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Curatorial Statement

BY VAUGHN SADIE & JAY PATHER

COVID-19 changed so much of how we feel and think about the present and future. The pandemic has assailed us with uncertainty and a kind of darkness that can be overwhelming because it is not limited to place or time. It is worldwide, and ongoing. How do artists, amongst the most precarious in our society, make sense for us at this time? What tools do they give us, as they have always done in such calamitous times, to see through this? How can we play? How to dream? How to speak of such disturbance and yet see the power and potential of art, to inspire community and visions of solidarity and hope?

These questions have occupied us as they have most of the world’s artists and curators. This year, SPIER LIGHT ART does not want to forget, go beyond or desperately dream in spite of. We want to acknowledge the grief and the pain of our physical, spiritual and economic worlds. We want to acknowledge, also, that we are not all in this together. In any storm, some have boats and some have rafts and some simply only have themselves to keep above water. Although COVID-19 is a common storm, it affects us all differently – especially so in a deeply unequal society like ours. What is universal, though, is our need for light and lightness. And so, SPIER LIGHT ART features both attempts to walk through struggles as well as glimmers of pure beauty and opportunities to play.

In bringing together this rich selection of works, four curatorial strands have emerged. Strand 1 explores history, memory and futures; strand 2 deals more directly with the pandemic as well as a call for resilience and survival; strand 3 deepens the thoughts on precarity, fragility and transience as it relates to all sentient beings, embracing animism and the human; and strand 4 considers light as igniting our impulse to dream, play and explore imagination. These strands serve as a gentle guide through the experience as you move through the common storm. We hope that the generosity of work attests to an abiding and reassuring ability in our society to create and build even when so much is attempting to take hope and optimism away.

We want to thank Spier for providing the opportunity for the lights to be proverbially ‘switched on’ again. We are thankful for this opportunity to help provide a reprieve (however small or temporary), and for such nourishment to exist at a time when bouts of darkness have become a daily experience in our worlds.

01

01

01. #iorestoacasa

Mattia Spagnuolo

This virtual artefact visualises data about the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of a particle system. The most relevant data about the virus outbreak is mapped to variables that modify the shape and colour of the system. The work was conceived and developed in Italy during the period of lockdown, introduced to combat the spread of COVID-19. At the very beginning of the artist's confinement at home – every day at 18:00 – he turned on the news for updates on the virus situation. After a week or two, the numbers overwhelmed him and stopped making any sense. The artist then used the data that was making him feel so uneasy and began representing it in a more soothing way. This work encourages reflection on the world’s situation and reminds the viewer of the importance of compliance with the lockdown measures.

The title of this work, #iorestoacasa, translates to ‘I stay at home’ and pays tribute to the communal world effort to slow the disease's spread thus relieving pressure on healthcare systems.

02

02

02. The Lonely Sailor Weather Report

Lonesome Sailors collective

This work explores the journey towards amphibious living. It draws together several short broadcasts that become different focal areas as in a shipping weather report. These unusual broadcasts see the sailor, who is losing signal to the weather station, reporting back from sea. At a slippery intersection, the loss of radio signal meets the rise of an ever present static as the sailor slowly becomes jumbled by — and infiltrated into — the watery surrounds.

03

03

03. TRANSIT-20

Luke De Kock, Sarah Golding, Teresa Phuti Mojela, Yukiko Masui

This video investigates how possible it is to conduct a creative process virtually with the integrity of a physical collaboration that has taken place in the same space. The physical focus is on the constant feeling of transitioning from different lockdown states and transitioning into different new normalities.

This project was conceived by four dance artists from London (UK) and South Africa who had never danced together until now (virtually that is!).

04

04

04. Origin (Reeds)

Future Form Design Group

The African origin story tells of how the ancestors of all plants, animals, and humanity began from a single source. This installation tries to create a dreamlike reality of this origin moment — a spatial and luminous interpretation of what we are experiencing in the past-present-future continuum.

