Cash or Card
03.08.17 – 02.09.17
DON’T BE A DICK and other life lessons
Ed Young once made a large, assertive, text artwork that read, DON’T BE A DICK (2013). However, we would be mistaken to too quickly dismiss him as the obligatory moral compass of the South African art world, for his creative trajectory spans a wide range of ethical approaches. In the spirit of personal ideological development and artistic ambiguity, Ed was careful to confuse this clear instruction with other text works, like MY OTHER RIDE IS YOUR MOM (2013) and BITCH (2017).
For now though, in his last-resort solo show – cash or card – Ed, at sixty-three centimetres tall, has abandoned all other activity to stand and hide his face from you, lost in the expanse of SMAC Gallery in Johannesburg, with his pants pulled down. I agree with you: the scenario is bizarre. This strange character of cutting words, creepy films, and a history of mashing up racist and sexist commentary for the sake of ‘institutional critique’, has commissioned a hyperreal version of himself standing naked and looking rather ashamed in a corner. He is not simply naked though; someone has pulled down his pants and left him crying where you might glare down upon him, searching for the meaning in his misery. To add to the situation at hand, I find myself – an arts writer of the (currently popular) ‘woke’ variety – having abandoned the wise words of my mum, who always advised of my relations with meanies, ‘Just ignore them, Toots’.
I did ignore him for a while; my seething anger at the 2015 work, I SEE BLACK PEOPLE, finding a slightly bored but ever sympathetic audience amongst my friends and siblings. To be fair to them, having a space to articulate the way this work shook me was an essential preparation for my introduction to real-life Ed, in which my reading of the work was quickly corrected by him and substituted with his assertions of noble intent.
Right now, however, I find myself staring at the tiny butt of this miniature Ed, who he has called COMME des FUCKDOWN, after his rarely-removed signature black cap. The effect of this work is that it reminds us of the much quieter, subtler thread of Ed’s practice; the thread that seems to emerge from this little body and has been perpetually hushed by the infamously 3dgy Ed Young, who consistently takes things slightly too far. His stooped posture is one of absolute shame, and it is difficult not to imagine the events that preceded this frozen moment of sharp embarrassment.
Maybe Ed’s sweet and melancholic alter-ego is best characterised in the 2013 work, My Beerdrunk Soul Is Sadder Than All The Dead Christmas Trees Of The World, in which a kidnapped (read: stolen) Swiss Christmas tree is restrained by fairy lights, tied to a concrete pillar. In its silly self-deprecation and emotional indulgence, as well as in its process – which called upon the artist’s occasional thieving tendencies (framed consistently as art) – the work is a resolved and rare combination of honesty and self-awareness.
I would argue that we encounter a similar tonality in my personal favourite, NO ED (2013). This video work – a hilarious protest staged by young kids in Switzerland, passionately yelling “NO ED!”, and holding signs reading the same message – reflects, beyond its ridiculous comedy, an absolute disillusionment with the art institution and the possibility of the artist’s practice within it. Its deep self-dismissal, articulated loudly in rampant toddlers’ voices, operates as a historical repetition of what we see now: a man, a white artist, occupying space in order to creatively remind us that he should not be here and that what he has to say might be (*TW) violent.
Text by Thuli Gamedze