Twelfth day in Johannesburg

Skærmbillede 2016-06-19 kl. 07.49.21“We meet each other yesterday at the debate in the museum” said Clint O Ferreira, a South African artist.
“I was just dropping by the museum as a visitor and after seeing Amalie’s artwork about safety in Johannesburg and hearing the debate out it, I connected to that topic so much that I decided to ask if I could take part in the exhibition and do an artwork together with her for the next day”.
I was very happy to see such a natural collaboration happening. Today Amalie Huiid Barthold and Clint O Ferreira they have been driving around the city in Clint’s car to interview different people in the streets. They made and edited the video basically while they were driving back to the museum. The energy between them was very good and it made totally sense for me. To combine an outside look from a visiting artist with the inside knowledge from the local one, is probably the best way to create meaningful new in-depth reflection about emergencies taking place around us.

 

 

 

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Eleventh day in Johannesburg

Since we got here everybody was telling us about June 16th. It is date that marks the youth movement and the killing of Hector Peterson a young boy killed in the student protest in Soweto 1976.

The communication about this date is built around the photo of the killed boy being carried by a young man and the boy’s sister running next to him.

Iconization and Reenactment

It is interesting how a photo can become a symbol. The photo is circulating in various forms. From big size formats like at the Hector Peterson monument to small formats designed for t-shirts and souvenirs. The iconization of the image is a way to simplify the complexity of an event. It also makes it easier to relate to. Which is not necessary a good thing because we end up circulating the image without engagement and further reflection. It creates distance, and we can easily be blind to all the different shades of the problem. Iconization can also make us stay in the past and not contextualizing the iconic event in our present society.
On the other to simplify can make it easier and faster to circulate the message. The recruiting that takes place in the communication of an important message or statement is also very important if we want to make a massive change.

Today there are also marches taking place down the same road where Hector Peterson was killed. The reenactment aspect of recreation of a historic event is not only a way of honoring and making a ritual to mark and show respect; it is also a way to teach through an experience. So the importance of the event can be passed on to the new generations. Re-experiencing something will naturally be connected to re-thinking. Reflecting. In this case, it will be making a status on today’s conditions in university as well as the racial, cultural and linguistic segregation.

Both the power of the photography and the reenactment are actually connected to the aesthetics and are often used as a tool for expression in art. It is thus quite interesting to look at how artists are looking at this event from their professional point of view.

Artists expressing about issues related to June 16th

Yesterday we visited the Apartheid museum, and some of the historic aspects of this and other events related to the struggle against racial segregation in South Africa became more clear to me. But in our exhibition too we had some artworks dealing with the topics such as the importance of language and rights to be thought in one’s mother tong, iconization of historic events and segregation today.

We talked about language. In the very beginning of the exhibition, we had a peace by Tlou Ramatlhodi on Khoisan language not being recognized as one of the 11 official languages.

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Tlou Ramatlhodi Adam June 10, 2016 Digital Painting N/A

Later we had an artwork by Lorenzo Nassimbeni about a translation of the South African hymn, whose lyrics employ the five different languages.

 

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Lorenzo Naggimbeni From the blue sky of our Heaven Date June 14, 2016 Coki marker on Trading Paper 30 x 45 cm

We also had a piece by Alishia Strydom. It was a paperwork with the iconic image used as a logo for June 16th, but where she cut out the Silhouette of the young man carrying the dead body of Hector Peterson. She did that to communicate that there is a concrete mystery about the man because we don’t know where he is today, but also to symbolize that we in the society of today might be lacking what the missing man in the picture was representing: mainly the insistence on fairness, willingness to make a change and fearless confrontation.

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Alishia Strydom Missing Hero June 15, 2016 Photograph print 62 x 97 cm

Thierry Geoffroy did some artworks too. He took a pre-designed souvenir like t-shirt and made two significant changes in the text. One of the changes is regarding place and the other regarding time. His message was to make us perspectives the June 16th to other places in also reflect about it in the context of today. This artwork led us to talked about recent student protest movements, like #FeesMustFall that happened last year as a reaction to increasing in fees at South African universities.

