June 30, 2007

I'll stop believing in you if you stop believing in me

by Ruth Sacks

I'll stop believing in you if you stop believing in me is a catalogue of a non-existent exhibition. In South Africa it is a difficult for young artists to get on exhibitions regularly, owing to challenges of infrastructure and funding. Even more established artists must often grapple with similar concerns. The role of printed matter holds great significance in this context.

Making and studying artwork in South Africa (and many other less central parts of the world) largely entails experiencing contemporary works through their documentation. That is, websites, books and magazines that were created to represent art events long after the fact. One of the most impressive things about the South African art world is the number of publications through which it is presented, as compared with the rest of Africa.

Nevertheless, there is no comparison to the amount of printed matter generated in first world art centres in Europe and America. It is this that we address in I'll stop believing in you if you stop believing in me. We decided to cut corners and remove the exhibition altogether.

Artists were invited to specially make works, following their own styles and concerns, but with this concept as a starting point. While the exhibitors had some control over how their work was displayed within this forum, the overall decisions lay in the hands of the curators.

In this particular case, the participating artists are all known to have dealt with themes of authenticity and fictionality and were each allotted four A5 pages to explore projects that might not be possible in real time or space. The end result reveals a number of issues which highlight the context of working within the contemporary South African art world.

In the spirit of the overall atmosphere of lying and fakery, many artists involved worked under a pseudonym. In the case of Zama Kubu's contribution, a well known Swiss artist selected an isiXhosa name to use as his own. He had been fascinated by what he saw as the pressure on all South African artists to deal with race and quota issues, despite over ten years having passed since the apartheid regime ended. His actual project involved providing photographic 'evidence' of an intervention on the outskirts of Cape Town.

One large foldout poster depicts a text piece installed on a bridge along the N2, the freeway which runs from the airport to the city of Cape Town (the 'townships', areas where people of colour were forced to live during apartheid, are visible from this road).

Concerns with issues of identity are further accentuated by Kathryn Smith. For her contribution, she went under mitochondrial DNA testing, a process which traces one's origins as far back as possible along the maternal line. At the same time she hired a past life regression therapist to expose her previous lives through hypnosis. She displays evidence of the results of both processes in the book.

Daniel Halter's project brings the interesting phenomenon of discontinued exhibitions as well as wish fulfillment to the fore. The young Zimbabwean artist creates an exhibition within the pages of the book which utilizes the material originally intended for the third Brett Kebble Art Awards which never took place. These exhibitions were part of a glamorous, high profile awards ceremony in South Africa. Only two Brett Kebble Art Awards were held (in 2003 and 2004), due to its controversial patron being shot dead in September 2005.

Halter was an assistant on the show. In the pages of the book, he describes and provides evidence of creating his own impromptu Brett Kebble Art Awards 2005 in the luscious store rooms of the late Kebble's mansion in Bishopscourt, Cape Town, during the days when the fate of both the work intended for display and the employees of the awards ceremony were still uncertain. His is the only exhibition of that particular group of work that will ever exist.

All sorts of projects emerged in the process of making the book: A manipulative infiltration of a private online sex chat group by William Scarborough (the riposte from one of the duped victims is also included in order to allow for fair play), a purely aesthetic all girl Goth band by Andrew Lamprecht, the launch of the Association of Happy Artists by Gallerie Puta as well as that of the first African journey to the sun by Kiluanji Kia Henda.

Many artists, like Sebastian Charilaou, alongside the combined efforts of Cesare Pietroiusti and Giancarlo Norese, toy with the clich├ęs of aesthetic and verbal languages found in the documentation of contemporary art. Some projects were actually carried out. Others were purely fictional. At the end of the day, not one single statement or image in the pages of the book is to be trusted. Curator Robert Sloon is purportedly a fictional character, while fellow curator Ruth Sacks continually claims informally that every part of the project was, in fact, her own doing.

We hope the book will be in print by the end of this year.


Ruth Sacks and Robert Sloon

Participating artists
Kiluanji Kia Henda
Chad Rossouw
Gallerie Puta
Ed Young
Sebastian Charilaou
William Scarborough
Zama Kubu
Kathryn Smith
Daniel Halter
Cesare Pietroiusti
Giancarlo Norese
Karin Gavassa
Elan Gamaker