Geography of Somewhere


14 April - 17 May 2011

A truly global city.... is composed not only of flows of money, skills, knowledge, security, machinery, and technology, but also of ideas, people, images, and imaginaries - a cultural economy.

Worldliness, in this context, has had to do not only with the capacity to generate one's own cultural forms, institutions, and lifeways, but also with the ability to foreground, translate, fragment, and disrupt realities and imaginaries originating elsewhere, and in the process place these forms and processes in the service of one's own making.

Extracts from Johannesburg: The Elusive Metropolis, Nuttall and Mbembe (editors), 2008


At the heart of this exhibition is a paradox: the work it brings together may be understood as coming from the city, but it is not of the city. The selected artists draw aspects of their vocabularies from conditions of the urban, yet their works are not simply descriptive.

There is an articulate formalism present in their practices that understands the city as a headspace rather than a language. Their ways of seeing ask that we set aside our access to such space through geography or topography, and look to the city as metaphor. In so doing, they offer us a tangential, poetic link to the experience of the city, a kind of musical score. This score is a disjunctive, often roughly hewn flow, with an acknowledged hybridity that emerges from accumulation of vast numbers of sources and contexts. The work of these artists is united by a method of inquiry rather than by style.

Their artists are clearly conscious of their practices'location within current trends. Their reflective outlook brings with it a fluid approach to formalism and abstraction, and their roles within broader conversations of art-making. The relationship between this resurgence of interest inf form and formalism and the socio-political dynamics that underlie these works is complex, and forms the crux of the exhibition.

Geography of Somewhere posits the works of a loose grouping of younger artists - Zander Blom, Dineo Seshee Bopape, Gerald Machona, Nare Mokgotho and Serge Alain Nitegeka - as a counterpoint to those of Ângela Ferreira, Meschac Gaba and Odili Donald Odita. The former's language harnesses a more penetrative, aggressive sense of fracture, and is grittier than the latter's. There is a quietness to the forms of the more established artists, perhaps arising from the fact that they are not exclusively located or immersed within African metropolises. Their Diasporan experience differs historically and materially from the recent, embodied experiences of displacement which underlie the works by Machona and Nitegeka.

While the city is present in the work of Zander Blom, it makes itself known through its conspicuous absence rather than the artist's active engagement. Blom's gesture - his withdrawal from public space - is seemingly austere. But this strategy allows him to move deeply into his delight, and grappling, with the dialectic of studio practice and art history. Blom's alienation from the city marks him as an 'anti- flâneur' of sorts: The 'stroller' no longer experiences the street as a means of understanding or participating in the city, but has rather committed himself to the (internal) loop of the studio. Surrounding himself with literally hundreds of visual references, Blom is at once deeply concerned with the history of art and supremely committed to the immediacy of the art object.

Dineo Seshee Bopape's installations are hyper-coloured, immersive environments. They reveal space as an accumulation of emotional and phenomenological affects that exist on the edge of incoherence. Objective processes of urban space-making - hyperfluidity, aggregation, layering, disjunction - unfold in a deeply evocative and personal manner in her work. Bopape's attempts to locate herself in space and time find their metaphoric measure in the dance between surface and screen: lo-fi videos and roughly hewn photocollages become an aesthetic of coding personal history, while her idiosyncratic bricolage demands that we honour seemingly ordinary moments and banal objects. Bopape constantly shifts between real space and mythical space, between the imagination and the senses - reminding us that our experience of the present comprises more than the sum of the parts of 'concrete reality'.

A 1970s-era Mozambican radio tower, used to transmit information in rural areas, is the key motif in Ângela Ferreira'sCape Sonnets installation. A photograph of one such tower led the artist to the work of the Russian Constructivist Gustav Klucis. In Ferreira's tower and Klucis' original agitprop kiosks we may imagine the disembodied voices of revolutionary celebration - and hear the warning bells of failed political ideals and impending violence. In Ferreira's work the rural African setting is interchanged with that of urban Europe, and news broadcasts are replaced by the creolised Afrikaans poetry of Austrian/South African poet Peter Blum (1925-1990). We are presented with the voice of a citizen denied - a ghostly monument to a failed modern moment.

The city is the central subject in several of Meschac Gaba's works. In his most recent intervention, Gaba gained permission from the mayor and the minister of arts and culture to declare the city of Cotonou as the Musée de l'Art de la Vie Active - Art Museum of Real Life. This grand declaration included an opening address that highlighted the absence of a museum in Benin's economic capital, followed by a procession through the city of 30 white-clad figures wearing Gaba's latest series of tresses. The headdresses, woven from artificial hair braids, symbolised historical icons including Martin Luther King, Kwame Nkrumah, Jesus Christ, Fela Kuti, and King Guézo of Dahomey (now Benin).

