Arts Research Africa Dialogues

ARTS RESEARCH AFRICA  |  Podcast , ±50 min episodes every 6 weeks, 5 days  | 
These dialogues from the Wits School of Arts, Arts Research Africa project, are intended to stimulate practice, enable research, and inspire collective engagement around the question of Arts Research in Africa. Art lecturers and postgraduate students in the Wits School of Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, are grappling with the challenge of positioning arts research in an African context. These podcasts seek to develop a dialogue with both national and international practices and debates.

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28
SEP

Ways-of-Remembering-Existing: donna Kukama rewrites history & writes performance

In this dialogue Prof Christo Doherty of ARA speaks to donna Kukama, a South African born interdisciplinary artist who works with performance, works on canvas, sculptural objects, video, and site-specific installation. The underlying topic of this conversation is how donna uses performance art and other practices as tools for artistic research, elaborating a challenging critique of the existing narratives of history and traditional modes of storytelling.

Donna currently has a solo exhibition at the Wits Art Museum, entitled "Ways-of-Remembering-Existing" which runs until the 5th of November.

Donna was born in Mafikeng, in the then South African homeland of Boputsawana in 1981. After completing a Fine Arts degree at the Tswana University of Technology, she studied for a Masters in Public Art in Switzerland. She was awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Performance Art in 2014 and has gone on to exhibit and present performances at a range of prestigious national and international galleries and museums including the Museum of Modern Art in Antwerp, the nGbk in Berlin, the New Museum in New York, and the South African National Gallery in Cape Town. She is currently the Professor of Contemporary Art in the Global South at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne, Germany.

In this conversation, we explore donna’s personal trajectory as an artist, and her experience of different kinds of arts education in South Africa and Europe. We also discuss her Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Performance Art, the impact this had on her career and the significance of performance art in post-apartheid South Africa.
We then concentrate on the interrogation of history in donna’s work, and the collaborative research project, the Centre for Historical Re-enactments, which she initiated during her time as a lecturer at Wits together with Gabi Ngcobo and Kemang Wa Lehulere.
We also examine donna’s radical conception of written histories, which in her practice is not limited to the physical form of bound pages in book, but moves through rumour, memory, performance, drawing, sculptural objects, installations and sound.
Finally, we unpack the creative process behind her video/performance work “The Swing (After after Fragonard) from 2009. The Swing is one of the 4 video pieces featured at her WAM exhibition. I had understood that the work was a complex critical reconfiguration of two previous works, the 18th Century Rococo painting The Swing by Fragonard, and then Yinka Shonibare’s decolonial installation from 2001 called The Swing (after Fragonard), but I had no idea of what went into the creation of donna’s work or the dramatic personal consequences for her of the performance on a swing high above Mai-Mai market in downtown Johannesburg.

Important links:
donna's WAM exhibition info: https://www.wits.ac.za/wam/exhibitions/
donna's video, The Swing (after after Fragonard): https://vimeo.com/202671614
Her gallery representation in SA:
https://blankprojects.com/Donna-Kukama-Bio
Nontobeko Ntombela's essay on donna and Reshma Chhiba's performance art: https://www.academia.edu/73685573/Silent_Toyi_Toyis_in_the_work_of_Donna_Kukama_and_Reshma_Chhiba
donna's Instagram with a wealth of images and videos of her work. https://www.instagram.com/kukama_wa_kukama/?hl=en
31
AUG

Shooting Down Babylon (The Art of War): The performance art of Tracey Rose

In this dialogue Prof Christo Doherty of ARA speaks to Tracey Rose, currently Senior Lecturer in the Fine Arts department in the Wits School of Arts, and internationally renowned as an artist who works across a range of practices, but most notably as a performance artist using her body.
Tracey’s work has recently been featured in a major retrospective exhibition at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town. Curated by the new Director of the Zeitz, Koyo Kouoh, the exhibition was called Shooting Down Babylon (The Art of War). The title references one of the works on the exhibition, an installation which reflects on exorcist and cleansing rituals from non-western communities.

