Think of Number 6
July 15 to August 15 @ Gus/Stellenbosch
and September 9 to 24 @ Point of Order, Johannesburg
Hentie van der Merwe
Claude Van Lingen
Performances by Ben Patterson:
“A penny for your thoughts” (2012) Sept. 9 @Point of Order
“Paper Piece” (1960) Sept. 12 @Joburg Art Fair
“Tristan and Isolde” (AKA ‘Lick’), Sept. 13 @Troyeville Hotel
Our title comes from a 1962 process work by Fluxus artist Ben Patterson that humorously points to the non-place of images (not necessarily in the body or in things). When the anonymous group Tokolos makes a stencil of the phrase “Remember Marikana”, they are taking specific words from a tragic event and transforming them into a painted image, a symbol of universal demands against dehumanization. When Mendi+Keith Obadike use a Basquiat painting as a musical score, what we hear is a very personal and emotional reading, a conversation between artists, alive and passed, about the traumatic history of the Black Atlantic and the legacy of speaking back with its music. By bringing attention to work like this, Think of Number 6 asks: How does medium affect meaning? How can thinking critically about the material form through which images are experienced give insight into our increasingly mediatized world? How, as a working tool, have artists used the strategy of bringing attention to the invisible work of media (whether the internet, or drawing, or photography) in order to reveal and to challenge comfortable assumptions about how we see in the world? Our selection of works is cross-generational and international, but with relevance to the South African predicament. It addresses issues such as race, culture, history, memory and gender in complex, non-literal ways. We have also included works that illustrate how critical approaches toward technology, and creative play with forms and mediums, can be tools for social activism.
Think of Number 6 is curated by John Peffer, with Bettina Malcomess.
Point of Order is located in Braamfontein, ground floor Noswal Hall, Corner Bertha and Stiemens.
For press inquiries and images, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Herstory Inventory (2009)
5-channel audio installation
Herstory Inventory is a collaborative performative reading initiated by Ulrike Müller, with Nancy Brooks Brody, Emma Hedditch, Zoe Leonard, and Megan Palaima. The 5-channel audio installation was based on the inventory list of the Lesbian Herstory Archives’ expansive collection of T-shirts in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The installation work reproduces the live interaction of five women sitting at a table reading the image descriptions. The images themselves, collected and inventoried in this found list, form a particular image history of the feminist and lesbian rights movement from the 1970s onward. The enumeration itself is quite poignant. But as the item list of the collection is read aloud it is also heard in different voices, sometimes alone, sometimes speaking all at once as if in excited conversation or in argument. As listeners try to picture these images in their own minds, they also join in this circle of speech, image, recollection, and dialogue. A space for affinities and differences opens. Through the audio recording relationships to activist histories and the body’s connection to the archive are addressed. The project pays homage to an activist feminist history and its conflicting positions and productive debates. It is a reflection on collective and individual movements, bodies present and absent, and the present tense.
This same inventory list was later used as the starting point for drawings based on the textual descriptions alone. With the goal of starting a conversation on the lesbian feminist movement and examining the visibility of queer bodies within mainstream culture and the Museum, Müller orchestrated a collaborative drawing project based on the inventory list of the feminist T-shirt collection at the Lesbian Herstory Archives. She distributed textual T-shirt descriptions to feminists, queer artists, and other interested parties, and asked that they translate these texts into new images. A total of 100 drawings was produced and published in book format, which is also on view in the exhibition.
Viewers of this exhibition are invited to think, as Müller does in her feminist practice, about the history of images from recent and past South African struggles for rights, as they continue to be embodied and refigured through anecdote, storytelling, debate, and other forms of verbal recollection. The artist herself is especially interested in how her project might or might not translate within the specific context of South Africa.
An audio sample is available here: http://um.encore.at/works/herstory-inventory
think of number 6 (1962)
think of number 6 is a process work by Patterson, originally published in 1962 as part of a booklet titled Methods and Processes. It is a sequence of thought actions, a kind of mental gymnastics or cerebral yoga meant to lead to a wider awareness of the work of perception. think of number 6 builds complex ideas and possibilities out of an elemental set of instructions that lead us to question how an image is embodied–where an image is and what its substance is. This playful work asks us to participate with our own bodies and our own minds in exploring the possible meaning of a deceptively simple image, number 6.
