20th Mar2017

Choosing Passion over Talent: The Stigma Surrounding BAs

by admin

For most students, transitioning from high school to varsity brings an exciting prospect of learning what one loves, rather than what is required to merely pass. There is however, that lingering afterthought of job security upon graduation. This afterthought plays a significant role in determining which degree a student chooses. The variety of bursaries offering to fund scarce skills courses does not make the decision any easier for prospective students.

Degree of Doubt

I recently had lunch with three of my friends; two of whom are studying a BCom Law degree, with the other pursuing a BA Law degree. I was amazed at how the conversation shifted from BA students having it easy to insulting remarks about how BA students ought to either have a backup plan regarding future financials or marry rich’. Being a BA student myself, I felt excluded from the discussion, and at some point, I started to question my choice of study.

It is no secret that the BA degree comes with a lot of stereotypes, and in an environment like Wits, it is perceived as being lowest on the hierarchy of intelligence. One of the ways to emphasize this lies in the building of the university. A comparison of the Wits Science Stadium with the Wits School of Arts, which is in dire need of renovation, is one of these. Arguably, the Wits Arts Museum (WAM) is in great shape; however, the question is why this is so.

Wits Science Stadium

Wits Art Museum

Well, from a personal perspective, the kind of environment where Arts students learn does not have much significance, however, the products of these students labor, with reference to WAM, is important for the good representation of the university’s public image. Although looked down upon, a BA degree improves writing and communication skills, exposing the students to different fields of interests at the same time. What students from other faculties fail to understand is that the flexibility of the BA degree and the application of theory do not guarantee a distinction. It is not about the binary between right or wrong answers. It is all about broadening your understanding. Successful BA degree-holders include EFF leader Julius Malema, who graduated with a BA in Political Sciences from Unisa, and Mashabela Galane who has a Wits University Honors Degree in Dramatic Arts and Media Studies.

In essence, if the BA degree was prioritized as much its fellow counterparts, if more funding was provided to these students, and if more job opportunities were opened up, the BA degree would have greater significance than it does now. At Wits, publications such as the Vuvuzela, outlets such as Vow FM,  and blogs such as @exPress_imPress play a significant role in making this degree worthwhile and enjoyable.

16th May2016

Into The Light With Marcus Neustetter

by admin

Marcus Neustetter ArtistMarcus Neustetter is a world-renowned artist who is the winner of the 2015 World Technology Award for Art.  For the past ten years, he has been most interesting in working with light. As a cultural activist, he has been using experimentation and play as a means of facilitating story-telling with his subjects. He has worked frequently with Stephen Hobbs on various projects which have included The Gallery Premises and The Trinity Session. He is currently showing some of his work at the exhibition Into The Light with the Wits Art Museum (WAM). The exhibition has been intended to showcase the collaborative process involved in creating his artworks. The exhibition also incorporates objects from the WAM collection, to serve as a conversation piece alongside his work. The incorporation of the objects from the WAM collection is intended to showcase the indigenisation of foreign materials. Into The Light showcases work which uses items bought from Chinatown. It looks at the disposal of products consumed from China and is intended to start a conversation with China, as a potential neo-colonial power within Africa. The exhibition is intended to allow visitors to create new imaginary landscapes, and explore new worlds. Neustetter is a process-driven artist, who, in his collaborations seeks to empower participants to unearth stories through the projects undertaken. His projects have taken place in various locations, including Sutherland, Dakar, and Johannesburg. His exploration of the public space of light is further enabled through the exhibition, which is a visual experience. His artworks reflect the playful and experimental approach undertaken during the creation of his artworks. I recommend going to see Into The Light as this exhibition, although tongue-in-cheek, is successful in starting conversation around modern lines of connectivity and how technology can further enable communication across different locales in space and time.

Disputed Chinese Worldmap

Below is an interview with the artist himself:

 

Sandiswa Sondzaba (SS):

You were 18 when the first non-racial elections occurred. How did your formative years affect your thinking on the negotiation of space in the late- and early post-apartheid terrains in South Africa?

