STEVENSON is pleased to present Out of Thin Air, a group exhibition curated by Lerato Bereng.
For a few days, the gallery will be inhabited by eight young artists from Johannesburg, exploring notions of fantasy and 'make-believe' space through multi-media installations.
The construction of any building or structure, imaginary or real, requires that one carve a space 'out of thin air'. In their installations, the artists will focus on the demarcation of space and the creation of imaginary landscapes. The concept of a fantasy space denotes a simulated environment designed to generate a particular set of experiences, allowing us an escape from everyday reality. In a child's fort, where the rules of engagement are crafted and put into practice by the child, the framework is based entirely on one's imagination. Upon entering, we consciously partake in the act of make-believe.
For the participants, the project kicks off on the train journey from Johannesburg to Cape Town, finding its roots in a mobile 'non-place'. As Alain de Botton writes in his book On Seeing and Noticing (2005):
Of all modes of transport, the train is perhaps the best aid to thought: the views have none of the potential monotony of those on a ship or plane, they move fast enough for us not to get exasperated but slowly enough to allow us to identify objects... At the end of hours of train-dreaming, we may feel we have been returned to ourselves: that is, brought back into contact with emotions and ideas of importance to us. It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves.
The idea of 'train-dreaming' suggests a level of contemplation that becomes fertile ground for creative and reflective interaction. Texts and films such as Lars von Trier's Dogville, Dambudzo Marechera's House of Hunger, William Golding's Lord of the Flies and K Sello Duiker's The Quiet Violence of Dreams will be discussed on the 26-hour trip and will inform the installation process.
The participants will inhabit the gallery space in such a way that it becomes a three-dimensional collage of fantasy islands and breathing forts. At no time will the show be static, nor will it ever reach completion: between polishing, hoisting, inflating and broadcasting, the fantasy spaces will be in constant flux.
Cuss will host a talk show in the gallery, combining prerecorded video features by its three members. Drawing from iconic South African talk shows such as The Felicia Mabuza-Suttle Show and Dali Tambo's People of the South, the show will be hosted by an invited guest and will feature interviews and conversations with Cape Town-based creative people.
Catherine Dickerson's breathing plastic sculptures are ghostly but beautiful: their thin, membranous but undeniable presence is somewhat uncanny. When activated, they whimsically inflate and deflate almost to the tune of one's body, momentarily dominating space - yet carved out of thin air much like fiction and fantasy. With no one to activate them, they lie on the ground like the wilted frames of a concept.
Mbali Khoza, Chapter 1: A Carnival, invokes two characters, 'Rap' and 'Diaspora'. The poetry of Lesego Rampolokeng assumes the character of Rap, while Marechera plays Diaspora. Both writers explore language and narrative as tools to reflect on themselves as bodies positioned within the socio-political spaces of the past and present. Having famously stated that he disagrees with everyone and everything, Marechera's style of writing is seemingly not created for an audience. Although from time to time he allows the reader in to his sharp jabs at political issues in Zimbabwe, essentially one gets the sense of reading private notes. In her video, Khoza uses a similar technique. She applies make-up, preparing her joker mask in front of a mirror, for no apparent audience. Occasionally she turns towards the camera, acknowledging its presence but using it as a mirror. Without leaving the frame, she proceeds to remove her make-up, having completed her performance.
Jamie Gowrie's Stoep involves a similarly circuitous process. The artist builds a stoep, a stage of sorts, and proceeds to polish it. The viewer is invited to step onto and interact with the stoep, tainting its immaculate finish in the process. Daily, Gowrie polishes the stoep to keep it well-manicured and preserved, like many a southern African home in the past.
Jared Ginsburg's installation comprises a bamboo-framed mobile sculpture which very slowly lifts pieces of bamboo into the air to form a kind of teepee structure, then just as slowly deconstructs it. In his accompanying video Hoist, objects selected at random - a bicycle, an office chair, an old organ - seem to rise to nowhere with no particular reason. Unlike magic where the eye is often completely fooled, Ginsburg makes one aware that he is creating a spectacle for the viewer. Despite the visibility of the wire cable that hoists them, the slowly rising objects draw one in to the point of being almost hypnotic.
Talya Lubinsky's text installation deals with the way in which maps and words order experience. As we try to make sense of our worlds, we develop structures that simplify and condense that which is infinitely complex, layered and nuanced. Words function as place-holders; they do not describe reality but stand in for it. The installation, which includes several taxonomical objects, creates a space in which meaning is something to be searched for: signs and clues hint at connections between words and the symbols on maps but nothing is ever conclusive; the view is always partial.
Malose Malahlela, co-director of Keleketla Library, occupies the intangible site of a radio station entitled Dead Air, conceived and produced for, and aired on, a non-existent channel. The show will be broadcast on the train, at the gallery and online, and will feature advertisements for fictional movies, strip clubs and gambling, among other things. In the gallery the station will be presented as an interactive sound installation where the audience is invited to ponder the question 'Why do we daydream?', with responses to be recorded and integrated into the show.
Set in an amusement park, a vivid example of a fantasy space, Naadira Patel's video installation I like it when it goes fast... takes one on a sensory journey. On one screen the viewer is confronted with a close-up of her face and its multitude of expressions while on a rollercoaster ride. The uncomfortable proximity to her face, the hypnotic yet jarring amusement park lights, and the observation of peaks of emotion make us feel as though we are witness to an extremely private moment. The curiosity lies in our obsession with adrenalin and creating artificial stimuli that generate this rush in a never-ending quest for obliteration.
Out of Thin Air will be open to the public on Friday 13 July from 6 to 8pm, with an afterparty from 8pm till midnight, and on Saturday 14 July from 10am to 1pm.
Hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturday from 10am to 1pm.