What is 6? What can it look like? Is it necessarily in the mind, on paper, or on a wall? Does it have a definite shape? What is its meaning and how does this change depending on how it is thought in mind, or spoken with a human mouth, or written or typed by hand as a figure. Where does its picture reside? For each the answers will be as unique as a personal history and as common as a shared social life. Depending on how it is embodied, a number 6 carries multiple and different associations: 6, 9, 69, 666, six, ses, sex, sicks, six million sixes, sies. Try not to think of number 6.
Benjamin Patterson was one of the founders of Fluxus, the international artists’ network that in the 1960s challenged the boundaries of visual art, music, and theatre via an anti-commercial approach to creative practice. Along with artists associated with the Futurism, Dada, Happenings, and Gutai groups, Patterson and his Fluxus cohort helped invent what are now known under the general terms “sound art,” “performance art,” “conceptual art,” and “relational aesthetics”. Fluxus methods continue to influence experimental artistic practice today, especially their use of everyday materials and live chance events (following the philosophy of John Cage), and their approach to art making with its spirit of openness and mischievous humor that includes the audience in the act of creation.
This exhibition, inspired in part by experiments in Patterson’s work, invites the audience to be co-creators by rethinking assumptions about images and the significance of how they are situated in material/technical form in the world or in the mind.
Claude Van Lingen
1000 Years From Now (2006)
Endangered species of the 21st century
- Birds 6B graphite stick on paper
- Snails 9H pencil on paper
- Crustaceans 6B graphite stick on paper
- Clams 9H pencil on paper
(Courtesy MAP South Africa)
Claude Van Lingen’s 1000 Years From Now works explore the non-linearity of space-time. Initially the dates for one thousand years into the future were written on top of the other, and in later series lists of names were used. Each series in this format consists of drawings made with a pencil ranging from 6B to 9H. Softer graphite, when layered so many times, creates a smooth, almost mirror-like burnished surface. Harder grades of pencil eventually tear and destroy the paper support, and as the paper beneath falls apart new sheets are added, resulting in greyed and blackened and torn sculptural left overs. It is as if all of the signatures made by an individual hand over many years were seen at once, either effacing themselves or destroying their means of support depending on the pressure applied and the softness of the receiving surface. It is as if all these signatures layered together also contained all of the forces of emotion and social circumstance experienced by a person over a lifetime.
These drawings use primary components of art, the line and time, and basic tools of the artist, pencil and paper. They explore the limits of these fundamentals of art and design in the world and their potential for meaning making beyond figuration. Van Lingen’s insistence upon traditional hand made techniques further addresses the question of their potential demise in our digitally obsessed world. The works literally draw out the linear concepts of space and time, as well as the the lived experience of time as duration, endurance, repetition, and forgetting. These are process/performance works in their final state. They portray experiences that are otherwise difficult to picture, and in a non literal way: of fatigue, decay, obsolescence, and the palimpsest and erasure inherent to memory. They enact the layering of every physical, conscious and subconscious experience we might have as individuals or as a community. Just as our bodies move images from mind to hand, these works encapsulate otherwise intangible events, emotions, and conditions that link the past, present, and anticipated future into a simultaneous whole.
The present exhibition includes a date drawing and Schindler’s list (at Point of Order), and four examples from Endangered species of the 21st century (at GUS). For the series Endangered species of the 21st Century, the scientific and common names of species that are expected to become extinct are written with graphite of varying grades. Here the medium of drawing in its essence evokes the consumption, destruction, and eventual loss caused by mankind on earth.
Hentie van der Merwe
24 LightJet prints on Fuji metallic paper
This series consists of LightJet prints on Fuji metallic photo paper that has been Diasec mounted in frames made from sapele, a type of African hardwood used during the apartheid era to manufacture desks and filing cabinets for State offices. Each image is a face that has been produced by means of an elaborate process of physical and metaphorical appropriation, reflection, and manipulation, moving them from the digital and impersonal to the hand-made and intimate.
