December 17, 2014
December 11, 2014
“The blood and the organs brimful of life were not what modern anatomy would see, the feeling of the men of old can only be recaptured by an inner experience, not by science. We may presume that they saw in the fullness of the blood-swollen organs, the impersonal fullness of life itself.”
Erotism: Death and Sensuality
December 10, 2014
first published here: http://chimurengachronic.co.za/propaganda-politics-art-activism-south-africa/
December 9, 2014
1. Do you think art can be didactic in a good way?
If you replace the ‘can be’ with ‘can be made to be’, I will answer with an unqualified yes. In the formulation you provide, I will have to give a qualified ‘yes’. Not all art, not all of the time, in other words, ‘can be didactic in a good way’. Art can, totally independent of its provenance or intentions, instruct, also instruct morally, and can therefore also be didactic in a good way. But it can also just give pleasure, or upset, or leave one indifferent. Art is also just a thing in itself, like war, or love, and can therefore just be that thing which exists in the world in the way that that particular thing exists. But can war be didactic in a good way? Yes. And love? Yes. And art? Yes. And interesting things (good things, moral things) can be learnt from it about life and about war and about love and about many other things too.
2. What is this “need to document”? Of what use is it?
The need to document derives from our (‘us humans’) curious awareness of death. In that sense, procreating is also a way of documenting (ourselves). Making art is documenting, collecting is documenting, writing is documenting. But actually, if one sees all need to document as an acknowledgement of mortality, then life itself is a way of documenting, of inscribing oneself in space and time. Thus art is life, or life is art. Both happen in the shadow of death. There is no other need for documenting, other than the need to come to terms with the fact that we are temporary and as an expression of our (sometimes) long and protracted farewell to our existence that starts as soon as we are born. This is also why, to return to your previous question, art (whatever it is) can be didactic in a good way. It not only provides a way for us to engage with non-being, but also with an-other being that gives us so much more life for the price of one.
3. Can art be a means of historical elucidation, an apparatus for constructing truth?
Yes. Of course, it goes without saying that answering this question in the affirmative also means that the obverse has to be true: art can be a means of historical obfuscation, and an apparatus for constructing lies. Adorno’s distinction between art and culture is meant to position art as the truth-seeking critical impulse and culture as the obfuscatory lie. Of course I simplify. But there is a problem with this, because Adorno equates art with the dialectical critical enterprise, whereas I think bad art (what I think he would call ‘culture’) also points to truth in a negative way, thereby fulfilling a critical function.
4. Is South Africa a productive field for art today? In what way? How would you describe the art scene here?
It depends on what you mean with ‘productive’. If you mean: a field abundant with the kinds of tensions, emotions, psychological extremes, forms, patterns, diversity, flows, shades, human conditions etc. that art thrives on, my answer would be: exceptionally so. But it comes at a heavy, perhaps excessive, price. And therefore if you mean ‘productive’ in the sense that this abundance has been productive for people who make art in South Africa, who ‘produce’, I would have to answer ‘no’. It seems to me as if the possibilities for such people in our circumstances are forced into two extreme options: Artistic response that opens itself fearlessly to the potential of this terrifying inferno, leading to the erasure of the boundaries between art and life in an act of self-destruction and resulting, ultimately, in the impossibility of art; artistic response that distances itself, in an act of self-preservation, from the danger of engagement described in the first response resulting, ultimately, in the impossibility of art. How would I describe the arts scene here? I speak as a musicologist: As the rat infested trenches holding both these positions with a no man’s land between them littered with sacrifices and failure and inevitability.
5. What is the role of music in film?
This is not a question I can answer. I know some of the theory, but that is not what you’d be interested in. It is not a question with which I have grappled. In the light of my previous answer, and the way film music has become the way to think about how South Africa relate to the world of ‘entertainment’ compositionally, I would extend the metaphor and say in our place and time the role of film music (as opposed to music in film) is to get the hell out of front line by pushing two pencils up your nose, faking insanity.
6. What can art tell us about Marikana? What can art do with Marikana? With “democracy” after Marikana?
You have allowed me to hoist myself with my own petard, as you are so fond of saying. For I have to say now: Art can be didactic in a good way about Marikana, art can document Marikana in the face of mortality, art can historically elucidate Marikana and be an apparatus for getting at the truth of Marikana. All the qualifications in questions 1-3 apply, of course, as well as the risks of the entrenched positions outlined in question 4. If Marikana as news event is the transient headline, the anodyne report, the depressing con, then art can tell us that Marikana is something other. Art can connect with Marikana to show how it is different to what the media have made it. Of course it cannot un-make, it cannot restore life to those massacred, but it can make the events signify differently, in different registers, connected to different historical and political forces. It can make us see Marikana, hear Marikana, feel Marikana. If nothing else, art can grieve for Marikana, and for ‘democracy’ after Marikana.
