The Wretched of the Screen
The Wretched of the Screen seeks to engage in methods for documenting and counteracting the politics of the screen. Taking its title from the Hito Steyerl text of the same name, the exhibition explores Steyerl’s proposition that contemporary coherent political projects are fragmented and displaced by their transference onto screens.
Television has the ability to inform, distort, construct and define perceptions; the impact of mainstream media production can be easily underestimated, however, its consumption has a wide-ranging impact on politics, both personal and global. The ways in which bodies, identities and places are depicted on-screen filter into ‘objective’ reality, allowing for the biases, misconceptions and outward prejudice of media producers to pervade daily life, and to lock in place pernicious stereotypes.
Mikhael Subtozky and Patrick Waterhouse’s From Televisions, Ponte City, Johannesburg (2008 – 2010) documents the television screens of each apartment in Ponte City — the building so known for criminal activities that it earned an almost mythological notoriety in Johannesburg. This grid of ‘screens’ form a panopticon allowing a view into the daily lives of the residents, whose numbers had been nearly halved by evictions shortly before Subotzky and Waterhouse began documenting the building. The pair’s project engaged with the myths about Ponte City, but also worked hard to dispel them; the television screen is a domestic detail which creates a relatable perception of the people who live there.
The nature of media-driven perception comes under scrutiny in Hasan and Husain Essops’ Freedom Fighters. The twin brothers collaborate in a practice that celebrates their religion while working to decode and destabilise negative perceptions of Islam. Here, they pose as Jihadists in training: a searing indictment of the media’s persistent association between their religion and terrorism, seen not just in fictional entertainment but also in the news. The cinematic framing of the image cements the criticism; within each screen, a construct, that imbues itself with perceived authenticity by its mere existence and our access to it.
Where the Essops point to the blatancy of Islamophobia on our screens, Thabiso Sekgala evidences residue of a no less pervasive stereotype in Untitled, Wendat, Amman: an array of mannequins including a female figure with unrealistically large breasts and a chiselled male torso. The figures loom as a hyperreal marker of a gaze that subjects bodies to often damaging expectations. The media has long been criticised for its proliferation of images that idealise specific body types and skin colours, this image captures an endpoint of damaging body representation, an almost comical distortion that still has the potential to degrade self-worth.
In the SABC Minimal series, Candice Breitz explores the backstages of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, an institution which, despite transformation, bears the weight of its role in the country’s history, namely serving as the mouthpiece for the oppressive National Party during the long years of apartheid. Renewed criticism for the SABC and its relationship with the current ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), including allegations of blatant corruption, reinvigorate Breitz’ examination of the institution; subdued still lives that now seem to speak to degradation and obsolescence.
Hank Willis Thomas and Kambu Olujimi’s film Winter In America recreates the murder of the artist’s cousin, Songha Willis, in a robbery on 2 February 2000, outside a Philadelphia club. Employing stop-motion animation with G.I. Joes, action figures that the cousins played with as children, the futile slaying is depicted cinematically. The haunting repetition of the Nike slogan ‘Just Do It’, here an instruction to kill, speaks to Thomas’ long-standing investigations into advertising’s consumption of the African American body, which is here left bleeding in the snow. Ultimately, Winter in America is a broad criticism of a country that exploits specific groups and leaves them vulnerable, and how screens are used to maintain the system of control.
Thabiso Sekgala (b. 1981 in Johannesburg, South Africa) was a photographer whose work explores themes of abandonment, memory, spatial politics and concept of home. ‘In photography, I am inspired by looking at human experience whether lived or imagined,’ Sekgala once expressed. ‘Images capture our history and who we are, our presence and absence. Growing up in both rural and urban South Africa influences my work. The dualities of these both environments inform the stories I am telling through my photographs, by engaging issues around land, peoples’ movement, identity and the notion of home.’
Sekgala held solo exhibitions in South Africa and Europe and has exhibited in group shows internationally, including Les Rencontres D’Arles, LagosPhoto Festival and Bamako Biennale. In 2013 he had residencies in both the Kunsterhaus Bethanien, Berlin, and at HIWAR/Durant Al Funun, Jordan.
He studied at Johannesburg’s Market Photo Workshop in 2007 to 2008 and was awarded the Tierney Fellowship in 2010.
Sekgala died in Johannesburg in 2014.
Candice Breitz (b. 1972, Johannesburg, South Africa) is an artist whose moving image installations have been shown internationally. Throughout her career, she has explored the dynamics by means of which an individual becomes him or herself in relation to a larger community, be that community the immediate community that one encounters in family, or the real and imagined communities that are shaped not only by questions of national belonging, race, gender and religion, but also by the increasingly undeniable influence of mainstream media such as television, cinema and popular culture. Most recently, Breitz’s work has focused on the conditions under which empathy is produced, reflecting on a media-saturated global culture in which strong identification with fictional characters and celebrity figures runs parallel to widespread indifference to the plight of those facing real-world adversity.
Solo exhibitions of Breitz’s work have been hosted by the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Palais de Tokyo (Paris), The Power Plant (Toronto), Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Humlebæk), Modern Art Oxford, De Appel Foundation (Amsterdam), Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Gateshead), MUDAM / Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (Luxembourg), Moderna Museet (Stockholm), Castello di Rivoli (Turin), Pinchuk Art Centre (Kyiv), Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Bawag Foundation (Vienna), Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin, White Cube (London), MUSAC / Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (Spain), Wexner Center for the Arts (Ohio), O.K Center for Contemporary Art Upper Austria (Linz), ACMI/ The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (Melbourne), Collection Lambert en Avignon, FACT / Foundation for Art & Creative Technology (Liverpool), Blaffer Art Museum (Houston) and the South African National Gallery (Cape Town).