05

05

05. Songsmith

Jenna Burchell

Songsmith (The Great Karoo) is part of Burchell’s ongoing project wherein she restores broken objects and sites by embedding into them golden instruments called ‘songsmith’. The resulting sound sculptures and interventions respond to human contact by revealing songs about people, places and events as they fall into, and rise from, the vicissitudes of time.

Award-winning artist Jenna Burchell is driven to find ways to preserve the fragile and ephemeral nature of memory and experience. Often this involves fusing the digital with the natural world in order to create archives wherein the historical is subverted with narratives from the periphery. Burchell has exhibited at various international galleries, museums and institutions, including a solo project at the 20I4 National Arts Festival. Her works have been featured as special projects at select art fairs. She received the Thami Mnyele Fine Art Award (20II) and has been a resident artist at sculpture parks such as the YSP and Nirox.

06

06

06. Spatial Fabrications: An Uninhabitable World

Pre-empt Group

This interactive installation engages the screen, its politics, representations, land justice and spirituality through various de-colonial interventions. Its three stop-motion films —Emhlabeni by Themba Khumalo, Ukuhlamba by Mbali Dhlamini and Godide Episode 2 by Phumulani Ntuli — consider land dispossession, exile and migration. Each features subjects seeking refuge through the construction of new worlds, asking whether or not it's possible to create a true utopia.

07

07

07. Carry a Laser Down the Road that I Must Travel

Dan Halter

This work was inspired by the subliminal advertising used by cigarette companies before the banning of cigarette advertising. The message here is also subliminal unless one is aware of the work. The artwork features a row of LED lights flashing rapidly. When you shake your head these flashes “print” text onto your retina in such a way that a word can be briefly legible. As you shake your head the word flips around as a mirror-image of itself.

Produced by design consultancy Thingking.

08

08

08. Video Poem for Mum

Camilla Padgitt-Coles

This is an audio-visual love letter to the artist’s mother who has been dealing with a chronic lung illness for the past two years. “I would normally visit her regularly, as she lives in the apartment I grew up in down the river from me in New York City,” explains Padgitt-Coles. “However, the elevated risk and the fear of her being infected with the coronavirus has made visiting in person near impossible. My humble intention was to make a piece of art for her that would communicate and convey a feeling and presence without words.”

09

09

09. Traces: Birds

Jean-Michel Rolland

November in Marseille, starlings gather on a crane before their big departure to Africa.

The photographic trace, lost with the film, is here reinvented to show the flight of birds in a new way. Will their freedom of movement forever remain a distant dream for humanity?

10

10

10. FETCH

Julia Burnham

Acknowledging that violence against women continues to be tragically widespread, two female performers, Julia (the choreographer) and Teresa (her collaborator) have created a work that explores the relationship between a victim and an abuser. Together, they seek to unearth the dynamics embedded in this intimacy, exploring behavioural patterns and the ways in which power and submission manifest.

11

11

11. Played as they lay

Jen Valender

This video work was made in a one-bedroom apartment during lockdown in Narrm/Melbourne. In it, a series of moths are read like braille to compose an accompanying score. The music traces the path of the moths as they were found in pantry traps, transferring the configuration of forms into notes placed on a stave. The mass grave of moths become literal markers, like holes punched into scroll piano sheet music, and are digitally performed by a violoncello, piano and contrabass.

12

12

12. Prayer Room

Lorin Sookool

This is an audio-visual response to the lived realities of three senior citizens based in Durban during Covid-19. The work traces a visual and choreographic response to a two-month telephonic research process. It imagines each conversation as a moment of strength and solace experienced by both Sookool and each of the three ladies. Similarly, Sookool experiences comfort through the creation act, in and amongst unused church pews, during this difficult global moment.

13

13

13. Imbewu (The seed)

Kenneth Shandu

This sculpture reflects on the challenges faced by smallholder farmers in post-apartheid KwaZulu Natal. Paying homage to their hard work and their lack of access to new technologies, a series of old and used garden hoes protrude from a circular shape. The shape represents a sugar bean seed, the prevasive crop in KwaMbonambi, KwaZuluNatal. The circular structure is covered with soft clay and cow dung containing organic sugar bean seeds which will later germinate and grow. As you get close to the artwork, you will see engraved portraits of the owners of the used garden hoes, which are illuminated by small lights. The work’s title, Imbewu, means “the seed” in isiZulu. This alludes to the promise of smallholder farmers, while the lights in the work reflect hope for a better life and the positive social change that occurs when there is investment in the development of smallholder farmers.

