Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Art and Violence: "The Spear"

The painting The Spear by Brett Murray has by now aroused such interest and reaction negative and positive that it has taken on a form beyond itself, an image which became the symbol and space for all to use for their motives of expression. From the original intent of satirising government and the president to a method of reinforcing racial clashes, discussions of freedom of speech to discussions of what is the role of art or what is art, as well as a well written post-colonial critique I would recommend.

I can’t help but think that as a painting, an isolated object of art it is rather simple (aesthetically, I mean, that poster aesthetic is kind of what a lot of people do, there is is even that function on Photoshop) and  as  political satire goes, quite superficial. An artist doesn’t have to work hard when using a figure who already carries all the weight of meaning on itself. The power of this artwork lies within its context and the debates it aroused.  And I would like to also argue that the defacement of it (although I really do not wish the gallery or artist any harm), would be the ultimate act to complete it.  

W.J.T Mitchell comes to mind in his discussions of iconology and iconoclasm.  Both the artist and the defacers used an iconoclastic gesture. Both acts could be considered violent. The artist using subversion breaks down the untouchable image of the president by showing us his genitalia.  It is a violent act to expose someone, it is a violating act. And some might argue, yes but he is a bad president, he inspired it, but one must also say, yes but he is also human, and can still be hurt, he can still be violated. This gesture in some way reveals this contradiction. 

Then there are the defacers. Physically painting over the image which angers, the wish to destroy it, to cover it is violent, the word deface itself indicates this violence. Usually objects displayed in a gallery on the wall remains untouchable, they are holy objects to be admired, to be contemplated, to be sold, but never to be touched. That final act of defacement was a violent one, and rebellious against the system of the gallery. The covering up of the painting with a red crosses and then with black paint reveals just as much as that of the original.

Both works revealed this relationship with violence we have in South Africa. We use it for a motif as we criticize it, we us one form of violence to satirise the president, another form to counteract it.  It was also revealed on blogs and Facebook in the commentary by readers and viewers as this soon became the way for people to personally attack each other’s view.  We like to complain in South Africa about the crime and violence, but I dare to say that our attitudes of distrust and defence lies right in the middle of our problem. Or perhaps this is the result of it. 

Another topic arouse through this work was that of censorship and freedom of speech. The president wanted them to take the painting down. The gallery refused, stating it will not succumb to censorship. People advocating that it was freedom of speech, the right of the artist, congratulated the gallery for standing up for freedom, while others criticised saying that this disrespect of the president must not be stood for. Of course censorship is a slippery slope and for sure a president must not be allowed to censor artworks, if one can start, before one knows it, anything that defies the president can be shut down and then we have a problem. Yet the defacement of this painting revealed the complexities of freedom of speech and its relationship to who holds the power.  Some of the same advocates that hailed the painting as the right to expression of the artist found this defacement  a crime, and from a video I saw the culprits were arrested and quite violently so too. Yet weren’t these defacers not just using their freedom of expression?

Defacing a painting is an atrocity someone said on Facebook. Why would such an act be considered more violent to some than the (albeit visual) personal attack on the president – a human being? The ultimate was revealed when they started speaking about the monetary value of the work, how this cost the gallery and the artist R 100 000 (or something like that). We all know the art market is based on speculation, this is not the true worth of the painting, yet many of those same advocates of freedom of expression considered this an important enough reason to justify that the defacers freedom of expression was in fact illegal, that its monetary value excludes it from the fire.  The ultimate question lies within this, what are the limits of freedom of expression or more specifically, who has the right to freedom to expression? Those who have ownership? Another question arises, when does something pass as hate speech, one wonders don’t haters also have a right to expression (the twitter model debacle comes to mind)?