Marcus Neustetter (MN):

(Laughs) Firstly, I am the son of two artists. That influenced my early life and my formative engagement with space and people.  I grew up in a home where liberal thinking was encouraged. I went to the German School [the Deutsche Schule zu Johannesburg], because of my parents being German-speaking and they wanted me to be in an environment where I would speak the language. In the classroom, we were taught about the apartheid system whilst it was happening outside, contrary to a lot of other schools where my peers were being indoctrinated. I had, in my history book, a chapter on the evils of apartheid and so, I actually got to learn about my country very early. Because I lived in the south of Johannesburg, I used to catch a bus everyday into Gandhi Square and, following from that, catch another bus connecting me to the South. That gave me a really great sense of how the system was transforming. Everything that was happening, I would literally see every day as I was making my way to and from school. I got to see the city becoming what it is, and I got to walk around the city as I would wait around for my bus or for the other bus to come. I would literally be exploring public spaces, not just by car but actually, by foot. As I was walking around, I would realise that I was actually living out what was written in my history book and I was quite conscious of that. The one time, I remember clearly, we were hiding inside the double decker bus, at that time, while there were riots downstairs in Gandhi Square. That reality of being in that machine, and being self-aware, meant that I was always looking at public spaces and the ownership of public spaces as a really important thing. At the same time, I always question a lot as an artist working in the studio. Doing experiments during my early university years, allowed me to do a lot of work within public spaces. What happened was that my interests started to shift towards the internet. It was during the late 90s and I realised that, parallel to what was happening in the country, there was another boom that was happening. This was the technological breakthrough that was occurring. A lot of my global network peers, artists working internationally, were looking at how they could occupy technological spaces and make statements in that way. How do you use that to empower people? And so, in South Africa, I very quickly got into the space of trying to see how the internet boom that was happening here could become an empowering tool.  I started to focus a lot of my art on the internet, and I made a lot of net-art, or internet-based art. (SS asks: With sanman?  [The South African New Media Art Network]).  Oh yes, sanman was one of my initiatives where we could connect how people could use the internet to create things. It was about a way of really pushing opportunities through a platform exchange. It was about seeing how the internet could become a powerful space. Many years later, I’ve looked back on that and have moved away from that, not for any other reason but that I work with locally relevant technology. Glow sticks, laser pointers, and the LED lights you buy in Chinatown are locally relevant. I’m not coming in with those big, fancy projectors or interactive media stuff because those are things you need to plug into a wall most of the time. So, a lot of the projects I do in other parts of South Africa are about what is the material that is important there? For me, it is a power question. It has always been about that power struggle, through spaces and through technologies. It comes from that early time that informed my identity as a South African, through walking the streets of Gandhi Square and seeing how people themselves were transforming Johannesburg.

SS:

What brought about your interest in using light as a medium for your art?

MN:

Because of my interest in electronic media and my interest in technology- all technologies use some form of light. That was the one thing. The other part was that, I guess, in contemporary society we are drawn to big and shiny things. If something is on the television, we would rather change the channel a thousand times rather than to wait and see what will appear because we have this sense of control in our interaction [with the television]. A lot of modern technology, especially television, is able to shine back at you and interact back with you. That ability to talk back, that allows us to respond back to light in certain ways. On another level, my interest in light stems from my interest in astronomy and questions on things that are beyond what we understand. We are always looking back in time. When you are looking at the sky, you are always looking back in time because light bounces off of something and takes time to reach our eyes.  That star you see in the sky may no longer be there, but we would not know because we are looking back in time.  In that time, something else happened in that shift of time. I’m interested in that time/space question. On the one hand, I am interesting in looking at our use of public space as space is something we use to orient our bodies. It is also interesting to look at space in terms of time, how space changes in relation to time.  For me, light embodies both. You live in space and you create space by articulating time. But [light] also speaks about that  relationship between time and space.

Amandelboom

SS:

What brought about your interest in astronomy? How did that come about? Because art is usually seen as being separate from science?