14

14

14. UMDIYADIYA

Wezile Mgibe

This video performance is inspired by collective memories and seeks to track historical events in a black household during South Africa’s turbulent recent past. The artist remembers time spent in both welcoming and unwelcoming spaces, reflecting on experiences with family and friends. As the artist encounters kindness and softness within rough and uncomfortable spaces and situations, he’s also suggesting that there can be love in a space you might consider “broken” — and that, in some instances, beautiful memories were made there and deserve to be remembered.

15

15

15. Emergence

Tracy Abbott Szatan

This video piece is built around a single filmed pinhole, one of the simplest and earliest forms of photography. At the centre of the piece sits a parable. Eight lines of text gesture towards a certain longing, an intuitive knowing and a sense of forces beyond one’s conscious or individual control. Through light, repetition and patterning, this work brings attention back to the act of seeing and raises questions about the material and metaphysical experiences of sight.

16

16

16. CROWN

Don Sidiya

This video takes its name from the English translation of the Latin word "corona": "crown". It was co-produced, written and performed by Don Sidiya and Julia Burnham early on in the global pandemic. The duo weave together movement, gestures and bodily expression to reflect on the “new normal” ushered in by COVID-19. The performances maintain deliberate social distancing in an allusion to the efforts required to tackle the pandemic, and the performers' faces are kept hidden throughout. Through the movement of their bodies, a powerful narrative vividly emerges about this time of immense upheaval.

17

17

17. Traces: Lights

Jean-Michel Rolland

Audiovisual experimentation from a video filmed by car, by night in Beijing. Uncontrolled movements of the camera give a new reality to the lights of the night. The music is generated by the variations of the total brightness on the screen.

18

18

18. How do you mourn?

Georgia Munnik

This whimsical artwork consists of plastic-laminated and reconstituted organic and synthetic bodies installed on a light-box. Inviting viewers to reflect on the implications of climate change, the bodies include roses, precious stones, soil, perished crabs, insects and coffee.

“My use of plastic is not unconsidered as I reflect on a landscape without us, I think about the immortality of plastic and how this material might (probably in a climate-fiction scenario) memorialise our presence in the world,” explains Munnuk. “I imagine a future landscape of mutating plastic roses and, no one person to name them.”

19

19

19. Luminescence

LUME

An interactive installation where visitors can create images with their phone’s flashlight on a phosphorescent screen in collaboration with LUCY, a robot. LUCY also traces various artist’s work. The resulting artwork glows for about two minutes before fading away.

Instructions:

1. Stand on the X behind the barrel facing the screen.

2. Hold your mobile phone upright and switch on its flashlight.

3. LUCY will recognize the light and activate tracking on the screen.

4. Move your phone slowly in any direction for the robot to track your movement and start drawing.

20

20

20. Crawler

JOHANNA REICH

A crawler is an internet “searchbot” which the artist used to collect comments or questions about the global pandemic and other timely topics (including artificial intelligence, climate change and gender). Some of these phrases are projected on to the Cowshed; the phrases increase and decrease in size as they respond to the colonial achitecture. Crawler was first presented at Kunstmuseum Gelsenkirchen in Germany during the first lockdown in April 2020.

21

21

21. The Singing Tree

The Willow Room Collective

This interactive installation piece combines light, music and technology with design and motion. As you enter the installation, soft waves of sounds ripple around you. Guided by the constellation of whimsically hanging ribbons, and illuminated by lights, you begin to wade through the space, enjoying beautiful sounds that tingle your senses. The music and lights around you begin to change according to your position within the tree, inviting you to further interact with the environment. By exploring the space, you can start to recognise patterns through multi-sensory cues, ultimately “composing” your own music.

