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- Volume 2011, Issue 17, 2011
Image & Text : a Journal for Design - Volume 2011, Issue 17, 2011
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Volume 2011, Issue 17, 2011
Author James SeySource: Image & Text : a Journal for Design 2011, pp 6 –13 (2011)More Less
This eclectic and yet closely related set of articles were first presented as papers at a colloquium held at the University of Johannesburg, from 10 to 11 March 2011. The colloquium was convened by James Sey, Leora Farber and Bronwyn Law-Viljoen under the auspices of the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre of the Art, Design and Architecture Faculty of the University of Johannesburg. In conjunction with a visual art exhibition of the same title, curated by Sey and Farber, colloquium presenters sought to interrogate the well-known trope of liminality in terms of its usefulness as a frame within which to understand and analyse South African visual art.
Author Mieke BalSource: Image & Text : a Journal for Design 2011, pp 14 –28 (2011)More Less
The threshold (limen) where encounter is about to take place can be considered and fleshed out in many different ways. In a cultural context where the visibility of difference skirts the dangers of xenophobia, racial thinking and ghettoisation, I seek out an aspect of migratory life that is not so obviously visible, yet the visibility of which could help the encounter to occur performatively. This aspect is time: a threshold of (inter-)cultural life. I approach this topic in terms of two forms of visibility: video and migration.
While the moving image and migration were both phenomena of substantial currency and effect during the twentieth-century, in the present moment it appears that the visibility of video and migration is increasingly enhanced, based respectively on the sheer volume and variety of populations on the move, and the pyramiding appeal and accessibility of video. In this article, I probe how video art can contribute to a better understanding of migratory culture through an analysis of selected video works. Conversely, I argue that migratory culture helps to engage with video art on a different, more socially engaged level than might be obvious, particularly, in terms of temporality.
I proceed in this oblique and dialogic manner because video, as an artistic medium can, arguably, provide an experiential understanding of what such a multi-temporality means. The phenomenon itself I refer to as multi-temporality; the experience of it, heterochrony. Liminal in art, in culture, and in migratory experience, heterochrony can become the existential experience marked by difference-within that enhances a cultural encounter that performs, rather than declaring "migratory culture" as the standard state of being in the world.
Author Ashraf JamalSource: Image & Text : a Journal for Design 2011, pp 30 –43 (2011)More Less
In this article on South African visual art I fix my sight on a global interhuman and aesthetic sphere in which region/nation/transnation merge to produce a cultural economy that overlaps and cannot be satisfactorily grasped according to a centre-periphery model. This eschewal of existing binary models also means a reconceptualisation of the liminal as an in-between space in a fixed divide. Currently it is not only the margin that is indeterminate, but the infinite text of the global cultural economy within which visual art plays its part. This part, as Nicolas Bourriaud (2009a) notes, has become intensively immediate, pragmatic, or politicised - the visual arts replacing cinema, which succumbs to the seductive lure of the advertorial image. Following Bourriaud (2009a), the key question I pose is: "why it is that globalisation has so often been discussed from sociological, political, and economic points of view, but almost never from an aesthetic perspective?". In this article, I provide an answer by shifting the focus to the aesthetic. My challenging of the solidity of a global cultural economy in this article institutes a logic of flux; a world in which migration meets creolisation; deindividuation meets the post-identitarian; the rhizome meets the radicant. The upshot of these shifts is a move away from the sterility of multiculturalism - the relative autonomy of reified cultures - towards a global (local-and-generalised) culture in perpetual translation. Key to this shift is the move away from origins and a move towards unforeseen destinations. It is this drift, transmigration, or translation that comes to shape and define contemporary aesthetics and the formation of a mobile population of artists and thinkers, comprising the immigrant, the exile, the tourist, and the urban wanderer. It is these figures, or tropes, which are the focus in my reading of contemporary South African visual art and its affect and impact in this molten global cultural economy.