MN:

So my interest is really in the science. Again, because of my early days of working with technology, it has been interesting speaking to hackers and other people in terms of understanding the scientific method and comparing it to the artistic method. I am interested in seeing how other people explore the world, not just through artistic means. And science is one of those explorations which have been one of the most accessible, for me to engage with. Astronomy and astrophysicists, I guess, ask some of those questions, I had been asking at that time. Who am I? Why am I here? Who am I in this context? Am I really so foreign on the basis of my skin colour in a city that is transforming? What is my future here? How do I relate to other people in this place? And they are asking these questions, but on a more global, larger level. Who are we in the universe? Are we the only ones here? How do we position the science to inform how we live here and beyond? I see myself dealing with things, on a micro level, that scientists and astrophysicists are dealing with on a bigger level in terms of life. I see those parallels between my art-making and those larger questions, my personal identity-seeking and those larger questions. That identity-seeking question is one that has been most tackled by archaeologists and astrophysicists as I true to understand who am I in this position? Not only in the bigger picture, but who am I in South Africa right now? What is my responsibility? What is my task? What is meant to be my orientation here?

SS:

Another part of your work is working with shadows. How does darkness influence your work as an artist?

MN:

Darkness has got so many levels of meanings. On the one side, it is seen as a negative thing. There is the connotation of the fear factor that comes with darkness.  It’s the lack of development, the struggle around what’s being developed and what’s not. So you have a city that is not lit up, then you assume that it must be a bad city. But my question sometimes is, it must be the darkness in sometimes in some of these spaces we don’t recognise which allows us to our imaginations more than in those spaces that are lit up. For instance, when we’re in our bedroom and we see a strange space in a corner, it might just be a pile of clothing- that classic example used in children’s books. The pile of clothing that’s casting the shadow, or that tree outside your window that’s casting the shadow on your blinds, makes your imagination run wild. You try to make sense of what that shadow is, rather than the light. You always try to make sense of what that object is, rather than trying to make sense of what is surrounding the object. For me, the shadow is almost a form that gets us to ask more questions. A lot of these- what I imagine- explorers are looking at, are the spaces between the stars. I, whenever I look through a telescope, often sit in the dark and I draw the space between the stars. My pen moves around the piece of paper and I, instead of trying to draw the dots where the stars are, am trying to imagine the spaces between them. Creating my own kind of world, because that is what will get me to imagine the actual object, in other words, the stars. If we start by looking at what’s in between objects, we start imagining what is in between two objects or two countries. We start to wonder about what lies between border lines. If you think of zooming into the border line on a map, what lies between the two countries- the tensions, the movements, that line on the map is actually a big thing. What is a line? Similarly, our shadows or the by-products of us articulate something through our shadows. Again, for me, the importance lies in that in-between space.

Merida, Mexico

SS:

How have your collaborations with Stephen Hobbs influenced your development as an artist?

MN:

So Stephen and I have become like brothers. Our relationship has become a really important collaboration- we share a studio, we work together, we collaborate together, and I would say that my own personal growth and development has been parallel to his. I always try to acknowledge him wherever I can. It is a very important relationship, not only in terms reflecting and building up my own work we speak about each other’s work. We support each other.  And also, our collaborations as artists are embodied in both of our works. Our project in Dakar, for example, is as much my work as it is his. What’s interesting, for me, is that you as an artist get to reflect on your own work through working with someone else. It’s obviously important to draw the line in terms of making the distinction between each person’s works but it is more enriching than anything else. You can only do that with someone you really trust, and you can only do that with someone who you feel is fully supportive of what you’re doing. I feel as though we feel the same way about each other. My attitude towards collaboration is a true one. I really feel that my work grows in dialogue with someone else. I know that there are many artists who argue against that- they work in their studios and paint by themselves. But I really feel that the exchange process is what shapes work. Very often, in today’s society, that is really important and luckily Stephen feels the same way. By finding each other, we have been very lucky in that regard.

SS:

How do you integrate light with indigenous storytelling as a way of getting subjects to tell their own stories?

