5 July - 3 August 2012



STEVENSON is pleased to present If A Tree..., the second exhibition in the gallery's Trade Routes Project. Curated by Clare Butcher, the exhibition seeks to revisit elements of the controversial second Johannesburg Biennale (entitled Trade Routes: History and Geography), which took place in Johannesburg and Cape Town in 1997.

If A Tree... takes its cue from the age-old philosophical dilemma about cause, effect and the contingency of witnessing history in the making. Presenting a mixed group of artistic generations and geographies, the exhibition traces speculative routes outwards from the second Johannesburg Biennale in order to gauge its bearing on local and transnational contemporary art practice.

The artists' projects included in the exhibition alternate between intimate reflections on direct encounters with the biennale 15 years ago, and broader comments on art's political economy in the surrounding city context. Each approach attempts to see the wood for the trees. What is the efficacy of reviving such a moment in the country's all too recent past - a time of interregnum and uncertainty, with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in full swing? Are the biennale's original themes still relevant in today's immigration and economic crises? And how do we realise the generative possibilities embedded within this contested archive of art history in the present?

The artists included are James Beckett (South Africa/Netherlands), Dineo Seshee Bopape (South Africa), Heman Chong (Singapore) with Eduardo Cachucho (South Africa), Yvonne Dröge Wendel (Netherlands), Paul Edmunds (South Africa), Simon Gush (South Africa), Nicholas Hlobo (South Africa), Phillip Raiford Johnson (South Africa/UK), Antonis Pittas (Greece/Netherlands), Colin Richards (South Africa), Robin Rhode (South Africa/Germany), Lerato Shadi (South Africa/Germany) and Kemang Wa Lehulere (South Africa).

Bearing in mind the expansive nature of the original biennale, If A Tree... aims to make connections not only between the biennale and the included artists but between the exhibition and the contemporary cultural landscape of the city of Johannesburg. During July an ancillary programme comprising a biennale archive, conversations and screenings will be hosted by the independent project space, Parking Gallery (; additionally, a number of the exhibition works will involve direct public intervention; and a few of the artists will be stationed at the residency and project space, Sober & Lonely Institute for Contemporary Art. An informative guide will accompany the exhibition with texts on the artists and their projects, and a number of walkabouts will be scheduled.

If A Tree... follows Trade Routes Over Time, at Stevenson Cape Town in April/May 2012; the project will conclude with a third exhibition at the end of the year in Cape Town, accompanied by a Trade Routes Project publication containing archival documentation and research essays.

A Beautiful Mess by Sean O'Toole, 2012. Clare Butcher invited Heman Chong on 6 February 2012 to produce a new work for this exhibition. Heman Chong met Eduardo Cachucho on 14 February 2012 in Paris. After a couple of discussions over the next few days, they decided that their project would be to invite a writer from South Africa to write a description of what he saw during the 1997 Johannesburg Biennial. They wrote to Clare about this idea, who then agreed to float the text with a writer. Sean O'Toole agreed on 6 June 2012 to produce a new essay for this exhibition. He submitted his text containing 1014 words entitled 'A Beautiful Mess' to the artists 28 May 2012. He has also agreed to allow the artists to freely distribute the text during the course of this exhibition.

Read the text here.

Over a period of 24 hours, Lerato Shadi completed a new performance in the gallery, unseen by any audience. During the final week of the exhibition, 'If A Tree...', visitors are invited to come and view the traces of Shadi's Seipone.

The artist writes the following about her work:

The prevailing theme in my current body of work deals with absence and presence, subject and object and their transformation through performance. I use elements such as concentration, breath, tension and duration to reflect this research in my oeuvre. My new performance Seipone brings these concerns to the fore - involving a long strip of blank wall, and a step of the same length. The performance took place over 3 days. I painstakingly wrote along the length of the wall using a charcoal pencil. The process involved moments of writing and moments of erasure in which I sought to rub out, but never completely successfully, the markings made the days before. What remains to be seen by the exhibition visitor is the residue of the event: imperfect erasures and subtle suggestions of what happened. The elusive nature of the work is entirely in keeping with both my personal trajectory, and in seeking to challenge the permanence of the art object.

Clare Butcher will give a final walkabout of the exhibition at the gallery on Wednesday 1 August at 11am. All are welcome.