages its adherents to see the worldly tasks of work and service as their highest duty. It is a shift away from ascetic or monastic worship removed from daily working life. As a primary worldly duty, work and labour inevitably then take on religious significance and become a calling. While work has generally been seen as morally good within the Christian doctrine, it takes on a new meaning within Calvinism, becoming an integral aspect of a devotional way of life.
¶ My curiosity about ideas of work and labour repeatedly leads to the writings of Max Weber. He traces the ideological shift of a work ethic within Northern Europe from the advent of the Protestant Reformation and, specifically, Calvinism. Many of the ideas that he proposes seem to be relevant to South Africa and this country’s exploitation of work and labour. Although Weber’s theories have been contested, it is important for me that he de-naturalizes the idea of a work ethic and allows us to see how it is a tool that can be used in the creation and control of a work force.
Calvin and Holiday ¶ 2014 ¶ HD video, stereo sound, DVDs (endless copies)
After the Work Stopped V ¶ 2013 ¶ HD video, stereo sound ¶ 34 min 33 sec
¶ A Protestant is instructed to behave and work as if he/she has been chosen to go to heaven, even though this outcome has already been pre-determined and any actions will have no effect. According to Weber, the attraction of work and labour is that it disperses some of the anxiety and doubt about the afterlife by keeping the person fully occupied with work in this life. This emphasis on work and its consequently inflated moral significance has extended its influence into the secular world. Work is no longer seen as a means to an end, but an end in itself. By giving someone work, it can be rationalised that you are helping them, not only with income, but by giving them the opportunity to be better people. There is a danger in the kind of sentiment that is expressed as: it will be hard work, but good for him/her.
¶ In relation to people’s working lives, I often hear the word profession used interchangeably for many types of labour and, perhaps to a lesser extent, vocation. While a job is something that can be left behind at the end of the workday, a profession is something that is embodied in and out of the workplace. A vocation consumes you. More than an identity, it is something that is innate. Increasingly, the language used to describe the ideal relationship to work is close to that of a vocation or a religious calling, implying a devotion and subservience to the work one does.
¶ In Geneva, the presence of work is obliquely felt but remains mostly invisible, hiding behind covers and advertisements. There was construction going on everywhere. Cranes dotted the skyline and building sites punctuated the city, yet actual builders and workers were seldom visible.
¶ If one’s work begins to take on the status of a calling, the boundaries between work and non-work are dissolved. Your occupation envelops you. Individual identity becomes indistinct from working identity. This is often seen by employers as a way to measure commitment to work and is advocated as a desirable attitude in employees. This results in the clichés of passion and dedication that prevail, often in place of competency. Allocating work such a central and defining role in our lives results in us becoming utterly dependant on it for stimulation and meaning; something that it can seldom provide because most work is, ultimately, menial, repetitive and dull.
¶ Previously, we organised our lives into three distinct periods: work, sleep and leisure. But the distinctions are rapidly fragmenting as work bleeds into the leisure of our lives. Working hours in most countries, with some exceptions such as France, are on the increase. But we seldom factor in other ways in which work encroaches on our time in terms of transport to and from work, recovery and preparation time, as well as dealing with work-related anxieties and stress. Similarly, domestic labour, alongside other home and familial chores, further diminishes our leisure time. Consequently, we have less and less time to nurture who we may really be outside of our working identities.
¶ I was overwhelmed by the representation of time in Geneva. The holiday itself was ill-defined time as it entailed working during time off, my own leisure time transgressed. I had justified the trip to myself by the fact that it would not be just a holiday but time in which I would get some work done. The creating of this video was inevitably giving in to my own ingrained Calvinist work ethic.
Prayer (16/12/1926) and Elections (6/12/1985) ¶ In collaboration with Léa Legasse ¶ 2011 ¶ Paint on window ¶ Installation view, Stevenson Johannesburg
¶ Red Subtitles from documentary
¶ Mteteleni Tshete: So, we slept inside the plant on that particular day. Obviously we are from our homes, we are used to blankets, so people started tearing up material to make blankets for themselves. And we slept in the plant. It was not a good thing.
¶ It was not an organised thing, you know, but, people, after the meeting was closed, then they wanted to make a place to sleep,
¶ so everyone saw the material in K site and they took the material and slept. It was not … there was no person standing in front and saying, ‘Ja okay let’s do this and that.’ It was not commanded.
¶ It was just a spontaneous decision from members saying, okay fine, we are sleeping over, then this is what will make us sleep comfortable here.
¶ Thembaletu Fikizolo: It was well known in the township – you hardly went through two weeks of full productive work. You had a strike even if it was just a half-a-day sit, but you always had strikes. Some were created by provocation, ne? Some, ja, they were just spontaneous.
¶ Ian Russell: You know, they had been very successful at bringing the company to its knees and achieving … getting what they wanted. And that had been a pattern, you know, don’t talk, just call a strike, call a go-slow, bring management to the table and get what you want.
¶ Philip Groom: So they came back to me and they said, ‘Okay you proposed the car, what do you propose?’ So I said, ‘No, let’s give up one hour every day for a week, ja.’ So that was the proposal and then came about the debate of the colour of the car and all that type of thing. The old regime, we always used to see their cars. They were driving these black Mercedes. We said no, let’s step away from that, let’s give him something from us, you know, featuring our colours that will stand out, you know, type of thing.