Author Maureen De JagerSource: Image & Text : a Journal for Design 2011, pp 44 –63 (2011)More Less
Taking as my starting point an artwork of "fillers" - a 2010 sound piece by Fine Art student Romie Sciscio foregrounding the disfluent speech of various visiting academics to the Department of Fine Art, Rhodes University - I propose that speech disfluencies such as "um", "kind of" and "I suppose" should not simply be derided as white noise or verbal graffiti. Rather, filled pauses - understood both literally and metaphorically - may be seen to function critically, precisely because they are located neither inside nor outside the "message" of speech. They hover between presence and absence, seemingly content-less and yet dimly portentous: they do and do not matter to meaning. As such, they require (or provoke and demand) a different kind of listening - the acoustic equivalent of reading between the lines.
An artwork of filled pauses is the lens, then, through which I consider the possibilities of "liminal" speech (itself a lens through which I consider a particularly South African fascination with silence and verbalisation). Pivotal to post-apartheid "healing" has been the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC): a 'public rehearsal of memory' (Nuttall 1998:75) intended to "give voice" to the experiences of those silenced by and within South Africa's repressive past. Sanctioned by the TRC, verbalisation has been figured as public catharsis. As many have argued, however, there can be no straightforward "telling it like it is", especially when trauma inhibits speech. Instead, the false fluency that usurps and tidies the work of memory may be perniciously counterproductive, turning tentative stories into totalising narratives.
In response, I investigate a "manner of speaking" between the extremes of muteness and glibness: one which voices the fraught terrain of memory self-reflexively. Such liminal speech has the potential to approximate truth not by 'excavating silence' (Brink 1998:33), but by tripping itself up with filled pauses and declaring its own disfluency in the process.
Author Ann-Marie TullySource: Image & Text : a Journal for Design 2011, pp 64 –84 (2011)More Less
In this article, I address the liminal therianthropic body in contemporary art that employs hybridity (performed and represented), as a mode of rhetorical potency in the expression of marginal subjectivity. The Derridian position that postulates human identity in a metaphoric relation to the animal (animetaphor), and Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's notion of becoming animal, are instrumentally applied within the scope of this article.
By way of situating these theoretical positions in the South African art and social context, I discuss specific works by two contemporary South African artists whose methodological approach invokes the hybrid animal/human body. The chimerical sculptural work of Jane Alexander, where human form seamlessly meets animal façade, is referred to as an example of a representational mode of this therianthropic tendency. I thereafter discuss artworks in which the artist has created the sense that the human body is being performed in animal likeness and gesture. In doing so, I look at Nandipha Mntambo's performed animal transformations, in which she paradoxically critiques and embraces the figurative animality of the African body in colonial discourse. In analysing these artistic instances, I employ a dialectical approach that manifests in two textual voices. The "academic" voice highlights symbolic meaning, while a voice speaking in "intuitive prose" draws attention to elements of the artworks that are aligned with the notion of a human/animal "becoming". Through this off-set dialogue, I foreground the anthropocentric motives of symbolic representation, whilst also gesturing towards the agency enhancing properties of this trope in artworks wherein the artist courts disenfranchised human identity. The deterritorialising effect of "becomings", where fixed subjectivity becomes dissoluble and mutable is highlighted, as well as the less colonising ends of such strategies in terms of the project of non-human agency. By way of stretching the discussion of artists who employ hybrid therianthropic strategies to a global context, I also discuss the performative artwork of the British contemporary artist Marcus Coates.
Interstices and thresholds : the liminal in Johannesburg as reflected in the video programme, The underground, the surface and the edgesSource: Image & Text : a Journal for Design 2011, pp 86 –101 (2011)More Less
A former gold-mining camp whose acquisition of the aesthetic markers of a metropolis was almost instantaneous, the city of Johannesburg can be represented, economically and philosophically, as geographically plural. The dialectic between the surface life of the city and its wealth-deriving underground spaces, and the concomitant activation of a third, liminal, space, namely, 'the edges', characterises 'the African modern of which Johannesburg is the epitome' (Nuttall & Mbembe 2008:17). We examine the relationships between these urban spatialities as they are articulated in a programme of selected video artworks curated by the authors that take the city of Johannesburg as their subject matter, source material or provenance. In the article, we pay attention to how the uses and meanings of these spatialities may have shifted, or failed to shift, between their constructions in apartheid-era and contemporary, post-apartheid South Africa.