December 8, 2014
Friday Easter in Khayelitsha, just after a friend delivered a simmering lecture on the political situation of post 1994 in a church, we had thought immediately to go to a nearby chisa-nyam (braai place) to eat and drown sorrows (death of Christ) with cold beers. Indeed we went and then reflected on the turn off of the event. Whilst we were eating and engaging, I in my own private thought cave pondered concentratedly of what befell the church people; the irrational lashes of black revolutionary and emancipatory politics. I had tried to imagine what unfurled in their minds, when in my Marecherain head the chimurenga bashed against the walls of my scalp with malevolent anger.
This thought, slightly interrupted by my gluttonous gnaws, ignored the victuals and looped on pondering. My mind in fact stumbled over, leaping through my penurious knowledge of biblical scenarios, as a way to support what had interrupted me: Black arts collectives in the township! It occurred to me that our cultural baneful moment, launched into consistency by its paucity of political imagination, was a venomous jab of self terrorization, by accepting carcasses of neo-liberal madness, posing as radical sometimes, to penetrate us. The scourge of art collectives making lengthy leaps back into zones once declared native-yards a.k.a. ‘still disadvantaged communities’, bothers me. Like the prodigal son returning home, or like Aime Cesaire returning to his native land, but more politically aligned with Thabo Mbeki’s African renaissance, collectives claim to re-turn back home, from exile, inside national borders. What marks this re-turn?
The post 1994 moment is said to mark the transition from apartheid to reconciliatory democracy. Well I am not eager to waste your energies convincing you about the obvious. I am interested in precisely asserting, nonetheless, the available upgrade; the melaninised continuity of apartheid, that is, white supremacy needs melanin to flourish these days. The retentions of the ‘past’ social composition bare testimony in post 1994 moment through the perpetuity of a racial vertical cartography. Andile Mngxitama says: “Post-1994 is a white heaven and the ANC is the guard at the door to keep the black riff-raff out. In exchange for this service the guard is permitted occasionally to grab leftovers from the rowdy white gluttony going on inside”. As Stuart Hall argues that the post-colony blurs lines between colonizers and colonized, post 1994 disenfranchises the majority for white interests by unraveling a rainbow in a state where social affairs are still imagined, inscribed and experienced in brutal racial continuities. Sometimes this rainbow pretends to rebuke the status qua with radical rhetoric, but albeit its overt dishonesty is a blatant gigantic obvious.
The post 1994 black bourgeoisie government (however one can argue about the validity of their bourgeois-ness) controls keys into the black majority’s plantation or owns means of production in marxist terms. It suspends its ‘parliamentary butt’ on the powerless majority. But sometimes this isn’t overtly done as it cushions its evils under RDP houses, grants, charities and patronage. To purge their guilt and legitimize their ‘human-ness’ it also assumes potentiality for a visual source and this source is contemporary art. This is a commodity and entertainment cosmetic display; “it is the conveyor-belt manufacture of counterfeits and narcotics for the enjoyment of a ‘creative class’ sated with novelty” (chto delat? 2008). It has seduced the cultural producers with prurient gaudy leaflets (funding) in exchange of a violent noisy silence. David Riff says it better when he opines: Money, the great matchmaker, is indifferent to art’s many uses. In the mute world of commodities, where all human labor is equal, the singularity of aesthetic experience makes no particular difference; all artworks mirror one another (2008). Here a somnolent offspring was born: ‘contemporary African Art’. And its silence ‘promises’ gold. It buttresses the political imbecility and amnesia hovering in art circles, because “the truth is that they are just business made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce” (Adorno and Horkheimer 1944). You ask maybe, how is silence noisy?
It is the noise howled from the top, whilst there are no concrete remittances paying the dues or framing the sound waves to words in flesh. It drops mute objects, an “obscurantisme terroriste” in front of a raging black poqo. This ‘political’ noise in essence is befuddled. But in their befuddle-ness albeit I argue its not neurotic, it knows how to “use their black skin and our black collective experience of sorrow to insert them in the economic mainstream”” (Mngxitama 2007). This time art gets a share in the wabenzi pathology. As ‘art’ used to be practically a city commodity fetish, suspended behind big glasses, objects black mercenaries produce to either relentlessly ease elite’s pains or compliment the ego of white art critics, now meanders back home. What to make of its “prodigal son” maneuver booming in our ghettoes these days? You think, have the city-lords and galleries gentrified them with their ‘mute objects’ back to the periphery? Besides the city reminding them of their race and demanding from them their ‘paas’, but also they ‘think at the limit’. The limiting constraints are recurrent reminders that thwart their full inclusion and participating in a game still played with racial tokens. The prodigal son returns home, a derelict home encroached by past injustices and assumes a philanthropic position: give back to the community. A most prurient and sentimental zone; he operates within these vicinities of the marginalized as insider. And “let us acknowledge that the most effective missionary is in fact the black missionary, someone who speaks the language” (Bohmke 2010). The poor prodigal son knows that “in the contemporary art game, the picture of excluded people’s politics is worth a lot to the included – including transnational corporations” (Holmes 2003). He mimics rebellion spitting ‘bombastic’ english that blinds these very communities while fetishly goei-ing deep indigenous jargon to the dizzying ngamlaz masquerading as defiance. Black arts collectives ubiquitously dispose themselves around local black communities with facile intentions. The objective premise is that of precisely legitimizing the dominion over the poor by strategizing themselves as voices not only speaking on the behalf but claiming speaking to them, for them. This presupposes that a requirement for a radical ‘blacklist’ of whiteness and its affiliations be extolled. It exposes and purges every until now eulogized element working against them, howling ‘black this and that’ but precisely its aims in the opposition politics are that of inserting themselves into hermitages that exclude and exploit blacks. This is merely a mise-en-scene contesting the ‘malestream’ for inclusion to the white art market.