Gerald Machona's video work Untitled 2010 (Harare) presents us with an impeccably-suited figure dancing on a rooftop above the Harare skyline. With the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and government offices in the background, this gargoyle performs a slowed downand grotesque coming-of-age narrative of migration and economy. This body of work re-imagines perception of migrant workers through the use of a traditional Malawian (Chewa) masquerade known as Gule Wamkulu or Nyau. This rite of passage is performed by young men as a means of expressing their identity. Masks and secrecy plays an important role in the practice's ability to re-imagine self and negotiate a new sense of group identity. Mochona states: "My practice is interested in how those that migrate into a society negotiate cultural and ethnic conflict. Through this Chewa tradition, which I have appropriated and evolved, I aim to.... challenge attitudes of intolerance towards these new comers. It is an attempt to reconstruct new identities based on economic and occupational practices and not derogatory labels such as Makwerekwere."

Nare Mokgotho's Look Who's Laughing is a site specific sound installation that appropriates canned laughter - that convention of the televised sitcom - to activate a sense of audience beyond the confines of the white cube. The gallery's front window becomes a 'screen' through which the public is invited to watch the 'actors' inside, the space becoming the setting for a strange hybrid of reality TV and situational comedy. The canned laugher bursts forth in jagged loops, demanding that we laugh at anything and everything. It operates as a menacing soundtrack to a scene where the symbolic relations of power and exchange are laid bare, where the actions and exchanges within the gallery space are revealed as 'performance'.

The character of the bricoleur appears again in Serge Alain Nitegeka's work. The artist's favoured materials - wooden packing crates and black charcoal - speak of adaptation and survival. Nitegeka's bricoleur is a more political persona than Bopape's, his improvisation a marker of migration and fracture. His work with the poetics of displacement relates to a broader history of cities, especially African, which have always experienced migrancy and displacement as an integral part of their modernity. His interest in modernism and abstraction is ironic and self-proclaiming, and his work can be read in relation to the language of the sublime: 'behind aesthetic choices are ethical respondents', declared Pierre Soulages. High modernism offered the promise of 'bearing witness to the unrepresentable'; Nitegeka's abstraction declares that there are no more witnesses, only participants.

If the remarkable colours found in the paintings of Odili Donald Odita are partly a product of memory and projection, then the unpredictable, vibrant forms that appear are equally part the artist's 'internal geographies', with the paintings metaphorically re-enacting moments of cultures coming together, clashing, and dispersing. Engaging the expressive potential of vibrant colour relations, spatial compressions and skewered perspectives, Odita is at the forefront of examining how abstraction may speak for both a personal and cultural experience of dislocation.

Postscript
The photographer and catalogue designer have been discussing the difficulty of shooting any one work on exhibition in isolation. As we flick through the images on the camera's viewfinder we realise that all shots include multiple works. As a result there is a constant sense of looking at and through works simultaneously. Canned laughter pierces interior space and breaks up Blum's sentences as they are broadcast from Ferreira's tower. Nitegeka's dark tunnel frames Odita's clashing forms on approach. Shards of reflected light from Bopape's disco balls bounce off an alcove that holds Blom's canvas and oil. As we negotiate our movements through the city, so too must we choose how we move through gallery space: with an eye that can take in the whole scene and its surrounding context at once, while also having the capacity to focus on the singularity and materiality of an object. There are moments when, if we do not 'edit' but attempt to take it all in, the sense of overlap and multiplicity may feel overwhelming, and we tumble into cacophony. But cacophony is the jagged edge of this musical score. Paradoxically, the all-at-oneness of processes, sounds and materials provides the appropriate setting for us to notice that what has emerged - both singularly and collectively - is something utterly original, that could never have been predicted or planned, and which speaks directly to the symbolic life of the city at this very moment.

The exhibition will open on Thursday 14 April 2011, 6-8pm, and close on Friday 13 May 2011. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturday 10am to 1pm.


Electronic equipment generously sponsored by Circuit City.


Odili Donald Odita
Odili Donald Odita


Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Zander Blom
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Dineo Seshee Bopape
Dineo Seshee Bopape
Dineo Seshee Bopape

Dineo Seshee Bopape


Ângela Ferreira
Ângela Ferreira
Ângela Ferreira


Meschac Gaba


Gerald Machona

Gerald Machona
Gerald Machona
Gerald Machona


Serge Alain Nitegeka
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Serge Alain Nitegeka
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Serge Alain Nitegeka
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Serge Alain Nitegeka
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Serge Alain Nitegeka
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Serge Alain Nitegeka
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