We propose that the underground, the surface and the edges are at once identifiable modalities that emerge coherently in the selected works and interconnected inflections of a singular urban phenomenon. Building on this, we observe that the dialectic between the underground and the surface in Johannesburg contains echoes of the literary and artistic tropes of burial and resurrection, and in support of this observation, employ Jacques Derrida's (1994:xvii) notions of "hauntology", in which he considers the spectral or ghostly as that which 'happens' only between two apparently exclusive terms, such as 'life and death'. In considering "Johannesburg" as a metropolitan phenomenon in the selection of works discussed, we speak of a spectral, interstitial realm that exists in-between the strata of surface (the stratum of life, goodness, health and visibility) and underground (a catacomb where the dead, the corrupt and the ailed are hidden). We thus offer a view of being-in-Johannesburg in which inhabiting takes place in liminal spaces - or in-passage between - fluid spatial terms, wherein constant mediation takes place.
Author Amanda Du PreezSource: Image & Text : a Journal for Design 2011, pp 102 –118 (2011)More Less
Traditionally considered to be the breeding ground of the monstrous, the limen is the non-place where hybrids congeal and mutate into extraordinary amalgamations. The latest cultural phenomenon of zef as embodied in the rap rave band Die Antwoord reveals precisely such a monstrous hybridity. Zef - a term describing white (predominantly Afrikaans) trash - automatically situates Die Antwoord as liminal outsiders and interlopers. In many ways, Die Antwoord resembles a circus troupe of freaks: front man Ninja is golem-like with his tattooed torso, Yo-landi Vi$$er resembles an acidic nymph and DJ High Tek plods along in the flanks.
My analysis builds and expands on recognised correspondences between the monstrous, the liminal and the carnival. I show how liminal aspects (both monstrous and carnivalesque) are cleverly co-opted by Die Antwoord into a monstrous carnivalesque extravaganza, whereby the liminal is converted into a suspended moment of consumption. The extent to which liminality is suspended and advanced as a consumable entity by Die Antwoord forms the primary focus of this investigation, after which the possibility of understanding the liminal in terms of affects is briefly explored. I argue that even that which is supposedly outside consumerist instrumentality, namely the limen, with its life-altering and transformative possibilities, can, to some degree, be aligned and made subservient to consumerist ideals.
Framing the debate on race : global historiography and local flavour in Berni Searle's Colour Me seriesAuthor Kirk SidesSource: Image & Text : a Journal for Design 2011, pp 120 –136 (2011)More Less
Critiques of racial ideas, and their production and dissemination, often perpetuate a comparativist model, thereby re-inscribing the category of the nation; histories of various racial identities become entangled almost exclusively with narratives of national spaces. As part of a larger project that attempts to shift this nationalist focus in race studies towards a more 'outer-national' (Gilroy 1993:16, 17; Nuttall 2009:24) perspective, in this article, I focus on a series of installation works by South African artist Berni Searle. Searle's Colour Me series, when read through this paradigm of the 'outer-national', productively interrogates the categorical boundaries of the nation in the historical production and subsequent life of racial identity. In my discussion, I read Searle's work as an example of how race might be approached, not only as an identitarian category, but also as a global phenomenon.
To do so, I suggest that Searle's use of spice powders places her work within the historical trajectories of the spice trade, and that this placement locates her work within a larger nexus that frames her performance of South African racial identities. I consider spices as compounded signifiers, simultaneously indexing the quotidian and the extraordinary, the local and the global, and the ritualistic and the historiographic. Furthermore, by reading the metaphorical relationship between race and spices in these works, I argue that the aim of Searle's critique of race is to reveal how race as a concept can be used to deconstruct the very categorical and binary thinking that produces it in the first place. This allows for a discussion of the liminality of race and its existence at the boundaries of categories and spaces. Lastly, this territorial "in-betweenness" has certain historiographical implications. Searle's spices construct an archive that simultaneously complicates the specifically South African inflections of coloured racial identity and de-privileges apartheid historiographical models in the post-apartheid interrogation of such categories. In other words, by not projecting a post-apartheid present into the past, Searle renders visible a multiplicity of archives through which to interrogate contemporary racial identities in South Africa. I propose that Searle's historiographical and methodological shifts toward the 'outer-national' offer new ways to read local inflections and global trajectories of race.