¶ We wanted the ... we wanted the best for Nelson Mandela. 500SE, the top of the range. There was a debate, a bit of a debate about whether we should get a two-door, but I mean majority felt it’s not appropriate. He’s a … we felt at the time – he’s a statesman, ‘cause we saw him as a statesman already – that, look, Nelson Mandela’s not going to drive this car. He’ll sit at the back seat.
Red ¶ In collaboration with James Cairns ¶ 2014 ¶ HD video, stereo sound ¶ 81 min 49 sec
Red (sleep-in strike beds) ¶ 2013 ¶ Upholstery material, foam, steel scaffold, plywood boards ¶ 250 x 265 x 145cm; 250 x 263 x 145cm
Red (strike uniforms) ¶ In collaboration with Mokotjo Mohulo ¶ 2014 ¶ Upholstery material ¶ Installation dimensions variable
Red (Mandela car) ¶ 2014 ¶ Mercedes 500SE car body ¶ Installation view, Goethe-Institut, Johannesburg
Red (Mandela car) (detail) Âś 2014 Âś Mercedes 500SE car body
Analogues Directed by Simon Gush Written by James Cairns Producer: Joan Legalamitlwa Director of photography: Johan van Gerwen Sound recordists: Dowelani Nenzhelele, Sibusiso Zulu Final edit: Tamsyn Reynolds Editor: Simon Gush Sound design: Craig Damster, Mother City Records Production assistant: Sindiswa Nzo Wardrobe: Ayanda Gwele Camera assistant: Paul Zisiwe Catering: Noji Matutu Equipment: The Cameraman Vacancy Clifford: Patrick Mofokeng Moses: Calvin Koki Marlon: Jaques de Silva Des: James Cairns Security Guard: Gibson Khumalo Filmed on location, August House, Johannesburg, 2011 Plainsong Ameera: Ameera Patel Tebogo: Mahlubi Kraai Roli: Thulani Kubheka Filmed on location, Cosatu House, Johannesburg, 2011 Distance Grant: Pathik Pillay Helen: Nina Lucy Wylde-Ferreira Mother: Nadia Kretschmer Waitress: Fundiswa Cynthia Mosi Filmed on location, The Reef Hotel, Johannesburg, 2011 Music: Sergei Prokofiev, Violin Sonata No 1, 1946 Violin: Nadja Nevolovitsch Piano: Yannick Van de Velde Sound recordist: Benjamin Bousselaere
Produced in collaboration with: Goethe-Institut, Johannesburg Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts, University of Cape Town Gauteng Film Commission Stevenson Red Documentary by James Cairns and Simon Gush Interviews with: Thembaletu Fikizolo Goodman Lucwaba Philip Groom Cristoph Köpke Andile Ntsonkota Charles Nupen Sydney Nyengane Ian Russell Mteteleni Tshete Uniforms by Mokotjo Mohulo Car body respraying by Cliffy Kisten assisted by: Mervyn Chetty Lifa Nyoni Alfred Antonio Roos Car trolley constructed by Teddy Kisten assisted by: Ruel Kisten Jeruel Kisten Upholstery on mattresses by Ilanga Craft
Thanks to: Louise Almon Andy from Best Movers Lerato Bereng Joost Bosland David Brodie Antonia Brown James Cairns Jeanette Clarke Jocelyn Coldrey Thembaletu Fikizolo Janike Fourie Edmund Gasheni Joseph Gaylard David Gush Gavin Hartford Isgaak Kamalae Nicolaas Kean Rob Kieth Brian Knoesen Dorothee Kreutzfeldt Joan Legalamitlwa Bettina Malcomess Jurgen Meekel Nandipha Miti Peter Miles Nthuseng Mofokeng Desmond Mthembu Georgia Munnik Japan Ngesman Jay Pather Sophie Perryer Ian Russell Ruth Sacks Michael Stevenson Zakara Raitt Ishkar Richard Jasper Rigole Anthony Schmidt Lynette Skriker Cara Snyman Theo Swanepoel Arno van der Merwe Adrienne van Eeden-Wharton Nooria Wagener Victoria Wigzell
Simon Gush was born in 1981 in Pietermaritzburg, and is currently based in Johannesburg. He was a laureate at the HISK (Higher Institute for Fine Arts) in Ghent, Belgium, in 2007/8 and a Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts Fellow at the University of Cape Town in 2011. Solo exhibitions have taken place at the SMAK (Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst) in Ghent (2010); and West, Den Haag, the Netherlands (2010); in addition to Stevenson Cape Town (2009, 2010 and 2013) and Johannesburg (2009 and 2011). Notable group exhibitions include My Joburg at La Maison Rouge, Paris, and the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (2013); Present Unlimited, Sofia Contemporary, Fabrica 126, Sofia, Bulgaria (2012); Mind the System, Find the Gap, Z33, Hasselt, Belgium (2012); Connections, Kunsthalle Luzern, Switzerland (2011); the 2009 Luleå Summer Biennial, Sweden; and .za: Young Art from South Africa at Palazzo delle Papesse, Siena (2008). Alongside his artistic practice, Gush has collaborated in founding and facilitating a number of alternative temporary exhibition platforms, most notably the Parking Gallery, Johannesburg.
Published on the occasion of Simon Gush’s exhibition Red at the Goethe-Institut, Johannesburg, 27 March – 16 May 2014
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)11 403 1055/1908 F +27 (0)86 275 1918 email@example.com www.stevenson.info Catalogue 76 April 2014 © 2014 For texts: the authors © 2014 For works by Simon Gush: the artist Cover After the Work Stopped II, 2013, HD video, stereo sound, 28 min Editor Sophie Perryer Design Gabrielle Guy Printing Hansa Print, Cape Town