My Name is Legion

BYT/02/2010 The first time I met with the secretive collective with no name they threatened to initiate me into it. After seeing photos of them stoically defying various City Bowl authorities while painted a chalkish grey, I was a little concerned.

What exactly would it entail? I asked, trying to case the place for hidden clay slip. Fortunately, I couldn’t find any and the matter of my induction was not brought up again. The theme of initiation, however, came up repeatedly while talking to a small segment of the 29-strong unnamed collective (a tenuous estimation, since their numbers often change). This makes sense, as the members are mostly all third year Michaelis Art students and the collective itself was born out of a class project. Asked, in 2009, to pair up and put on “impermanent and socially-conscious” works at specific sites around the city, the students decided to veto working in twos and instead coagulated into a large, inclusive group. Anna Stielau, a member, explained the thinking behind this: “What realistic difference can two people really make to the space of Cape Town? If the point of pairing up was ostensibly to increase the impact of the final product, wouldn’t four people be better than two? At that, wouldn’t 29 be even more powerful?” The decision also tied in with their attempts to situate themselves as young artists “fighting against the pervasive emphasis on individual art practice bred in contemporary art circles”. On the first day of the project, the group gathered outside the South African National Art Gallery and silently painted themselves grey. The colour was chosen to avoid any particular political connotations, while, interestingly, also functioning as a reference to the concrete nature of the city itself. Haroon Gunn-Salie, another member of the collective, explained that the group decided to remain speechless because of their belief that “young artists can’t be a megaphone for society”. They then embarked on a day-long march across the city, performing at some 16 sites. These locations included the Caledon Square Police Station, where one member tried to persuade the perplexed officers not to arrest them as the rest of the group knelt with their heads flung back, execution style.

……………………..read more in the current issue of Art South Africa magazine