05.05.18 – 30.06.18
SMAC Gallery is delighted to present shady tactics, a group exhibition curated by Thuli Gamedze.
Appropriative strategies are publicly available. Because edges and margins exist on the outsides of centres and status quos, to appropriate just means to use space, tech, images and systems that in their original forms are unattainable, but also un-useful to the resistant character.
shady tactics is not purely about ‘irreverence’, and in fact can be read as a series of interventions that take the strategic mechanism of politicised playfulness seriously. ‘Throwing shade’ implies an action that involves re-curating light, relegating undeserving areas to darkness – dismissing the nonsense! – and shifting sunlight to places where there is something interesting happening. The warmth of day does not seek a ‘resolved’ discourse or stylistic path, and neither does it require a particular form – throwing shade is simply a continual response to the violent weather system of whiteness and coloniality that expresses an infinite desire to flood everything. If we do not redirect the light, there is nowhere to hang out – to work.
The projects of the show propose a number of alternatives – new, incorrect uses for things, along with incomplete and drifting ideas, failures, jokes and strange approaches to logic. With leanings toward work that expresses itself through playful repetition, rambling installation, and acute political concern, I have often imagined shady tactics as a kind of dystopian flea market of high anxiety, lurking sadness, and creepy laughter.
shady tactics and secret meetings,
Blurrily sprayed borders frame Renaissance statues with odd, quickly written phrases destroying moments that might have felt less complicated and more resolved “if he (insert suggestion)… and perhaps (another one)…”
Callan Grecia’s fuck you I tried my best captures something of the simultaneous freedom and danger of public walls – of public space – that dare to insinuate all kinds of democracy amongst the neoliberal rhetorical hell of rainbow nationism. Grecia’s paintings of quickly-shifting style move between the darkness of lurking dogs and deadly fencing, as well as the fantasies of unending material idealism that funds these post-apartheid apartheid-forms of securitisation. With references jumping between a dead nation-building rhetoric, and symbols of the wealth the ‘built nation’ promised to some, fuck you I tried my best gathers strategies of making collected over time – glitter and glue, crayon aesthetics and the loose graffiti-tag, all accompanied by the unfailing and ‘official’ allure of oil paint. Exhibiting heated arguments, friendly meetings, and subtle transactions between multiple visual languages, Grecia’s paintings open up material and ideological interactions that feel akin to observing a slightly twisted but incredibly fascinating social experiment.
burning bridges and bad behaviour,
Katleho Mosehle’s (NO) SEX IN CT does not bother to take a breath before ripping into a tv-construct of ‘femininity’ which strongly aligns to the violence of white feminism, embodying and messing with tv character Carrie – and the likes – from the well-known American show Sex in the City. Recreating an absurd version of the journalist character whose various experiences teach her ‘complex’ life lessons, Mosehle’s teasing does not cease. She references tropes defining some key particularities of white women ignorance; including a seemingly irrepressible desire to appropriate and decontextualise other peoples’ cultures, the reproduction of oppression via ‘feminist’ readings of sexual liberation, and the entitlement to the bodies and minds of black femmes. Mosehle uses installation that combines text, video and sound to talk -and cackle- about the cognitive dissonance affected through the arbitrary nature of growing up with a screen that captures the relative irrelevance of early 2000s Hollywood. Mosehle’s (NO) SEX IN CT imagines the weird chaos of herself embodying ‘the Carrie’.
In a similar way to the dominance of whiteness in entertainment media, we see the harm that the colonial gaze has done through its project of differencing peoples, and naming ‘othernesses’. Bonolo Kavula’s Fragile: this way up addresses some concerns in this regard, satirising the quintessential YouTube DIY tutorial, to both teach the printing process and to implicitly problematise the arbitrary line that divides practices into ‘art versus craft’. This damaging cultural dominance has long fed into the wider colonial project of strategic differencing and exploitation of colonised peoples. This division ensues today with the elitist and expensive art world existing universes apart from local craftspeople showing and selling their work in public markets.
