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Art History, Visual Arts and Musicology


Dates & venues:   

  • May 23 - June 30, 2009: Unisa Art Gallery, Pretoria
  • October 8 - November 15, 2009: Museum Africa, Johannesburg
  • June 10 - August 8, 2010: Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Mangaung
  • October 17 - November 21, 2010: Jan Colle Galerij, Ghent

The exhibition was curated by both Elfriede Dreyer( Associate professor, Department of Visual Arts at the University of Pretoria) and Jacob Lebeko (Assistant-curator at the Unisa Art Gallery).

Participating artists:

Adelle van Zyl; Brett Murray; Celia de Villiers; Christiaan Diedericks; Christiaan Hattingh; Churchill Madikida; Collen Maswanganyi; Dale Yudelman; Daniel Halter; Diane Victor; Dineo Bopape; Elfriede Dreyer; Frkkie Eksteen; Guy du Toit &Laan Bekker; Gwenneth Miller; Jenna Burchell; Jan van der Merwe; Johan Thom; Kai Lossgott; Karlien de Villiers; Kudzanai Chiurai; Lawrence Lemoana; Minnette Vari; Moshekwa Langa; Nicholas Hlobo; Pieter Swanepoel; Steven Cohen; Thando Mama; William Kentridge; Claire Gavronsky & Rose Shakinovsky; Zanele Muholi.


Art often serves an observational, analytical and interpretational purpose. Both art's mimetic function and its imaginative aspect provide powerful means by which any society can introspect, investigate and visualise itself as a capsule of the socio-cultural and political status quo.

Within the geographical boundaries of Southern Africa, Dystopia explores the relationship of contemporary art production to society and ideology, and aims to unmask articuations of dystopia within this cultural framework. A main curatorial intention with the exhibition is to express the view that the dystopian artworks included in this exhibition and the cultural criticism artculated therein seem to have responded to an air of crisis that has been pervading contemporary thinking for several decades now.

In principle, dystopian texts express world views that postulate end-of-utopia, utopia-gone-wrong and even anti-utopia, and entail responses to and a critique of utopia. In the dystopian genre the imagination is tweaked as a critical instrument set on deconstructing existing or potential ills, injustices and hypocrisies in society, mainly brought on by utopian ideological blueprint of globalisation has created diasporic cultures and momad identities; about unjust utopian political ideas that create social restriction, impaired mobility, repression or oppression; or about postutopian space and loss of religious belief and direction. It might recount posthuman conditions as a result of the dominating influence of the technological utopianism, evident in dysfunctional cyberrelationships and telematic influences leading to rampant violence, threat to self, insensitivity and indifference to critical socio-cultural problems.

Broadly speaking, Dystopia deals with the following themes: political utopia-gone-wrong; teleology and apocalypse; dystopian contestations of gender, race and culture; spatiality and boundaries as postideological zones; the postindustrial city; and technodystopia. The artworks that have been selected for the exhibition function as palimpsests where dystopian maps have been superimposed over utopia, but also as utopian constructions where dystopian realities have been absorbed, negated and transcended in order to generate a new utopian synthesis.

A significant metatext in the conceptual architecture of the exhibition is the role and use of various kinds of technologies from low-tech to high-tech digital tools in the production of the artworks. The objective here is to come closer to an understanding of the way in which culture produces itself and attributes meaning to that self-production. The appropriated technologies reflect social processes, histories and conditions in South Africa and as such provide a kind of technological "barometer" for, for instance, rural village settings, inner city diasporic communities and consumer environments.

The echibition consists of a combination of recently and newly produced work of South African artists, both emerging and internationally acclaimed, as well as selected artworks from the University of South Africa's art collection.

A comprehensive catalogue and and educational programme accompany the exhibition. There will be walkabouts on Friday, May 29, and Friday, June 19 at 13:00. A panel discussion will take place in the Unisa Art Gallery on Saturday, May 30, from 10:00 to 13:00/

Dystopia is primarily funded by the National Research Foundation of South Africa under the Key International Science Capacity (KISC) Initiative, as well as by Unisa.

