Writing Art History Since 2002

First Title

Art South Africa Volume 6: Issue 03
Alhyrian Laue; Dead Revolutionaries Club; Doing it for Daddy; Lerato Shadi

left – right Alhyrian Laue, Hypocaustic Grotto, Latrine Larder, An Evening of Social Tightrope Walking, all 2007, all found objects and mixed media.
Photos Tim Hopwood.
Alhyrian Laue’s astonishing and deeply unsettling installations, recently exhibited on the graduate student exhibition at Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), both conceal and reveal unnameable desires. Working very often on an instinctive level, Laue uses the cupboard primarily as metaphor for human sexuality. He is interested in what he refers to as binary opposites. Without realising it, some elements in his work echo those of a NMMU student from the 1990s, Stephen Rosin.
Rosin dealt primarily with concepts of vision, knowledge and information in his assemblage work. Very often, he presented instruments of seeing, such as spectacles, old lenses and binoculars, but they never functioned properly. Knowledge, vision and insight in Rosin’s work were, more often than not, presented as involving some degree of futility and frustration. At the time some viewers saw this as indicative of public distrust in academics and researchers, and their general refusal to decipher anything more complicated than a road sign.
Laue’s use of lenses and mirrors operates quite differently. In many of his cupboard constructions, a looking device is proffered. When the viewer peers into this device, knowing already that they are viewing sexual organs made from organic plant material, they are presented with no further clue as to the meaning of the work – instead they see their own eye reflected back at them in a mirror. In the case of his work Hypocaustic Grotto, the viewer sees not only their own eye by also their crotch, visible through the giant vulva of a plant.
Some of Laue’s assemblages have motorised parts that move either slowly and repetitively, or in convulsive spasms, adding to the disquiet of his work. An Evening of Social Tightrope Walking uses this in a way that references Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass. Just as the bachelors are forever condemned to their repetitive mechanical grinding, always denied access to the bride, so does the large seaweed sperm-cell with its enamel head and needle-like protrusion gyrate and convulse endlessly, forever suspended above the little metal ovum, consummation eternally denied and frustrated.
Laue, who is completing his final year of his undergraduate studies, uses his work to both decode and reflect his immediate society. Similar to his predecessor, Rosin, Laue’s work often ends up shedding light on some dark little corners of Port Elizabeth’s collective psyche, in particular through the materiality of his objects. He points out that the found objects he uses always have a history, and that this history travels with the object even as it is re-contextualised – here Laue echoes the Surrealist belief that the junk-heap is the collective unconscious of the metropolis.
Laue is also fascinated with the way people interact with each other, and the inherent tension therein, especially in places he refers to as meat-markets: the bars where the young of Port Elizabeth perform their drunken yet highly choreographed sexual tangos. Like his lecturer, Jennifer Ord – who praises his responsiveness to input – Laue shares a Duchampian detachment, not only from these social processes, but also from the art industry itself. Aware that he will never earn a cent from his installations in Port Elizabeth, he is also cognizant of the fact that they will, in all likelihood, be too leftfield for the bigger markets of Johannesburg and Cape Town too.
Tim Hopwood is an artist and musician living in Port Elizabeth.

About Alhyrian Laue: Born in Johannesburg (1985), Laue completed his B-Tech Fine Art diploma at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in 2007. He has twice been selected for the Sasol New Signatures Competition, and to date shown only on small group exhibitions in Hamburg (near East London) and Nieu Bethesda.

Wandile Maseko, Accident #32, Zoo Lake, Johannesburg, 2007, digital print on archival paper.