22

22

22. Fluxit

Paul Vendel and Sandra de Wolf

This fire-inspired artwork was constructed on-site with silver bamboo poles and various types and sizes of meteor LED tubes. It speaks to the symbolism of fire. In many cultures, people make fire when they have something to celebrate. But fire can also be dangerous — an alarming sign of changing times.

23

23

23. We See Change

The MAAK x David Brits x ThingKing

We See Change explores a new approach to public sculpture that bridges the physical and virtual realms. You are invited to send your personal messages of hope and change to be broadcast on this gigantic interactive LED billboard. Your opinions, desires and concerns about the world during this uncharted epoch will shine brightly at night – just like a beacon – for all to see.

To instantly broadcast your message of change on this billboard, click here to log onto www.weseechange.co.za

24

24

24. The Sound of my Voice

Tiago Rodrigues

The painful history of the Cape cannot be avoided. This installation encourages contemplation of this history.

The phrase of the work is taken from Brett Bailey’s 21 Gables, where the character Sannie says “Ring your bell meneer, ring it loud for soon it will be quiet”. The slave bell used to rule slaves - the installation is an attempt at changing that voice; to bring a different presence to an object that once held so much power.

Tiago Rodrigues was born in Cape Town as a first generation Portuguese foreign national. He worked intensively as a studio assistant for a number of artists before completing an Honours Degree in Fine Arts (UCT). Rodrigues recently held his debut solo show with SMAC Gallery. He incorporates his background of craftsmanship in his work, and explores masculinities, power and violence dynamics inherent in society

25

25

25. The Boogeyman - A message from Stellenbosch

Charles Palm

In 1760 the discovery of a letter written by a Buginese slave in Stellenbosch triggered a wave of paranoia within the Cape colony. Colonial authorities mistakenly believed this obscure text to be proof of a slave rebellion, prompting its immediate and ruthless pacification. The Boogeyman references the historic circumstances surrounding the letter within a contemporary context on Spier wine farm. It illuminates deep seated fears within the capitalist institutional psyche regarding its ongoing dependence on colonial labour models for profit.

26

26

26. Beacon

Marco Chiandetti

Using a UV light as a means to attract insects and to hydroponically grow plants, this work meditates on the idea that a beacon acts as a symbol of hope, a way to navigate through darkness; something that is true for millions of refugees around the world. However, such beacons can also be false markers offering no real hope of a new beginning or a different life. There is a plurality in the symbol of the tent as both a beacon of hope, an emblem of futility, and an environment of growth.The installation addresses the issue of colonialism in the South African wine trade and its historical exploitation of migrant workers.

Artwork Text: Tai Spruyt

Studio Assistants: Riyazz Payne, Isaac Chintokoma

Fabrication: Steve Sutherland/Alumat Engineering

Light fabrication: Riyazz Payne

27

27

27. Afro Promo #1 Kinglady

nora chipaumire

This work is an Afro-Feminist manifesto beautifying bodies to claim the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Using low-tech — do-it-yourself aesthetics, this short film demonstrates how presence, fashion and pop culture can be a vehicle for self-invention and self-determination. The film features a black African female superhero who commands regal authority. Her superhero powers are the mastery of time, space and energy i.e. dance: a virtuosity that brings beauty, health, wellbeing to all who witness her dance.

Directed and choreographed by nora chipaumire, the film was produced as part of the Dance for Film on location at Montclair State University.

28

28

28. KASSARAM

Thania Petersen

This film interrogates the artistic strategies historically used by European colonial forces to demarcate oppressive hierarchies of people in South Africa. It highlights how present-day imperialist agendas perpetuate these practices by continuing to impose contemporary “orientalist” views onto diverse communities worldwide.

29

29

29. Over the Rainbow (From the Exile Series)

Athi Patra Ruga

In this video, the artist excavates collective memory and exclusionary national myth, rebuilding both in new ways to create a world where the exiled can reign. The result is a land of many queens, lost and found and forgotten. In a collaboration with South African artist Angel-Ho, a disjointed track of Brenda Fassie’s ‘Weekend Special’ plays, paying homage to the late pop idol, along with other iconic figures such as Steve Biko, Nonqawuse and Winnie Mandela.