Art Crushby Layla Leiman, images by Marcel Duvenage / 14.09.2010
Once a year, Red Eye takes over the Durban City Hall. Turning the entire National Art Gallery and all its adjoining spaces into one big stage. Every space catches the spectator’s eye and works to intoxicate. It really is an explosion of creative expression overflowing, like performers do the City Hall, into the street. People were milling around outside when I arrived (early) – looking for something more to look at than tables of cute, whimsically crafted things. When the doors finally opened, there was a solid crush of people up the stairs and we were herded in like little lambs by a team of whip-wielding, glittering drag queens. Only to be let loose into writhing human bodies – mostly our own as we squeezed by one another – now a part of the living instillation.
Everywhere was noise and fanfare or some introverted poise of self-conscious determination. Parody performers herded us all along, banging on drums and shouting through loud hailers. Splitting the seam between spectator and spectacle.
In the main round gallery, a woman patiently and unobtrusively ironed a shirt. Toying with the difference between public and private space. In the bathroom, another woman sat at her boudoir, applying lipstick over and over again in silence. The final solitary woman lounged in a ball-and-claw bathtub, covered in rose petals. Haunting living still-lives.
On another stage in the gallery, Jomba! dancers performed. Every movement, from a look to the curl of a finger, to a dramatic leap, saw the dancers beautifully communicate everyday human experience.
I watched Neil Coppen’s piece in a dark sweaty room. We cram into the space behind white tape on the floor. Shayna, the dancer, is on a pedestal at one end of the room, staring at the opposite wall. The lights go out and she comes to life onscreen. Images of her dancing. Her actual body motionless, she dances an elaborate duet with herself, without ever moving a muscle. The affect is both eerie and intimate, in perfect contrast to the rowdy event outside..
Back in the main foyer, things are winding down. A man sits on a chair with blood on either side of him, congealed in a dark, thick syrup. His tattooed arms look pink and tender. He has just been pierced, a regular Redeye tradition. I was kind of glad that I’d got to watch a beautiful conceptual piece rather than this.
By now we are being gently encouraged to go. The atmosphere changed, attention spans waned. We want drinks and cigarettes and the next thing the night can bring.
I am inspired, but also kinda saddened. Durban’s terrible curse has filtered into everything. The crippling apathy that makes evenings like this annual events rather than regular occurrences.
All images © Marcel Duvenage.