“Oh shit, we’re supposed to be quiet… shhh!” At eye-level, a piece of paper in a plastic sleeve shouts: “PLEASE REFRAIN FROM TALKING. THE GALLERY IS A SILENT ZONE FOR THE DURATION OF THE VERNISSAGE.” As ordered, I stop speaking, and make a mental note to look up the word ‘vernissage’. The tone of A Shot to the Arse immediately starts off by being restrictive. The order to shut up is not about being sacrosanct; it’s more like when a Dom gags a Sub. This group exhibition also comes with a disclaimer: “WARNING: Please note that due to the nature of some of the images on this show it is advisable that the attendance of minors only takes place under parental supervision.”
The entrance wall is plastered with a veritable orgy of the exhibition’s print outs (which are available in the artist-compiled DIY book, entitled BISM) along with slogans like ‘CUFF HER’/ ‘NOTHING IS UNACCEPTABLE’/ ‘FUCK THE DRESS’/ ‘WAKE UP’. We’re talking about dirt, decay, machines and consumerism. How we react to all of this, and how our bodies are at the centre of it all. How we attempt to rise up in anarchy, and ultimately how we adapt. How this cycle is a continuous process that repeats itself, played on an endless loop.
A major theme of A Shot to the Arse is that of counter culture, and what it means to us right now. We’re living in a consumerist and instantaneous Digital Age of Post-Post-Post-Post Modernistic proportions. Whatever that means. Our lives are filled with a deep anxiety, centred on the awareness that everything is transient and fleeting: downloaded, deleted, and easily forgotten. Our lives have been reduced to the banal, and the realm of the voyeur (think: reality TV). Nothing is permanent, even art (Kirby 2006).
In Memoirs of a Killarney Houseboy (the opening image of this story), photojournalist and artist Nadine Hutton plays with this theme by displaying iPhone print outs of a grotesque and bloody threesome. The images are raw, immediate and disturbing. Not to mention gender bending. An axe-wielding dyke smirks to herself, while the male central figure’s groin is a bloody mess (where his manhood should be). A bra-wearing fag with a red-smeared face grins next to him. It’s like Quentin Tarantino for the ‘burbs – iSubversion at it’s best. My only complaint is that (due to the nature of iPhone camera capabilities) the size of the prints is limited. This causes these powerful images to get lost amongst Richardt Strydom’s much larger self-portraits. His photographic series entitled Dubul’ ibhunu is an arresting comment about Afrikaner identity and a feeling of ‘otherness’. It’s influenced by a literary work by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, entitled Decolonising the Mind. Strydom is saying, with his fingers gun-shaped and jammed into his mouth, that Afrikaners need to eliminate parts of their identity that make others feel uncomfortable. In Portret van ‘n jong man (Portrait of a Young Man), graphic images of various bodily organs replace his face. My knowledge of biology is dire, but I think it’s a rectum here, and a large intestine there. It’s a bold, unsettling statement about getting to grips with this uncomfortable Afrikaner ‘otherness’, and purging it from the Modern Afrikaner’s psyche. I’m not sure how Afrikaners will view this work, but, for me, it’s a macabre way of saying “Proudly Afrikaans”.
This exhibition comes with a multitude of themes, and I found myself getting a bit lost in who belongs to what. Despite this, I feel that two big themes override the rest: those of subversion and process. And, for me, the idea that art should be a constant work in progress, is particularly eye opening. This exhibition shows us that the experience of art making is more important than the art object itself.
In Fuck the dress, Belinda Blignaut (the curator) poses this central question, “Is an artwork ever complete?” For Blignaut, we’ve entered a process era. A Home Depot, DIY art era. For her, art shouldn’t be static, and it should change as the artist changes. Should someone buy her crumpled dress on the floor, the collector will become collaborator, as Blignaut will alter the dress according to the buyer’s requests (she has already made alterations to her piece for the duration of the exhibition). Blignaut also plays with how art can ‘converse’ with machines. At the time of writing this review, she informed me that she’s decided to use the gallery’s surveillance camera as part of the creative process. It will take photos of her alterations, and give an added mechanical aspect. Her other work, Sound Residue also deals with the theme of art/machine communication. It’s a set of recordings, made over 17 years (and still in the making). The recordings range from the sublime (a sangoma initiation) to the mundane (unwrapping of gum paper).
Based on the notion that art is dynamic and living, A Shot to the Arse itself is “intuitive and DIY”, as Blignaut puts it. The artists on display have changed throughout the duration of the exhibition, as have some of the works themselves. Even the closing night is up-in-the-air, taking a ‘let’s see what happens’ approach. According to Blignaut, there will be new artists on display, performance, and various sounds from the exhibition will be combined onto an audio track.
It won’t stop there. The exhibition has also gone online (DIRTY BOOTS), which serves as an archive of sound, video and images, as well as a space for it to grow, change, and adapt. One of the online works featured, The Never Ending Bedtime Story, is a public art piece collaboration by Johannes Dreyer, Damion Grivas and Lesley Perkes. It’s a bed that’s been set up in a rough, derelict Jo’burg park in Troyeville. Its process (from start to ongoing present) has been documented online, with photographs showing random Troyevillians lying, posing, sleeping and laughing on the piece. It’s a wonderful way of bringing art to ‘the people’, allowing them to interact and engage with it on their turf (and not in a sterile display space). Like Fuck the Dress, The Never Ending Bedtime Story emphasises that art is changeable, and it’s alive.
As Blignaut points out, not only is A Shot to the Arse an attempt to understand how we relate to this chaotic and consumerist world we live in, but it’s also metaphor for life. It’s unpredictable, complex, scary…and, ultimately, breathing.
A Shot to the Arse is a group exhibition showing at Michaelis Galleries, UCT, Cape Town until Sept 4th. Also featuring Kendall Geers, Wilhelm Saayman, Justin Allert, Christian Nerf, among others.
DIRTY BOOTS can be found here.
1. Memoirs of a Killarney Houseboy. Stills from a film Nadine Hutton © Nadine Hutton
1. Disclaimer © Belinda Blignaut
2. Fuck the Dress – Belinda Blignaut © Belinda Blignaut
3. Dubul’ ibhunu #2 Richardt Strydom © Richardt Strydom
4. 11. IKEA (Stockholm Syndrome) Video stills Jesse Darling © Jesse Darling
5. The Never Ending Bedtime Story © Johannes Dreyer, Damion Grivas, Les Perkes and Troyevillians
6. My Thoughts Light Fires in your Cities Konrad Welz © Belinda Blignaut