Van der Merwe begins by spending countless hours online looking through “selfie” photographs people have posted of their own reflections captured in private mirrors by cellphone cameras. Today online platforms for hosting such collections of images are a self-regulating photo-archive of body and face types that are available for everyone’s participation. In light of photographic portraiture’s dubious historic alliance with authoritarian forms control, we are now witnessing a troubling shift to new and more public forms of self-presentation via a commoditized voyeuristic realm (the internet) that has yet to leave the problematic history of the identity photo behind.
While going through these collections of photographed bodies, both naked and clothed, van der Merwe pauses on images that intrigue him for personal reasons, and downloads them. He imports these into Photoshop, alters the colors, and isolates the faces. The photographs are then printed out and suspended by hand in front of a flexible mirror, and the reflection is re-photographed onto transparency film by means of a medium-format film camera mounted on a tripod. During processing the film is also further manipulated by means of push-processing so as to distort the colors. The resultant transparencies are then re-digitized by means of a drum scanner and then reprinted, mounted, and framed.
This process is a meditation on the new dialectics of meaning and desire between the personal and the public that online looking at others via their digital visages creates. Van der Merwe removes selfies from the commodity realm back into the personal realm, while preserving and respecting the anonymity of the original subjects. He transforms them into gemlike and radiant new forms that reveal their originals as abstract mirrors of the viewer’s own desire.
Beauty Remarks (2014-2015)
archival inkjet prints
- Small and alone
- Was here
- Went away
- I thought so
- Sixteen twenty-four
- His holiness
Greenspan’s digital ink prints originate from marks made while retouching photographs. They highlight the digital and analog methods for correcting, erasing, and rebuilding that are commonly used for retouching. These marks on the image are always present, but hidden, in the making of realistic or documentary images. Greenspan brings them to the surface. Unlike proper retouching she discards the original and leaves the remarks. All of the wrinkles, blemishes, and tears that are usually removed from the faces of people and the surfaces of old paper photographs when retouched, all of the color enhancements and light adjustments and image fixes that are applied, behind the scenes, to so-called documentary photos — these, without the original referents, become the basis for new, abstract layered creations.
Greenspan began this series by scanning her own old family photographs and retouching them with Photoshop tools and adjustment layers. Retouching is slow and methodical, not unlike the searching and organizing processes of remembering. The images develop as Greenspan eliminates the underlying original scan so that only the marks made during the retouching process are left. These marks are then manipulated, drawn over, and collaged using both the computer and the artist’s hand, and then printed and reprinted. The original photographs determine the initial placement of the marks, but the final abstract images are the result of constant revising and reconsidering, taking away and adding, thus returning a new sense of beauty to the originals which have been damaged by time and wear.
Since moving to Johannesburg in 2014 Greenspan has been applying her technique to local found images, using damaged and cast away portraits from old photo studios, and replacing the damaged or destroyed areas with beautiful abstractions. These new works preserve and respect the anonymity of the original sitters while creating an aesthetic dialog with the original intentions of the portraits which was to make people look beautiful and elegant, whatever their circumstances in life.
Textures built from words found in the paintings of Raymond Saunders and Jean-Michel Basquiat are the foundation for this composition. Both painters are well known for creating works that blur the line between high and low forms. As in hip-hop, Saunders’ and Basquiat’s employment of found objects and graffiti techniques is significant in crafting a personal sign or tag out of appropriated materials. This performance of a group of paintings and collages offers both a personal insight into a reading of works of visual art, and a more general meditation on the intersection of African American imagery and style in avant garde art and music. From the DJ culture of sample, cut and mix, to visual collage, Automatic explores the crosstalk between how and what may be heard and seen.
Automatic is an improvisation constructed from several images by Basquiat and Saunders rather than from traditional musical notation. It is an audio collage in homage to two pioneering black visual artists, whose work itself often contains references to musical culture and street signage culture. What we hear is a personal conversation between artists, alive and passed, about the traumatic history of the Black Atlantic and the legacy of speaking back with music.