Artists and their artworks:

Adelle van Zyl- "Asphyxiation", 2009.
Medium: Wood, glass, velvet, pins and labels, 500mm x 1000mm x 120mm

Asphyxiation serves to question the act of planning and interpreting crowd control and opposes it with the trauma associated with crowds and individual's fear of suuocation.
Crowds are a reality of dystopian urban life. Asphyxia, or compressed suffocation, is the most common cause of death during uncontrolled crowd behaviour. When planning large events and their accompanying buildings and arenas, sophisticated technologies are employed to ensure the safe dispersion of large crowds. Yet emergency evacuations, plitical rallies and sports events cause hundreds of deaths each year. (more info on the catalogue)

Brett Murray- "Power and patronage",2008.
Medium: Bronze, 370mm x 260mm x 510mm. Edition of 8.

Thisworks form part of a larger group collectively entitled Crocodile tears. The work reflect on the humorous, and sometimes tragic disjunctures within ossified notions of The African Renaissance. The works address issues of power, patronage and sycophyancy and comment on the farcial appearance of political players and dispensations, venal bureaucracies and fallible business ethics. Uncomfortable notions of identity, the mating call of the new South Africa, are exposed.

Celia de Villiers- " Post-human  consumerism", 2009.
Medium: Resin casting, Plexiglas, Variable (size 5 shoe).

The post-human shoes also refer to the Freudian theory of the shoe as a libidinised erotic object. In the colder light of science this has reproductive implications of cloning and hybrids. An adversed attraction is lent to the tactile qualities and sensual shapes by the animalistic hybrid forms and seductive surfaces which play on the utopian / dystopian disjunction.
The mixture of desire and fantasy exploited by erotic codes in advertising, art, media entertainment, social, cultural, economic, and technological transformations has resulted in fetishistic spectacles to create alternative worlds. Fetishism in the Marxist metaphorical sense as applied to understanding mass culture leads to use value being dislocated to become image value. The enigmatic character of the image value of commodities has become part and parcel of contemporary marketing strategies. (more info on the catalogue).

Christiaan Hattingh-' Organic m2_m3_A3.0",2008. (Detail from generate-mutate-translate).
Medium: Interactive digital projection with sound, dimensions variable.

Only the F's mean anything and generate-mutate-translate, 2008, are concerned with information and information exchange in contemporary systems. Systems here are referring to life systems, environmental equilibriums, cultural and language systems, etcetera.
Algorithmically generated forms are related through a twofold process in this work: direct generative code manipulation and random mutation of this code, introduced by a second algorithm. (more info on the catalogue).

Churchill Madikida- "Skeletons in my closet",2004.
Medium: Frames from DVD projection, duration 3:02 mins. (Edition of 5)

In Skeletons in my closet, a pair of blood-red hands wringing each other is shown in a digitally mirrored image that looks alternately like a red flower blooming and a gruesome piece of surgery. The work questions the inability to question tradition, such as whether customs that have long sustained a culture are still necessary and useful.

Collen Maswanganyi- " Tintiho leti ( These fingers)", 2008.
Medium: Cork, wood and acrylic paint, 66cm x 45cm

Tintiho Leti refers to the practice of using fingers to talk about things. What the artist has noticed from mothers where he came from in Limpopo is the use of fingers to refer to their children. They will talk about their children pointing to their fingers starting from the first born to the last.
They cold be boasting about their children where they say a lot of things; and those they have not much to say about, those who are an embarrassment to them. The fingers talk about the children and on them I engraved words that talk about that particular child.

Dale Yudelman- "Cyril from i am...," 2008.
Medium: Chromogenic colour prints, 430 x 820 mm each. Edition 2 / 9.

With i am... Yudelman returns to a monochromatic palette and has applied a multi media approach, including white foil embossing in the prints. Handwritten public notes by job seekers, found in supermakets throughout South Africa, were anchored by poignant images.
i am... handles a serious topic with sensitivity and insight offering an interesting and informative experience without compromising the dignity of those depicted. (more info on the catalogue).

Elfriede Dreyer- "Utopia map", 2009.
Medium: Ultrachrome ink on PVC, 1500mm x 1860mm.