What is the Dead Revolutionaries Club?
DRC Artist: Well, in a nutshell it’s a … club for … dead revolutionaries. Actually there’s no one that’s dead. Or revolutionary. Actually it’s just a club. For a bunch of artists.
Okay, but what does the DRC do, and why?
DRC Linguist: You seem very educated and smart and all that so I’m surprised that you don’t know that the DRC is a country in the middle of Africa and used to be called Zaire.
Ok, ok! What activities are the Dead Revolutionaries Club engaged in, and why?
DRC Curator: Ohm, you should have just said that in the first place. We’ve a monthly lecture series, free Saturday art classes, and a really cool website. We also try to put up exhibitions and one-day art events. Why did we start this club? Mainly to fight our own disillusionment with the art scene and to inject a new dose of humour, creativity, radicalism, and experimentation into the South African art world. We also aim to provide a platform where black, African, third world voices in the creative spheres can be given free reign and listened to without patronisation.
Your collective’s name sounds like the Dead Poets Society.
DRC Poet: Yes, it is. Except there’s only one poet and we’re not a society. We’re a clique of mad, politically incorrect black people who draw a lot of our inspiration from, but not only, popular culture. Unlike all thosE oh-so-deep people that populate the art world we are unashamed addicts of mindless entertainment. And we don’t subscribe to the idea that just because cinema or music is entertaining, it does not make you think or lacks criticality.
Who makes up DRC?
DRC Poet: Two artists, a linguist, a poet, and a curator form the main posse but we welcome all who identifies with our mission.
So why do you have the Coon face in you logo? Isn’t that a bit offensive, negating the work of cultural critics who have critiqued the objectification of black people?
DRC Linguist: The Coon caricature has a multivalent history and meaning. It is used by many people in many carnivals where black people were enslaved. These carnivals are not just a celebration but incorporate forms of dance and gestures that poke fun at the slave master so they can be very – dare I say – subversive.
A lot of hot websites and hip collectives have come and gone. What makes yours special and how are you going to stop it from falling on its face like others?
DRC Artist There is nothing that makes us special except our good looks. We only do the things we do that are important to us and we will do everything to ensure that our message goes to as many people as we can reach, for as long as we can with as much commitment, energy and creativity as we can manage. We are not afraid to fail. If you look at it even if collectives and revolutions fail they do set a new standard for others that follow and their impact extends far beyond the lifespan of whatever idea they had originally. So death is good, it allows for something better to emerge.

About the Dead Revolutionaries Club: Founded in 2007, members include Khwezi Gule, Sharlene Khan and Fouad Asfour. Previous events have included a public dis- cussion on the cultural divide between Anglophone and Francophone Africa, with presentations by Ivorian artist and poet, Véronique Tadjo, and South African filmmaker, Ramadan Suleiman (October 14, 2007), also a discussion on cultural magazines, with contributions by Bandile Gumbi, Dina Ligaga and Carl Collison (January 27, 2008).

Renee Holleman (left), Bettina Malcomess and Linda Stupart (looking back from viewing deck), aka Doing it for Daddy, leading a site- specific tour of the Spier Wine Estate, February 2008.
How was your collective born?
Linda: While smoking single cigarettes and drinking cheap coffee outside Michaelis Art and Hardware, discussing Sharlene Kahn’s then recently published diatribe – published in Art South Africa – against white women in the art world who were apparently perpetuating the very same hegemony that still oppressed them, and everybody else.
Renee: This was complete with a list of the accused.
Renee: Back then, us daddy’s girls included Ruth Sachs, stolen away to Paris when she won the Absa L’atelier Award.
Linda: Ms. Khan’s article was entitled “Doing it For Daddy”, a phrase filched from bell hooks.
Bettina: After contemplating angry combative responses, we decided it might be better to make work that questioned the kinds of framings and assumptions the article perpetuated …
Renee: … in a non-combative kind of way.
Linda: Gill Joubert calls us “Friendly Subversives”.
What’s your modus operandi?
Bettina: We like to make work that critiques the structure in which that work exists.
Renee: For example at the opening of Trans Cape
Linda: … the biennale that never happened twice!
Bettina: We set up a hawker-style framing stall outside the National Gallery. We got famous artists to sign, customise and mark frames we had collected.
Renee: We then priced these according to how famous they were and sold them. You could pick up a Penny Siopis for R200, or a Jane Alexander for R100.
Linda: The whole event took place at Rosenclaire’s soapboxes. It was filmed and later projected inside the National Gallery, infiltrating the opening event.
Bettina: So much of Cape’s rhetoric was about being the biggest major show of “African art” on the continent that we felt we had to say something. The intervention poked fun at how much work is eclipsed by the discourse, identity and, ultimately, name that frames it.
Virginia MacKenny nominated you for the AVA’s 3C show recently. What was that all about?
Bettina: That show was great for us; it set up a very specific system for us to play with. We’d constructed three acts who each performed a song called Sweet Virginia, a reflection of the curator’s influence on an artist’s production in a group show.
Linda: The best part was stealing the red curtain from the invite, which gallerist Kirsty Cockerill had purposely chosen so as not to single out any one artist on the show.
Speaking of chosen artists, you won an award at Spier Contemporary. What’s this Wrong Side of the River Tour?
Bettina: If you look at footage of the award ceremony you can still see mud clinging to Renee and my clothing from dragging a sunken boat (underwater) across the Spier dam mere hours before …
Linda: … and you’ll notice I am on crutches …
Bettina: … and you can hear Ed Young shouting “lesbians”. Renee: It was a very challenging work, somewhere between performance and installation.
Linda: In short, it takes the exhibition outside of the gallery space on an historical tour of the estate, one that mixes fact and fiction. Complete with faux tour guide, maps and beacons it invokes the invisible histories of the ‘ex-centric’, minor characters of the past, normally hidden in the pristine presentation of the estate now.
Bettina: More than just ironic and critical, we like to think of our work as engaging materiality. We think we’ve found a new brand of ‘rugged conceptualism’.
Renee: We’ve asked Spier for group therapy as part of our prize.