New mental images emerge in the mind of the listener through these associations, translations, and mediations from one medium to another, from one body to another. We hear a verbal reading of the visual works with other sonic textures layered in. We hear the texts drawn and crossed out in the paintings. We hear a bringing into conversation of Basquiat’s scribbles on blues musician Robert Johnson (the “undiscoved genius of the Mississippi delta”) and a litany of items from the history of Atlantic slavery (axes, sickles, forks, mattocks, and commodities: sugar, tobacco, alcohol, human princes and kings) and interjections of anti-vietnam war and civil rights slogans found in Saunders’ collages. In a more general sense, by placing the two visual artists into sonic collage, Automatic is in dialogue with histories of black and experimental musical forms, with blues, and hip hop DJ culture, as well as with analogous sound experiments from the Futurists, to John Cage to Sun Ra, with found and processed sound works, and with the musical improvisations of free jazz.
Automatic was first created as an installation for the street, and was later released on CD, performed live, and on radio.
An audio sample is available here: http://obadike.tripod.com/Automaticsample.mp3
- screen shots from Facebook
- four illustrated letters
- Letters for Gebane, linoleum cut (courtesy Muti Gallery)
Since 2003, through a variety of media including performance, epistolary, and printmaking, Senzeni Marasela has been exploring the figure of the rural woman. Her current project focuses on the experiences of a woman, Theodorah, who waits behind in the village for her husband then goes to the city in search of him. Her subject is women’s subjection to black and white patriarchy and to class-based exclusion, and the courageous expectation, the longing, and the lessons of endless waiting for an absent man.
While many South African artists have used the figure of the black working class woman, few have explored it as thoroughly and with as much personal risk. For the past two years Marasela has been wearing the same type of red print pattern dress, called Seshoeshoe, that marks her as a married woman from Lesotho. Gebane has left Theodorah behind in their village. She is in Johannesburg looking for him, in order to be liberated from him, and has vowed to remain in the same dress for 5 years as she looks for her man. Though the characters are fictional they correspond to the real lives of countless women.
Every day Marasela goes out as this character, searching for Gebane as she walks in Johannesburg, or otherwise going about her daily life as a school teacher and as an internationally known artist. As people interact with her she records it in her diary. She writes letters (never sent) that tell stories about the collective lives of rural women. Occasionally she cuts a linoleum print to record some specific aspect of her experiences.
Online, Marasela posts reactions to her appearance: When she was in Italy at the Venice Biennale a woman approached her in the street offering food and clothing, assuming she was a destitute immigrant. When visiting a friend in the gentrified Maboneng district in Johannesburg, she was barred entry into the building by a security guard who told her to use the rear entrance. She was called “boring–one dress” by students in Soweto. But she has also been spoken to with concern and hospitality by strangers on the street to whom she has shown awkward drawings of the “face of Gebane,” asking if they have seen him anywhere (some have!). Through all of these encounters she unravels a complex tale.
Each medium creates new potential for significance. Handwritten letters are a space for internal dialog and the sharing of narratives, such as the abuse of young women by older men, or the drudgery of women’s lives in the rural areas. The public wearing of the dress creates a space for spontaneous interactions and interpersonal dynamics that are at turns humorous, shameful, instructive, or revelatory. And the cutting of linoleum allows specific ideas to become solid, tamed and framed, starkly inscribed.
When the anonymous group Tokolos makes a stencil of the phrase “Remember Marikana,” they are taking words that call attention to a specific tragic event and transforming them into a painted image, a symbol of universal demands against dehumanization. As a picture the words become generalized, they become a slogan, and they become a logo of a popular movement. But this logo is one whose message is in every other way the opposite of corporate product branding. Its mediums are the repeatable paper cut-out, anonymity, and tagging in the streets.