 

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Thierry Geoffroy/ COLONEL Global uprising June 16, 2016 T-shirt

We also had an artwork by Keneilwe Mokoena who talked about her personal psychological brokenness in relation to the brokenness in the society and politics in South Africa. She spoke about her mother’s experiences being a teacher in a “broken” education system, where the level of qualification is low. With her artwork, she activated an interesting debate about unfinished or broken systems in South Africa and the fact that many people, ironically enough, think that the life, in some aspects, was better before apartheid then now.

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Keneilwe Mokoena, Broke, June 16, 2016, cardboard on floor, 1 m x 1 m

But how much can art do to create a protest and move things in order to create a real change? Can we talk about aesthetics of a protest? Can art be used as a protest? One of the Thierry’s artworks was activating these question in a very elegant and direct way. There was a simple but strong expression in this artwork which made it very clear. He used a white painting canvas  and put a stone on top of it. The stone was found the same day in Soweto. It is a stone used in a violent protest to break the window of a bank to demonstrate outrage because of lack of electricity in peoples houses.

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Thierry Geoffroy/ COLONEL Soweto Violent Protest June 15, 2016 Canvas and stone 10 x 19 cm

 

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Tenth day in Johannesburg

Today we decided to do the exhibition outside of the museum.

The artists went out to the streets with their artworks. They installed them in the urban space and debated about the works with each other and the people passing by. To involve people randomly in to the debate brings a new interesting unpredictable element to the debate.

The place we chose this time was a bridge that marks the difference between the popular Maboneng neighborhood where the museum is situated and a more raw and underdeveloped area. The bridge symbolizes the border and the stream of people crossing the bridge was definitely different from the regular visitors in the museum.

The decision to bring the artists and their artworks to the streets was not only based on a interest in exploring the urban space, but also on the wish to go out of the museum’s safe zone and engaging with the local environment.
By moving the emergency art platform outside of the museum we also question the institution and its role in the community.

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Ninth day in Johannesburg

Today my energy was low. I had a feeling some of the artists felt the same. I’m of course not sure if I was the one projecting this tiredness on them. The weather was heavy and cold, which can be one of the reasons for the lack of energy I was sensing.

The energy in the group depends on engagement. There are those artists who come more than once and whose regular contributions bring stability to the group; And then there are those who come only once bringing impulsive and fresh energy.

The regularity allows the artists to develop a rhythm, which will make them go in depth with the project. The artists express about different topics every day or choose a theme they research and even get experts in.  When artists come regularly for some days, it is possible to see the development of works and the progress in artist’s engagement. The artists create the dynamic energy that can turn in to positive addiction. When diving in to the regular rhythm, it becomes a new ritual that affects not only the artistic production but as much their way of reflecting and conceptualizing. It definitely also creates a very special group feeling, since all the artists are working simultaneously towards the same dead line. Even though they are not necessary working physically together, by having a same time frame work, they sync on the energy level.

Interruption of regularity on the other hand creates unpredictability and brings thus the flexibility to the group. New participants create a positive dynamic and new energy. Because they would not know the other artists and what debates have been taking place in the previous days, they would be able to enter the project with fresh energy and see it with new eyes. In this way we make sure the project does not get ingrown and only related to a closed group of people. I guess the-first-time feeling from the new participants, also reminds the other in the group about their own first-time-experience, and this gives a good circular reflection about the development of the project. Of course the project can develop into new unknown ideas as the participants engage and start shaping it each with they different contributions, but still it is a good think to be pulled back by the new participants to the start and be reminded about the motivation one has for taking part in this project initially. This is like a reinforcement that gives new life to the project.

I believe both energies are good to have when shaping a strong group. And the dynamics between these two streams of energies is what creates the vigorous development that characterless the project.