About Doing it for Daddy: Founded in 2006 by Renee Holleman, Bettina Malcomess and Linda Stupart, the artist collective were billed as “creative practitioners hell bent on challenging existing perceptions and attitudes in the visual arts” in a statement on the Cape 07 website. In July last year they staged a one-night event at the AVA Gallery; for their site-specific contribution to Spier Contemporary 2007, launched in mid December 2007, they led participants on a tour of the Spier wine estate.

Lerato Shadi photographed in Richmond, Johannesburg, January 2008 Photo Wandile Maseko.
A flashback. It is a cold August night at the Bag Factory Studios in Fordsburg. Her body swathed in white sheets, her arms outstretched in a Christ-like pose, her feet balanced on a plinth jutting out from a wall high above viewers’ heads: Lerato Shadi. The young Johannesburg artist looks like a chrysalis, about to be born; more than this, she looks exhausted, her eyes distant, her consciousnesses elsewhere.
Months later, seated at a coffee table in the tiny suburban enclave of Richmond, Shadi is her usual self again: ebullient, slightly shy, uncompromisingly honest.
“I wish I had some intellectual way of explaining it,” she states when I ask about a series of suggestively erotic, but essentially abstract photographs she exhibited last year at Gordart Gallery. “The reason I made those works is because I do have what is seen to be a good body.” Of course, there is more to this work than her initial explanation suggests. Titled African Landscape (2006), Shadi’s monochromatic photographs attempt to say things about looking, and how the female form is reduced to “a landscape”, also how the body is staked and claimed, even marked through this looking.
But this is formative work, the nub of our conversation dealing with Shadi’s interest in performance. As it turns out, her Bag Factory ritual, which formed part of a one-night festival of performance, was not her first foray into live action. While at Wits Tech, she barricaded the Doornfontein library of the old Wits Tech with books and chevron tape. The basis for the three-hour intervention was a disagreement Shadi had with the learning institution’s administration, but its deeper impetus – one that cuts through all her performance work – has to do with slowing things up, not only for herself but for her audience too. She uses the word meditation.
“If you look at the Bag Factory work, that was quite meditative,” she says, visibly awkward about having to voice a defined assertion about her youthful practice. “I think most of my works are very selfish, because first and foremost they have to do with me, with my need to just go through that.”
Shadi mentions her performance Hema (or Six hours of out-breathe captured in 792 balloons). Shown as a video projection in Michael Stevenson’s Side Gallery, the work involved Shadi inflating 792 balloons while seated on top of a lift in a flash Cape Town advertising office. The work traces its origins back to a live performance Shadi did at Anthea Moys and Juliana Smith’s Kazoo evening of live performances at Johannesburg’s Premises Gallery in 2006. Where the first version of this performance occupied two hours of her time, the version filmed in Cape Town lasted three times as long.
“Originally it was meant for an office space but Kazoo was a good opportunity to try it out and experiment,” says Shadi. “After that I knew I wanted to do it for longer … because I wanted to meditate more. I always think of my work as a proclamation or wish sent to the universe.”
How did her jaw muscles feel afterwards? “They were sore, but I was happy. It was first and foremost about me wanting to breathe and meditate.”
About Lerato Shadi: Born and raised in Mafikeng, Shadi came to Johannesburg to study hospitality management, eventually switching to fine art. She completed her B-tech (Honours) in Fine Art at the University of Johannesburg in 2006. In November 2007 she presented her first solo exhibition at Michael Stevenson’s Side Gallery. She has shown on several group exhibitions in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

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