MN:

Subjects, very often, have their own stories. I’m not necessarily looking for subjects, or the people I’m working with, to tell their stories. I’m not looking for them to unearth their personal stories if they don’t want to. I’m asking them to reflect on the process they’re going through and to create meaning through that process. The Big Bang image, for example, I wouldn’t say that the kids in that image are thinking of the Big Bang before they created that image. I did prompt that thus, allowing them to tell their stories. I doubt that they sit around during the day thinking ‘ooh let’s think about the Big Bang’ (laughs). On the one hand, I’m trying to get them to tell their stories which are specific to the encounter I am having with them. I don’t want to assume that I can extract people’s personal agendas, their struggles with their families, or struggles with abuse. I’m not trying to extract that from them. It’s not about me trying to be a therapist and using storytelling as a means of gaining catharsis. That happens on the side. Suddenly, you have people opening up to you and wanting to share something else with you. When I was working in Sutherland for example, Bronwyn [Lace] and I started that project because people had stories that they wanted to share but they hadn’t had the chance to. Things like that are by-products of the projects. They are not what I purposefully aim to achieve. The key word in my project is play. Each project I work on is an experiment, it’s meant to be playful. It’s not towards a specific product. I never know what will come up whenever I start a project. As an experiment, there are many failures. I can’t call them failures but there are many experiments that have not made it into the show. Maybe the visuals aren’t or the stories aren’t that great. Or I don’t feel right about it, whatever it is. Basically strategy in these interactions is that the light is a tool, the camera is a tool and the strategy is that we play and experiment. If something comes of it, great but if nothing comes of it, it’s fine as we have the experience. I think that’s problematic when you have an exhibition; you don’t get to see the experience but you only see the end-product. When someone asks me on the link between the process and the end-product, I feel that maybe I shouldn’t show these results at a museum. But I feel that it is important to present this as one body of work, because it is a way for me to digest everything. This is a selfish, personal journey that I’m going on right now- with the museum. It’s not about the interaction; it’s about processing it, packaging it, and making sense of it. It will carry on- I have no doubt about that.

Big Bang

SS:

My last question is related to the tension between the global North and the global South, in terms of your work with the Smithsonian Museum. Looking at their collection of African artefacts, how do you make sense of that tension that a lot of African artefacts are in the global North and not where they, necessarily, belong?

MN:

It’s a complex tension. On the one hand, one could argue that it is great that these spaces are protecting our artefacts for us. I think that, where my real questioning of that tension comes in- leaving aside the politics and politics of that tension, I as an artist need to question how I talk about my relationship to others. That sounds horrible. So for example, this exhibition is talking about China and I’m consciously representing other people’s stories.  I’m doing it self-consciously, acknowledging wherever I can by acknowledging this process. At the end of the day, what I’m doing isn’t any different from what the Smithsonian Museum is doing; in terms of packaging certain artefact and telling others’ stories in a certain way. The difference is that what I’m doing involves an exchange and interaction going in the other direction. I don’t think we’ll ever see those objects coming back to Africa. That’s then my question- what do we then do if we aren’t going to get those objects back? I know that the Egyptians are fighting to get some of their artefacts back to Egypt. To a certain extent, some of the Egyptians I have spoken to in the last week have said that maybe they don’t want the objects back because they won’t last as long as they would now. So, I’m not saying that one is right and the other one is wrong- we are suffering from a colonial power regardless. The way the world is structured at the moment, there is an imbalance. It’s an economic imbalance; it’s a cultural dominance imbalance, in terms of who owns what and who invades what for what natural resources. We know this; it’s on the news every day. It’s on our news each day. It’s not only a global issue. It’s also a local issue. I’m just hoping to explore this subject through the imaginary, rather than through saying these are the issues. This exhibition is not intended to state that China is colonising us. The intention is to provoke. It is to ask ‘Do you want shark fins from the glow sticks that you sent me?’ It’s a bit of a cheeky thing but it’s also a fun thing. I’m trying to keep the sense of play and animation in the work. With the filming of the shadows, especially at the Smithsonian, it’s given them a new of looking at this. The curators and conservationists at the Smithsonian were walking with me and remarking on how they’d never seen their collection like that before. They’d never thought about their collection like that. It’s not about the objects; it’s about the shadow that they cast. Symbolically, metaphorically, that is such an interesting link. And so, they got excited about seeing the collection that they have in a different way. They understand that the collection is problematic- you don’t have to tell them that. They work with that every day. They’re not proud of the fact that they have this collection, they’re not proud of how it was acquired. They’re proud that they can be ambassadors towards what this collection represents. That could also be seen as problematic if I wanted to blame them for that. But what the filming of the shadows does is that it gives them a different way of seeing and imagining what that collection may represent. It gives them a new way of relating to the collection as they interact with it in the work that they do every day. For me, that’s what’s important. We all understand the problematic nature of relations between the global North and the global South. The challenge is to re-look at, as well as, re-imagine those relations.