At the moment we have 6-7 artists from Denmark, who are staying in Johannesburg for one or two weeks so their participation is regular. We also have participation from artists who live and work in Johannesburg and some of them have been coming several times. The group is very good and the involving artists are very engaged. But we have not seen any collaborations yet. Even thought there were some intentions to create works together from the very beginning, we have not seen it happen yet. This could be a new time of energy and a very interesting development to observe.

 

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Eighth day in Johannesburg

The artworks from the everyday changing exhibition go to the Delay Museum. The Delay Museum is a collection of artworks that were all made in 24 hours reflecting on the emergencies of that day. Every time a new emergency art platform is activated in the world, a selection of artworks are being included in the Delay Museum collection that by now consists of more than 500 artworks. Because of the caravan like nature of the project, the artworks are made by artists from various countries and in different cultural, political and geographical contexts. With the growing collection, it will be possible to create an encyclopedic overview showing what artists have been worrying and expressing about in the last ten years.

As a curator, it is possible to make some very interesting cuts into the connection. For each cut, it is possible to make a new exhibition. Thematically it could, for example, be an exhibition on the growing xenophobia. We would be able to bring to light artworks that were commenting on xenophobic tendencies in a very early stage. The instant comments from the artists are connected to their intuition and can thus also revile dysfunctional tendencies that are still not formed into concrete problems. This is why we often see artists being the first ones to react to things being out of balance. Since the platform is encouraging fast tempo of producing art about emergencies, the rhythm of production is pulsing and more intuitive than conceptual. Another thing that stimulates the artistic intuition in the process is the fact that the mistakes are acceptable in this format. This gives the artists the necessary freedom to guess to sense and to visualize possible scenarios for the future.

The diversity of artworks in the collection would also allow us to interconnect the emergencies. Let’s say we are doing an exhibition on growing xenophobia. In that case, it would only be natural also to include artworks that deal with refugees as well as war industry.

There can of course also be made a sociological take on the collection. We could also do a curating that shows who was working with which themes or how many artists had similar concerns and in which countries more than others. It is also possible to study the different levels of censorship in the world. The artworks produced during the EMERGENCY ROOM in Vietnam have been made under different censorship condition then the EMERGENCY ROOM done in Moma PS1.

On the visual level, there is very interesting research to dive into regarding the aesthetic of emergency art. How do artists find visual solutions to express within one day? What kinds of techniques are being used formally and conceptually in order to create shortcuts?
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During the exhibition on Johannesburg, the Delay Museum is active parallel to the every day changing exhibition. The Delay Museum is growing for every day and will stay on display until July 31. To add, the South African contribution to the already existing collection will bring an important global element to the Delay Museum.

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Seventh day in Johannesburg

Today it was cold, and people in streets were walking faster and less relaxed. I was wondering how it would effect our daily exhibition changing and if there would be enough people during the debate.

It was as cold in the museum as in the streets. The artists were freezing, but there were all punctual. At 2 pm precisely they were standing with their artworks in front of the exhibition space waiting to get in and exhibit.

Suddenly a big group of energetic young people came in. The filled up the room. I felt happy to see so many visitors. As soon as the artworks from yesterday were put down and the new artworks were installed, we started the debate. The first one was on western countries closing borders for refugees; the second one was on Trump’s xenophobic influence on language in schools; the third one was on water crisis in Brazil, that is only talked about now during Olympic games as threat for athletes and not as constant threat for the people living there; the fourth one on education of children and how the gender is being connected to power in an early stage, the fifth one on legalization of drugs; and the sixth one was about Red Ants and eviction.

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The debate was amazing. The young people participated a lot.  We discovered that there were students and a school choir. There were some teachers involved too who stimulated the debate, but the students were so well formulated and engaged. I found it touching. They took each artwork seriously; they contextualized to their own world. For example, they did not relate so directly to Syrian refugees situation in Europe, but they could talk about xenophobia in their own country and the dynamics of people moving in Africa. The Trump’s rhetoric and hate-speeches triggered them to debate on racial questions that they knew a lot about from their own experiences here in South Africa. The water problems in Brazil was discussed through the lance of global economy and ecology problems caused by western companies in the southern hemisphere. They also debated about the legalization of drugs and how it will affect the black market. They all related to the gender questions when it comes to education and had made some great connections to the rape culture, taking place in the country. And the Red Ants army for eviction of homeless people, even though it was not known to all of them, created a good debate and reflection on gentrification situation they are experiencing in their city.