Worst that one could deduce from this patina is the commodification of radical thought. The conundrum of commodifying the ‘black collective experience of sorrow’ by simulating ‘counter positions that are critical tools of challenging prevailing institutional practices’ as Gabi Ngcobo tries to convince us. Radical thought, oppositionlity, history etc via representative approach merely becomes fetishised but moreover the collectives’ self-aggrandizement. The spectaclisation of black collective sorrow and black radical thought engenders a very interesting dystopian horizon that of rampant lies already inscribed in representative democracy. This fashion now more grossly, besides spectaclising radical thought or collective sorrow, it under serious scrutiny belts out an anthropological display of the ghetto, availing it for deeper consumption. The lived reality of the people becomes part and parcel of what is sold. You hear people saying they proud of being in a ghetto. This pride presupposes two ambiguous positions, that of arrogance and that of lies. The former is the predilection of marginality without any traces of subversive undertones and the latter that of acute understanding the affluence of black melancholy which humanitarians consistently want to save. Though the latter could be pretty much progressive and subversive, but what remains problematic in it is its reciprocal relations with anti-black sentiments. It perpetuates precisely the fundamental project which our current ANC government propounds and supports.
In the zone of art, true ‘literature of combat’ as Lewis Nkosi calls it, has withered away, and under the madness of consumptive logic everything even truth is sold. So it is under this proliferation that black arts collectives, which I argue is a serial reality throughout the arts, they belt out their sorrow and sell it under radical rhetoric. But the big problem that still is a stark colossus is the fact that the black majority relentlessly suffers while everyone else pushes their names behind its sorrow.
Gabi gcobo. 2009. I have yur back: notes on recent collaborative strategies in south Africa and beyond, in arte invisible catalogue.
David riff; when art again becomes useful, chto delat? Website online
Adorno & Horkheimer.1944. the culture industry: the enlightenment of mass deception.
Andile Mngxitama 2008. letter to the black consciousness collective. Online
Andile Mngxitama, 2009. grammar of suffering @ mail and guidaine online.
Heirich Bomkhe. 2010. white revolutionary as a missionary. Contemporary travels and researchers in caffaria, in New Frank talk #5.
Brian Holmes. 2003. liar’s Poker. online
December 7, 2014
December 6, 2014
December 4, 2014
December 2, 2014
December 1, 2014
Art is not class neutral; people who represent it (whether their own or others work) as such are guilty of fraud. They must get honest.
Popular music is just that – not commercial music, not what broadcasters promote, not what is produced by muso’s whose wordy descriptions of, or interviews about, their work exceed manifold the number of pages that they have actually covered with musical notation.
I enjoy many different genres and periods of music – music inspires me, depresses me, makes me reflect, cry, laugh. That, what I listen to by choice, is not popular music either – but it can include popular music.
Popular music is what people create, use, repeat, exploit to express themselves. In what we refer to as western culture, the last expression of a genuine popular music was the protest songs of the anti-Vietnam war era, or of the civil rights movement. The Occupy Movement has produced nothing like it, one reason why it’s not the movement it should be.
In SA we seem to have lost the feel for popular musical expression since 1994 – but there is still a wealth of songs lauding Zuma, the ANC government and our popular struggles, alongside many others against all that. Has the EFF any such songs, or is exposing rounded butts sufficient, without or without fart-like sound effects?
Our airwaves could do more to popularise (ie broadcast) existing popular musical expression, thus contributing to the genre, its survival, development and future. But then in a world where everything has to have a price (become a commodity) that is difficult to organise.
I don’t think privileged composers (I mean those fortunate few who can make a reasonable living from it, unlike those who compose everyday of their lives to stave off hunger pangs and never see a penny for their creative effort) are particularly well placed to discuss popular music or pretend that what they do is create it. At the end of the day the reception of their work will decide, but they shouldn’t bemoan the audience they reach if they do not/cannot take their work into the townships and rural villages. If you compose for orchestras in concert halls, your audience will be those who frequent them; if you compose alongside your fellow strikers on a picket line, then your audience will be alongside you adding harmony to your creation.
November 29, 2014
My work The One They Loved–a series of 9 mixed-media pieces–will be presented in a group exhibition at Kunst-227 in Amsterdam.
The opening will take place at 13.00 – 17.00 uur on Sunday 7 december.
Expositie — zondag 7, zaterdag 13 & zondag 14 december, zaterdag 20 & zondag 21 december 2014
13:00 – 17:00 uur
Kunst-227 Koninginneweg 227-2 hoog 1075 CS Amsterdam