Erosion

04th May2015

New Week, New Writers

by admin

This week’s edition of exPress imPress has some very exciting topics in store for you! We also welcome some new writers this week and some writers from last year’s blog team make an appearance again.

In Impressions – My Diary: Manuel Mafakane writes about the constinuously shifting 21st century and the results of such and Ahmed Kajee gives his perspective on the double standards present in the media and society today.

In Impressing – Entertainment and Lifestyle: Ntombifuthi Mpila compares dark-skinned girls to light-skinned girls in relation to the current Miss World Zimbabwe and Miss South Africa, Relebogile Nyama sheds light over the recent global trend amongst the youth on social media and Sandiswe Sondzaba reviews the Penny Siopis’ Time and Again retrospective exhibition that is currently on display at WAM.

And finally, in Express – Current Affairs: Jeffrey Motlhamme writes about the violent rioting that has been taking place in Baltimore, Maryland as a result of Freddie Gray’s death which occurred under police custody. He additionally includes his views on how Hip Hop and rap artists have contributed to peace in the Baltimore community.

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We hope you enjoyed this action-packed edition!

See you again next week – same time, same place!

Jess

04th May2015

Penny Siopis: “Time and Again”

by admin

Sandiswa Sondzaba provides her review on Penny Siopis’ Time and Again retrospective exhibition which is currently on display at Wits Art Museum.

Since the 20th of April 2015, internationally-renowned artist Penny Siopis’ retrospective exhibition, Time and Again, has been on display at the Wits Art Museum (WAM). The exhibition draws from major institutional and personal collections within South Africa.  Working with the genres of painting, sculpture, video and multi-media installations, Siopis explores narratives around personal and collective history, trauma, shame and loss.

During her talk-about, Siopis discussed how Time and Again refers to how time repeats itself with incremental changes in each repetition. This exploration of time repeating itself is explored on multiple levels; through the display of significant works from her oeuvre as well as through how items have been arranged in various parts of the museum.

The main gallery displays her famous Baroque banquet paintings, among them including: Melancholia as well as her ink and glue paintings. The ink and glue paintings are vivid pieces in hues of whites, browns, and pinks which communicate a sense of vitality and violence. The main gallery also consists of two short films, one of them being: My Lovely Day, which is a semi-autobiographical short film that explores her childhood and her Greek heritage. The other parts of the gallery display her infamous Pinky Pinky series, her “cake paintings”, and her work with London’s Freud Museum.

With Siopis, work materiality is as important as the subject matter. This is demonstrated through her use of time-ravaged home videos bought from markets to make her videos. As you look at her work, you begin to develop an appreciation of the cyclical nature of time and how the passage of time is dependent on narratives. Alongside Fiona Rankin-Smith, Siopis has managed to curate an exhibition which comments on how historical narratives have affected South Africans over time. These narratives are related to the processes of racing and gendering which have affected how women, and especially black women, have been represented in both personal and national discourses. This process of racing has also resulted in shame which is explored through the Pinky Pinky and the short film Obscure White Messenger; both looking at how racing engenders belonging as well as fear of the “other”.

Siopis’ Time and Again exhibition really communicates ideas around South Africans’ psychological trauma, which is manifested on both a personal and national level. Siopis certainly succeeds in producing an exhibition which is thought-provoking and which invites the audience to engage with the ideas that she brings forward through her works.

Below is Siopis’ piece titled: Patience on a Monument.

wam

Time and Again is on at WAM until the 20th of July 2015.

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