The room got very fast warm during the debate, and I was honestly impressed about how much thinking and reflection six artworks could produce. The dialog created between the artists, and the audience was just amazing and so meaningful.

After the debate session, our visitors wanted to sing a song for us. The sound and the presence of the choir in the emergency art exhibition was somehow magic. I almost dropped a tear.

I could see that today’s exhibition made young people walked out of the museum with new thoughts and the artists walked out of the museum with more belief in art. For me, this encounter is the vital exchange of energy that keeps the hope alive. Hope for possible change and hope for a better future. “The future is gold,” said my friend and artist Nina Wengel and if it is so, we have to keep our hope and believe in finding it.

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Sixth day in Johannesburg

“The exhibition changes in 5 min.” I could hear Thierry shouting while the artists were waiting in front of the exhibition space with their new artworks.

The ritual routines of the team
At 2 pm sharp, the doors were open. The artworks from the day before went down, and the new artworks were mounted. This change is called passage.
After the passage the artworks are looked at I silence for some minutes and then the debate starts. After the debate, the labels, with titles, sizes, and artists’ names are put under each artwork, and the exhibition stays frozen until the next day at 2 pm.
After the activates in the museum, which normally last 1-2 hours, some artists take a small break in the last hours of the sunshine before it gets dark, others start immediately to work on the new artwork for the next day. For dinner, we usually all meet up, and exchange impressions of the day. Both personal and professional experiences are important in this project. In the mornings, the artists work on their artworks, I do some writing and preparation with the museum, while Thierry does artworks, organizes the documentation, makes strategies and creates new visions. This is pretty much the daily routine of our team that little by little is turning into a ritual.

Speed and rhythm
There is some speed involved when it comes to art production because most of the artists are used to send more time on creating their artworks. But it does not seem like, working fast is hectic. Actually, this type of regular speed is not producing stress. The regularity creates a certain tempo. And just like with the music, where the drums might sound noisy, violent and disturbing at the start, but only until you go into the music and catch the rhythm. As more artists are taking part in the show, as more I can hear the rhythm of this format. It is not a homogenous musical rhythm I hear. It is a rhythm rich with diverse individual pulses.

Synchronizing
We each have our own rhythms, our individual heartbeats. Around us, there are other rhythms: the streets and the city are following certain tempi while the world, the planet, and the universe are following other tempi and understandings of time. When we create a shared space, we also try to define a shared time frame. This encounter demands synchronization. But what does it actually mean to synchronize? It has to do with precision. (We need to adjust our times to each other thus we need to agree on a specific time and be precise. In our format the change of exhibition happens precisely at 2 pm); It has to do with being simultaneous (Our actions need to occur at the same time. In our format, we make sure the artists are present during the passage. They cannot send their artworks, but have to bring them personally and debate about them); It has to do with agreeing and coordinating (There has to be a willingness to work together. In our format the artists, the organizers, and the host institution works as one team); It has to do with being in tune (We need to follow a given melody. In our art format we have a conductor, that would be the format owner Thierry shouting “The exhibition changes in 5 min.”)

Structure to create more freedom
As any other rituals and rhythms, there is a layer of spirituality that appears on top of the rules for routines and time calculations. This distinction between mechanic structure and the magic freedom is a very interesting fine line that characterizes this project. The art format is a predefined setting who’s purpose is not to create limitations but to stimulate artistic expression. There are rules, but they are only drawing the lines in order to bring forward the artistic essence and create focus. There is speed, but it is there only in order to create energy and fuel for a successful takeoff.
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