Selected group exhibitions include South Africa: The Art of a Nation (British Museum, London, 2016), Laughing in a Foreign Language (The Hayward, London, 2008), The Cinema Effect (Hirshhorn Museum + Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 2008), Made in Germany (Kunstverein Hannover, 2007), Superstars (Kunsthalle Wien, 2005), CUT: Film as Found Object (Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, 2004), Continuity + Transgression (National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 2002), Thank You for the Music (Kiasma Museum of Modern Art, Helsinki, 2012), Rollenbilder – Rollenspiele (Museum der Moderne Salzburg, 2011), Performa (New York, 2009), Contemporary Outlook: Seeing Songs(Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2009), Remix: Contemporary Art and Pop (Tate Liverpool, 2002) and Looking at You (Museum Fridericianum, Kassel, 2001).
Breitz has participated in biennales in Johannesburg (1997), São Paulo (1998), Istanbul (1999), Taipei (2000), Kwangju (2000), Tirana (2001), Venice (2005, 2017), New Orleans (2008), Göteborg (2003 + 2009), Singapore (2011) and Dakar (2014). Her work has been featured at the Sundance Film Festival (New Frontier, 2009) and the Toronto International Film Festival (David Cronenberg: Transformation, 2013).
Her work has been acquired by museums including the Museum of Modern Art,the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Jewish Museum (in New York), Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Humlebæk), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus (Munich), Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), FNAC / Fonds national d’art contemporain (France), Castello di Rivoli (Turin), Hamburger Kunsthalle (Hamburg), M+ / Museum of Visual Culture (Hong Kong), Milwaukee Art Museum, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, MUDAM / Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (Luxembourg), MUSAC / Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (León, Spain), Kunstmuseum Lichtenstein (Vaduz), MONA / Museum of Old and New Art (Tasmania), QAG GOMA / Queensland Art Gallery (Brisbane), Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) and MAXXI / Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo (Rome).
Breitz holds degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg), the University of Chicago and Columbia University (NYC). She has participated in the Whitney Museum’s Independent Studio Program and led the Palais de Tokyo’s Le Pavillon residency as a visiting artist during the year 2005-2006. She has been a tenured professor at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Braunschweig since 2007.
Candice Breitz lives and works between Cape Town, South Africa and Berlin, Germany.
Recent work can be viewed at http://vimeo.com/album/259786
Mikhael Subotzky (b. 1981, Cape Town) is a Johannesburg based artist whose works in multiple mediums (including film installation, video, photography, collage and painting) attempt to engage critically with the instability of images and the politics of representation. Subotzky has exhibited in a series of important international exhibitions, including most recently Inheritance: Recent Video Art from Africa at the Fowler Museum (UCLA) in Los Angeles (2019) and Ex Africa in various venues in Brazil (2017-18). His award-winning Ponte City project (co-authored with Patrick Waterhouse) was presented at Art Basel Unlimited in 2018. The full exhibition and archive of this project has since been acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and will be the subject of a monographic exhibition there in the fall of 2020.
Subotzky’s work is collected widely by international institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Solomon R Guggenheim Museum (New York), the National Gallery of Art (Washington), Tate (London), Centre Pompidou (Paris), and the South African National Gallery, among others.
Subotzky’s work was included in the Lubumbashi (2013) and Liverpool (2012) biennials. Pixel Interface, a multi-component video installation, was included in All The World’s Futures, curated by Okwui Enwezor at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015).
Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976, United States) is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad including the International Center of Photography, New York; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain; Musée du quai Branly, Paris; Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Netherlands. Thomas’ work is included in numerous public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. His collaborative projects include Question Bridge: Black Males, In Search Of The Truth (The Truth Booth), Writing on the Wall, and the artist-run initiative for art and civic engagement For Freedoms, which in 2017 was awarded the ICP Infinity Award for New Media and Online Platform. Thomas is also the recipient of the Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship (2019), the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (2018), Art for Justice Grant (2018), AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize (2017), Soros Equality Fellowship (2017), and is a member of the New York City Public Design Commission. Thomas holds a B.F.A. from New York University (1998) and an M.A./M.F.A. from the California College of the Arts (2004). In 2017, he received honorary doctorates from the Maryland Institute of Art and the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts.
Hasan and Husain Essop (b. 1985, Cape Town) have been collaborating since their graduation from the Michaelis School of Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town in 2008. In 2010 they travelled to Cuba to produce a body of work as part of the 10th Havana Biennial, under the theme ‘Integration and resistance in the global age’. In 2011 they completed a 3-month residency at the prestigious Thami Mnyele Foundation in Amsterdam.
They have participated in several major group exhibitions – including Figures and Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography at the V&A Museum in London in 2011, and South: Contemporary Art from Australia, Mexico & South Africa at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery in Sydney in 2014. They have also held solo exhibitions in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Dubai.
In 2014 they received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art and presented a new body of work at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival titled Unrest. The exhibition addresses the notion of global unrest through the particular lens of young Muslims living in Cape Town and features the brothers’ characteristic large-scale photographic prints, as well as sculptural installations and multimedia works. The exhibition has since been shown in five cities across South Africa, and at the Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde in Dubai.
The Wretched of the Screen runs at Goodman Gallery, Cape Town until August 24, 2019.
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