Kavula’s printing process is loose and experimental. She works intimately with shapes and patterns, exploiting the unique forms and lines in everyday objects, while developing inexpensive processes of her own. The artist presents us with a marketplace stand, its display of prints implied as ‘craft’, while a separately installed ‘masterpiece’ artwork, entitled the big and final work occupies a more prime position on the wall. Mimicking a dynamic of art versus craft, that empowers and disempowers, Kavula’s curated installation challenges our imaginations of what art practices that refuse such limiting binaries might feel like.
snarky comments from back corners,
A Loooooong Ass Message, ya dig? is an apt title for Simnikiwe Buhlungu’s performative installation that continually intervenes in the exhibition and the gallery as a whole. A fax machine dug up from a friend’s garage becomes ‘the disseminator of… counter narratives within the space’, she wrote to me in an email a couple of months ago. The work carries with it the deliberate absence of the artist from the space, echoing the lack of access and the limited existence of the narratives it holds. At the same time, the medium of the old-timer fax machine delivers a partial and obscured dimension of Buhlungu’s presence from on top of a tall stack of office boxes. Spilling lengths and lengths of text and imagery into the gallery, the fax message grows ever longer in a descending until the show’s closing. Recalling socio-political actions of ‘denial of service’ attacks, wherein the ‘black fax’ – running an institution’s machines dry by faxing a solid block of black toner – forms an example of the instrumentalisation of institutional excess as a strategy of offence. The outdated nature of faxing becomes an ambiguous intermediary, a resistant voice – its continued right of response going so far as to temporarily disconnect the gallery telephone line to make way for its politicised playfulness.
Sitaara Stodel’s Homesick is an intimate project revolving around a home stuck in its own head. Working with still images, Stodel’s video and collage work involves the use of hundreds of cutouts, shifted, folded and torn by her hands, to reveal layers of interior scenes that mimic the installation in which they find themselves. Silently hanging from the ceiling, a collaged window frame and makeshift curtain linger and long for the ground, or for an idea of a settled home which seems perpetually out of reach. While Stodel’s appropriation of images from the internet and secondhand stores shows us common characteristics of quintessential ‘homeness’. Further, it betrays the arbitrary nature of the constructs of homemaking, where the immaterial need to belong and settle is often advertised as a need that can be fulfilled purely through ownership of material items. Appearing as a shiftable set that repeats and restages its own image through objects and collages, Homesick is suspended and still, looking back and forward simultaneously in attachment to its own ‘future memory’.
Stodel’s heady, feverish home is just a dot on the quickly toxifying landscape of Mitchell Gilbert Messina’s dystopia – ‘or documentary’, A Brief History of the Institute. While Messina similarly fixates on the animation possibilities of the still image, he departs from the handmade collage, and instead works intensively with a small group of high-quality jpeg image files. The images are curated, repeated and animated over a number of scenes along with text and sound, to tell the stories surrounding the ‘fictional’ construction of a huge new art institution. The narrative mimics Messina’s process in sinister ways, alluding to consumerist desire and the ‘cultural mining’ tendency of the neoliberal art world, which reproduces new trends but spews the same power-relationships. In this way A Brief History of the Institute opens up a tale connecting capitalist realities with the existential artist’s crisis, using a crisp aesthetic, so clean and lighthearted that our reaction feels inappropriately limited to giggles, and perhaps later murmurs of ‘woah’. The work deconstructs the video medium, distilling it into its most essential image componants. Slow movement and satisfying sound work animate the imagery, creating a hypnotic and decievingly nïave backdrop for Messina’s sharp commentary on the skewed politics of the South African contemporary art scene.
and so acting out.
Playing with shade means playing with light – perhaps it is just persistent dullness that we all need to be avoiding. shady tactics rests in the potential of the discards of global capital to outline and enact ideas of resistance, refusal and social existence that are as unfeasible as they are urgent. To play together in galleries – places of such institutional seriousness – is a strategy of deliberate distraction; a perpetual fleeing from the misrepresentation that plagues those marked as cultural capital. Playing is a way to try and stay unstuck – a moving, joking, silly way; a way of imagination, of political kindness, firm rule-breaking, gut feelings, and always of appropriation and shady tactics.