Utopian map comments on institutions as places that participate in the ideologies and utopianism of the governments of the day. During the 1960s European and American vanguard artistis began to create art in response to the ideologies of institutions, perceived as places of "cultural confinement", but since the 1990s it has become fashionable to have critical discussions within the confines of institutions, therebymaking the institution not only the problem but also the solution. As the administrative capital of South Africa, Pretoria probably experienced the onlsaught of local politics in a much more pronounced way. Utopia map entails an aerial view of the eastern CBD area in Pretoria encompassing several institutions such as the University of Pretoria and the English and Afrikaans boys' and girls' schools; the sports stadium Loftus Versfeld; and the surrounding suburban areas. This geographical map has always been a critically significant cultural hub where ideologies have been playing out and citizens vear the scars of past utopian contruction as well as of the impact of the new ideologies of the current ruling party. The colour green has been used as reminiscent of a paradisiacal 'green' zone. (more info on the catalogue).

Zanele Muholi- " Kalmplex, Toronto, from faces and phases, Siyafana", 2008.
Medium: Fibre based photographic print, 865mm x 605mm. (Edition of 8 = 2AP).

There is a meaning or interplay to Faces & Phases and why the project focuses on these two words. The artist decided to capture images of her community in order to contribute towards a more democratic and representative South African homosexual history. Up until 1994, they as black lesbians were excluded from participating in the creation of a formal queer movement and their voices were missing from the pages of gay publications,while white gay activists directed the movement and srote about gay issues and struggles. Hence, few of them were present in the forefront, but many operated underground. (more info on the catalogue).

Lawrence Lemaoana- " The discussion", 2006.
Medium: Digital print on 100% cotton rag paper, 1120mm x 1730mm. (Edition of 10)

His work initially started with a very keen interest in the sport of rugby. Rugby, as in the traditions of South Africa, is predominantly played by white males. His experience was not entirely positive on the rugby field and within its politics. The experience led him to investigate himself as a black male entering and trespassing into a domain that has already being "enculturated" by white males. This, future, prompted me to investigate in his work the idea of masculinity itself. In the work he stage and construct scenes that address ideas of idealism. Using Photoshop, he creates collages that speak of a contemporary African masculinity. He attempt to unseat certainty into things that are uncertain.

Steven Cohen- " Golgotha, Wall Street #1 N.Y".,2007.
Marianne Greber VBK Wien 2009.

The work is very much about the disappearance of death from public life - it is for that reason that I am attempting to re-introduce the reality of death within the living, to see what results. Because I bought the skulls in a high-end object shop in chic Soho, New York, including sales tax to the American government, it raises questions for me, not only about commodification, but about human rights and ethics of behaviour, about forms of respect (what obligations are there implicit in possession of such objects), and obvious questions about where they come from... are they from graves, hopital, 'donate' by criminals. How are they procured, sold, transported across the world (they seem to originate from the East). (more info on the catalogue).

Frikkie Eksteen- "Terminal Host",1918 - 2008.
Medium: Oil on canvas,1000mm x 800mm.

Terminal Host (1918 - 2008) aims to confound popular assumptions about portraiture and its uses. As a way of recording not only a likness but also commemorating a particular history, a portrait  is an imadequate, yet oddly specific document. Because the image has an existence apart from its subject, it is also apt to produce its own fictions. To engage with these ideas, Terminal Host (1918 - 2008) was created by interfering with eleven historically significant portrait paintings in the University of Pretoria's collection. These portraits, representing not only eleven likenesses but also a specific historical time frame (1918 - 2008), have been digitally merged to produce a new subject. By not being exclusively faithful to any personage, the resulting image avoids popular cliche's about the portrait painter's supposedly masterful depiction of some authentic character. What it shows instead, is a generic portrait monstrously flawed by digital artefacts. Another aspect of the paradox is the image's return to the lofty medium it was sourced from. Repainting becomes at once an act of authenticating and commemorating the fiction that has been performed upon the series. By not only merging identities, but also technologies, the artwork questions the fidelity of image transcription and history writing as we know it.

catalogue on sale R100