Tokolos have made a stencil of the figure of Mgcineni Noki, known as “Mambush,” the miners’ negotiator in the green blanket who was killed by police during the Lonmin strike in 2012. A photograph of Mambush with his arm outstretched was widely circulated. This image persists, now as a ubiquitous stencil. It has been sprayed on the sides of public sculpture, on highway overpasses and busy street corners, and on the walls of shebeens in the shack lands. Through its translation from man, to newspaper image, to stencil Mambush’s image plays a new role as an icon of struggle. This is similar to what happened to Sam Nzima’s newspaper photograph of Hector Pieterson carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo in Soweto on June 16, 1976. The newspaper itself was banned, and yet the picture on its cover circulated widely through verbal storytelling and via countless hand-drawn illustrations on posters, in the process becoming a symbol of the whole of the Soweto uprising and of the courage and trauma of the children in the streets.
There is also a Tokolos stencil of the green blanket, Mambush’s blanket. It stands as synecdoche for the whole of what we might call the Marikana complex in South Africa today: the alliance of government and industry that led to the tragedy on the mines. From a certain angle it looks like the outline map of a country, a greener Mzansi. As a stencil it may be placed cutout style onto images of other personalities including government officials, police ministers, and heads of companies implicated in violence against their workers.
Placing slogans from the streets into an art gallery does not make them into art, but it can help educate the public about how Tokolos and collectives like them have been engaging in an activism that makes use of the tools of art. In South Africa and abroad, clever re-captioning or other contextual modification and the alteration of meaning via the translation of images across media have historically been useful devices for engaging in tactics of image inversion against misleading or repressive forms of corporate and government propaganda. Without regular access to news media or government, the concerns of the otherwise voiceless in society are amplified, by necessity, through these kinds of guerilla graffito actions. Defacement of corporate billboards and so-called “public” sculpture can reveal how these things are themselves intrusions of vested interests into what should be free public spaces. Though deemed illicit, it is a form for contesting the complacency in mainstream culture about the power of images to disenfranchise the voiceless, marginalized, and impoverished in our communities.
TV’s from Craigslist
TVs From Craigslist uses images of the screens of TVs for sale that the artist has found online. In these mundane pictures you sometimes see hints of the seller’s interior space reflected. They offer intimate access into the lives of strangers, little gestures of private exposure to the great anonymous screen-based world. To Penelope Umbrico, these inadvertent self-portraits of the sellers, these unconsidered images, seem like pleas for attention. She isolates the site of these gestures to expose the promise, and ultimate absence, of intimacy that the internet fosters.
Umbrico’s work explores the various looks and meanings of photography as it is used today in commerce and online, revealing how popular aesthetics and self imaging are put together. Her work asks what is and where is the photograph today and how do the uses of photo images help construct our experience of the world and create meaning in our lives. She appropriates found images, calling attention to kinds of photography that are everywhere yet remain invisible because of their commonness. And she prompts us to think again about what is happening in these spaces where we, through our images, are found.
Craigslist is the main US venue for online used goods sales, similar to Gumtree in South Africa. It is a place to meet people who are selling everything because they are leaving home, or down on their luck, or addicts, or are into the “eco” lifestyle of commodity recycling. It is a place where things kept and used and touched and handled in the home are sold to strangers. It is a place (like the internet itself) where our personal collections of things are dispersed to others via commerce and pictures. If we consider it as a place of image reflection, it is where buying and selling and the image of the self intertwine.
First Umbrico was looking for signs of the presence of the person in the camera flash reflected on the seller’s TV screen, but she began to see further hints of the seller’s interior space reflected in them. Sometimes one can make out an unmade bed, or a room filled with junk, or a gogo on a sofa, or the person taking the picture (of their used TV) in their underpants. One thing that photography has promised since its invention, but rarely delivered, is this kind of unposed, candid, naked view of reality. Here, in these unaware selfies, the common man tells it like it is.
Umbrico downloads the images, crops all but the screen, enlarges each to scale and prints an edition of 2 of each. During an exhibition, she uploads the images to Craigslist in the city the exhibition is taking place and lists them under the heading “TVs for sale”. There, the first edition of each of the prints is available for purchase for the price of the original TV (ranging anywhere from $10-$300). The second edition becomes available for purchase at gallery prices after the Craigslist edition is sold. In this way the project abuts the art market with the common market, revealing how value is created for similar items in different class realms.