At the border post of Western art : the provisional "reaggregation" of Moshekwa Langa's art into the South African canonAuthor Mary CorrigallSource: Image & Text : a Journal for Design 2011, pp 138 –157 (2011)More Less
When Moshekwa Langa's eponymous solo exhibition opened in Johannesburg in 1995, it was hailed as turning point in South African art as it appeared to mark the entry of the first black South African artist working within a neo-conceptualist rubric. Untrained and hailing from a rural locale, years earlier Langa's art would most likely have been deemed unprogressive or "traditional". Borrowing from Arnold van Gennep's (cited by Turner 1969) notion of 'reaggregation' - the final phase of a rite of passage, where the subject transcends the liminal phase, in this article I explore the shifts that facilitated Langa's provisional inclusion, while unpacking the manner in which his identity paradoxically served to ensure his liminal status. Olu Oguibe (2004) suggests that African artists can resist this position through acts of self-definition. Langa avoided this route; he was complicit in constructing his liminal identity. He challenged reaggregation via an ironic reenaction of reintegration as a universalist subject in a photographic body of work that responded to the skewed reception of his 1995 exhibition.
Meditating on this landmark moment in South African art history, I demonstrate how terms and labels used to "elevate" or culturally position Langa's art, such as the neo-conceptualist tag, were fundamental to his art being reaggregated by the predominately white artworld, although it was to some degree an uneasy fit. Other theoretical frameworks used to usher his work into the canon of the contemporary, such as a notion of African conceptualism, as proposed by Salah Hassan and Oguibe (2001) are explored. So, too, are the intricacies and flaws involved in "inclusionary" or corrective processes instigated by the same authorities that played a role in determining exclusionary paradigms.
Van Gennep and Victor Turner's theory of liminality proves useful in mapping the mechanics of aggregation and the position of the liminal subject, but, as I demonstrate in this article, it cannot sufficiently contextualise imposed notions of liminality as ascribed to African artists by Eurocentric writers who privilege inclusion into occidental canons above others.
Source: Image & Text : a Journal for Design 2011, pp 158 –170 (2011)More Less
In this article, I interpret specific examples of the installation art of South African artist Jan van der Merwe in terms of notions regarding liminality, focusing on the concepts of absence and silence, or the "nothingness" inherent in space and time, and in language. I argue that in the works chosen for analysis, Van der Merwe foregrounds liminal space and time as productive of nothingness. This conception of liminality (relating to its inherent nothingness) is explored in terms of Martin Heidegger's (1962; 2006) thoughts on the spatial aspect of time.
Source: Image & Text : a Journal for Design 2011, pp 172 –186 (2011)More Less
Landscape has often functioned as a threshold, a zone in which the similarities and differences between painting and photography are evident. At the same time, it has served as the barometer of photography's constantly shifting place in the art-historical canon; a measure of its ability, on the one hand, to be used as document and, on the other, to be deployed in the service of a conceptual approach to art-making.
South African photography has been explored (and over-explored) as a predominantly documentary form. However, in recent years, it has departed significantly from this trajectory. In this article, I present selected examples of photographic and video works by Brent Meistre and Jo Ractliffe, proposing that these works occupy a liminal zone in the field of South African photography, and, at the same time, signal towards photography as a documentary vehicle and as a conceptual tool. In her recent book and exhibition, As terras do fim do mundo (2009-2010), Ractliffe deploys the language of documentary, and specifically the genres of landscape and war photography, in order to present a project in which she interrogates assumptions about these two fields. In his Sojourn series, as well as in a number of video works, Meistre presents the landscape as both empty and suggestive, a site for performances that write the artist into the landscape in both humorous and deeply provocative ways.