These questions cannot easily be answered and should never result in censorship. Yet we must ask ourselves what responsibility we carry in our right to expression, what violence do I carry in my right to expression? So in the end I must wonder about the brilliance of this painting as it revealed so much more then the short comings of our president and the ruling party, but also so very much about our own hypocrisies.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Progress and development 2012)


The picnic- this romantic idea of eating together, a social gathering in nature -  was used in 19th century English novels as a literary space for  romantic gestures, revealing social inadequacies and personal revelations (Emma by Jane Austen comes to mind). The picnic then could also serve for the perfect space to reveal our own desires and inadequacies.   In the absence of nature the action of a picnic remains the same, everyone can bring something, to sit down outside, with the the basket, the blanket and the food, yet it might almost seem sad. Though at the same time plotting down a space in the city, sitting down on the sidewalk on the cement becomes a defiant action against the movement, the progress that the capitalistic city promotes.  More pictures of the picnic here. And of the event  In Su I Praa here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

All the buzz: M^C^O

Image above from MACAO page on Facebook

I paid a visit to the new space M.A.C.A.O this week to see what all the hype is about. M.A.C.A.O is an abandoned building in Milan originally called Torre Galfa owned by some corporate (don't remember who) and it was "taken over" or occupied as they say (I hate that word - it is like the new key phrase used by all trendy liberal associations) by cultural workers and young artists to convert into a experimental cultural centre. It  follows in the current trend of movements (Occupy Wall street etc) taking over capitalistic spaces for a more social use.

Radical chic is all the rage these days so it is not surprising that people want to be apart of this movement, but what is nice to observe is the enthusiasm and hope that such a take over represent for people. There are tons of people working in the space renovating it, fixing the floors, making a garden and bringing furniture and things that can be used in the space, all doing it without receiving any money for it. Something new like this attracts a lot of different people and creates a space for experimentation and exchange. It provides what is needed perhaps as a catalyst for other actions. Another thing to observe how they used social media from the start of this project to interact with public and create hype and audience. 

The space itself is amazing and gives a lot to the imagination, I am sure many artists (me included)  and curators would love to utilise the space itself for installation. As a new experiments go, it is of course chaotic and probably doesn't yet offer the possibility to do something with more body. However already between the chaos a lot is going on, there were spontaneous talks by Nobel prize laureate Mario Fo, concerts by musicians, and also open lessons by universities taking place in there. 

It will be interesting to see what happens there. Hopefully the company owning the building will not try to take it back and hopefully M.A.C.A.O can retain its independence. They (or us) will also have to at some point forget the hype and make projects with more body that can add a little bit more to just being a cool Facebook topic. And we must not forget that it can become absorbed by the systems it tries to defy or it itself can become an institution. Nevertheless, at the moment it is a blank slate with possibility and that is a beautiful thing.

To see  more about M.A.C.A.O visit the Facebook page or webpage.

I also attended a talk held on the 10th floor, led by Bert Theis and presentation by Isola Art Centre on their projects and how cultural spaces such as M.A.C.A.O can  affect or improve a neighbourhood.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

IN SU I PRÀA at Isola Pepe Verde Festival.

On Sunday 6 May, finally arrived the day where we had the event that we have been preparing for. Our group Room 47’s artistic interventions ran parallel with the festival of Isola Pepe Verde. And while a week of rain before threatened to destroy the day, came Sunday it was for the most part sunny and remained basically rain free until five o’clock the afternoon, when the rain finally arrived it was time move inside for the video projections anyway.

I really enjoyed the whole project and also the event. The event was well attended by the community, and I really felt such warmth from the inhabitants of this neighbourhood. It reminded me a bit of church bazaars from my childhood where everyone from the community chipped in to make something happen. It is something one can easily lose living so anonymously in a big city.

The project itself was a good exercise of making an exhibition in an open public space, proved once again to challenging in terms of working with many others and also gave a chance for each one of us to pursue something personal, using our own strengths and mediums.  It proved also how art if kept in relationship with where it is can be of more value than just a commodity object. So far it is my favourite project we have done.

So the the interventions was divided in 4 categories. Suolo (Floor), Muro (Walls), Ignoto (Random) and AUDIO VIDEO.  The first three caterogies took place during the day outside while the Audio Videos  were projected inside after the rain came. Here are a few pictures from the project.

Nicoletta Dalfino - "Enciclopedia Vegetale"

One of my picnic spots

Jessica Rucinque - "Guaca"

Michella Grillo, Luigi Mazzioti,Diletta Pellegrini - Eden Box

Leah Corra Messersmith- 'Totem'

Danielle Marzorati

 Laura Paveglio
Chiara Paleari - Tute Blu

Green per capita = Workshop for children

The murales by David M Fayek left and Edith Porier on the right.

Video Still from the video by  Wei-Ning Yang.