Naughty Aughties

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EXHIBITION TEXT

Group Exhibition

03.09.22 - 15.10.22

Johannesburg

The noughts were a decade that threatened to start with a bang. Then they didn’t. Then they really did. After a stretch of frantic, fin de siècle hedonism in the late 1990s, everyone in the world seemed to be holding their collective breath as the old century cranked to an end and the new, advanced technological millennium ticked into stealth existence. 


Projections foretold that the ‘Y2K bug’ would wreak havoc among networks, bring down worldwide infrastructures and propel us all into computer-induced apocalypse. But apart from some mangled feather boas, almighty hangovers and a few well-stocked bunkers in Utah, the transition from 31 December 1999 to 1 January 2000 passed without a glitch. Collective exhale. Continuance into the eternally unfolding present. The Dot Com bubble bursts, causing turmoil in the financial markets and an economic slump, but Paris Hilton continues to dart around in her stretch limo with her Chihuahua feeling the glow of hypermodern, super-luxury, celebritydom. Nobody blinks. Everyone’s too busy text messaging each other on their Nokia bricks and grooving around in their low-rise jeans, crop-tops, bandanas, large hoop earrings and wireframe rectangle sunglasses listening to the Black Eyed Peas, Alicia Keys, gangsta rap and crunk. An anxious Goth minority channels Björk having an elaborate nervous breakdown in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark. 


Then BOOM! BOOM! It happens – all the impending doom of the double zero made manifest. On ‘9/11’ 2001, two planes fly into the Twin Towers in New York City, and around the world, we watch the TV replays of the buildings exploding over and over again, as the third and fourth planes come crashing down in Washington and Pennsylvania. Then the real hell of weaponised American imperialism breaks loose on the world in the form of George W. Bush’s Global ‘War on Terror’, an ongoing military campaign that includes the Iraq War, which begins with a ‘shock and awe’ bombing campaign on 20 March 2003 and continues into the next decade. 


Ha ha! The Joker had struck, wreaking anarchy, chaos and obsession in his wake. Heath Ledger plays the psychotic criminal mastermind and mass murderer in Christopher Nolan’s 2008 superhero film The Dark Knight. Six months later he dies of an accidental overdose. 


Antidepressant drugs had been prescribed to 13 million in 1996. In 2008, more than 164 million prescriptions are written. Slovenian philosopher, cultural theorist and public intellectual Slovoj Žižek is trending and people are taking his dictum ‘enjoy your symptom’ to heart. Prescription or no prescription, the shell-shocked denizens of the 00s are dosing it up in a big way, self-medicating very publicly and letting our wanton, scuzzy wastedness hang loose and free in epic, ill-fated declarations of independence. Being drunk, loose and louche, parading our contradictory emotions on our designer, Black Coffee sleeves, is the disorder of the day.  


In 2009, Barack Obama, the first Black president of the United States of America, comes in on an immense, buoyant wave of anthemic optimism and the crowd of around 1.8 million people at his inauguration embodies the hopes of so many more of us around the world – HOPE, YES WE CAN. But not even Obama, whose administration prefers to use the euphemistic term ‘Overseas Contingency Operation’, can downplay the drone-powered devastation of the ongoing crusade of annihilation. 

Meanwhile, here in Mzansi, the blinding rainbow love has turned skanky and a whole new struggle is being waged for prescriptions of another kind. More than 330 000 people die slow, terrible and premature deaths from HIV/AIDS between 2000 and 2005, before Thabo Mbeki’s government stops preaching beetroot and rolls out life-saving anti-retroviral drugs. 


Then, in ‘an act of political barbarity’ in 2008, the all-powerful ANC National Executive Council takes the decision to axe Mbeki before the end of his term and install Jacob Zuma, ushering in a bold new decade of phantasmagorical, supercalifragilistic kleptocracy. Bling maximalism is the order of the day and if you’re not on the train you’re out in the cold, begging for data. Do not pass go, do not go directly to jail, do not collect R200 – and definitely do not exhale!


In the face of these relentless torrid assaults on our brains and beings, humans flee from the unsurmountable chaos of life itself and take digital refuge in the world’s first social networking sites which enable us to ‘stay in touch’ (well, not really) no matter where we are, with Friendster, Myspace, Facebook and Twitter launching in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006. But do they provide the liberation and transformation that we seek? Yes, yes, yes, like, like, like – and no. 


Meanwhile, out there beyond the digital mirage, the weapons of mass distraction, the hyperbolic political double-speak, the tsunamis and the xenophobic attacks; beyond the drone-warfare, the high-resolution touch screens and the continuous habitation of the International Space Station, artists continue to make art. 


Transforming chaos into holy fire, as they have always done, they make space for us to breathe, experience our inner worlds, and recognise ourselves, for better or for worse, in our outer worlds. 

In the 15 years that follow the end of apartheid and span the first decade of the 21st century, through the power of the art being made in this intensely high-flux society, South Africa becomes a major centre of contemporary art. Numerous conceptually ambitious galleries open in Cape Town, rescripting Johannesburg’s monopoly on emergent visual culture. 


Still, it is at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, adjacent to the hectic, arterial Rissik Street taxi rank, that Africa Remix, the first major show on art from Africa to be presented on the continent, is staged in 2004. Placing the focus on young, living artists and engaging with heterogeneous concepts of identity, curator Simon Njami succeeds in breaking the arbitrary division between the North African and sub-Saharan African art worlds and catalysing a pan-African agenda that has since continued apace. The word ‘remix’ in the title is no coincidence. Testament to Njami’s astute poeticism, it touches on the nerve of everything that matters in the 00s – the multi-media mashup, the anxious assemblage, the paradoxical, postmodern collage. It voices the nascent embrace of multiple perspectives that will find form in the intersectionality of the decade to come. 


Text by Alexandra Dodd

 
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