In this discussion, we look at Tracey’s trajectory as a radical artist, activist and provocateur, from her upbringing and early schooling in Durban, and her arts education at Wits where she qualified for a BA in Fine Arts before studying for an MA at Goldsmiths College in London. We touch her on exhibition at the Zeitz Mocaa but go into greater depth into her use of photography and video, both significant aspects of her artistic practice overshadowed in the critical discourse by the dynamic physicality of her performance work.
We also discuss the way that she is recognised on the international scene as a black African artist, but how in South Africa that identity is burdened by the still active apartheid definition of “coloured”. We then go some way towards unpacking the paradoxes of hypervisibility and invisibility which afflict an artist such as Tracey who deploys own body as a site for protest, outrage, resistance and pertinent discourse.

Finally we explore Tracey’s growing interest in the connections between artistic practice, shamanism, and non-Western forms of spirituality as manifested in works such as Shooting Down Babylon.

I highly recommend Tracey’s audio walk through of her Zeitz exhibition which is available at https://zeitzmocaa.museum/exhibition/exhibitions/shooting-down-babylon/
Also highly recommended is Tracey’s address to the Global Feminisms Exhibition in New York in 2007: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OX5iLPLWzPM
Articles worth consulting:
Kellie Jones, "Tracey Rose: Postapartheid Playground". Journal of Contemporary African Art. 29 Summer 2004.
Polly Savage, "Playing to the Gallery: Masks, Masquerade and Museums". African Arts 41,4 Winter 2008.
Emmanuel Balogum, "Tracey Rose: Shooting Down Babylon". Art Monthly 456 May 2022.
28
JUL

Art, Research, and Innovation: Hannelie Coetzee's ecological public art

In this dialogue Prof Christo Doherty of ARA speaks to Hannelie Coetzee, a Johannesburg-based ecological artist who has been working across the boundaries of art, science and activist engagement. Hannelie describes herself as a visual artist, researcher and innovator. Through her ecological art practice, she aims to grow audiences that appreciate art, contextualise the science behind the natural world, and improve environmental infrastructure development through functional artworks. She uses waste materials alongside unlikely transdisciplinary partnerships to build site specific artworks and interventions which are extensively documented on her website.https://www.hanneliecoetzee.com/
Hannelie has also just completed an MSc at Wits. We are familiar with artists who undertake MAFAs or MFAs in collaboration with scientists or science labs; but Hannelie was accepted to do an MSc in the Faculty of Science despite the fact that she had no undergraduate science training. The subject of her research was Art as Transformative Praxis interrogating transient ecologic patterns. This is an important breakthrough which we will explore in this podcast together with Hannelie’s work as a visual artist and, very importantly, as an innovator. We also discuss her collaborative engagements with scientists on a variety of projects including her large-scale "veld burns" and her engagements with urban greening and indigenous healers.
This podcast was recorded remotely with Hannelie in Denmark and myself in Johannesburg. We had some technical problems with the recording; but I think the subject matter is so fascinating that I ask you to bear with the occasional variations in sound quality.
22
JUN

Invisibility and hyper-visibility: Portia Malatjie and Nontobeko Ntombela on curating When Rain Clouds Gather

In this dialogue, Prof Christo Doherty of ARA speaks to Dr Portia Malatjie and Nontobeko Ntombela, the curators of When Rain Clouds Gather, an important new exhibition at the Norval Foundation in Cape Town. The exhibition is a reflection on the influential and often unacknowledged contribution of Black Women to South African art history in the 20th Century. Covering the the period from 1940 to the year 2000, the exhibition stages a cross generational communion of 40 Black women artists from early Modernism to the contemporary period.

Portia is a Senior Lecturer in Visual Cultures at the Michaelis School of Fine Arts, University of Cape Town. She is also adjunct curator of Africa and African diaspora at the Hyundai Tate Research Centre at the Tate Modern in London, and is adjunct curator at the Norval Foundation in Cape Town. Nontobeko is a lecturer and Head of the History of Art department in the Wits School of Arts at Wits. Previously she was curator of the Contemporary collection at the Johannesburg Art Gallery and before that was curator at the Durban Institute of Technology Art Gallery.

In this discussion, we explore the curatorial tools and strategies that Portia and Nontobeka deployed in this ambitious undertaking to disrupt existing categories of classification while creating a space to contest the erasure of work by Black women artists in South African art history. We examine the way in which they negotiated the negative effects of both invisibility and hyper-visibility on the understanding of Black women's art and the way in which Black feminism informed their curatorial approach. We also discuss the challenge of understanding curation as a form of creative practice in itself, and its importance as means of making previously suppressed work visible to new audiences.
See:
https://www.norvalfoundation.org/when-rain-clouds-gather/
https://contemporaryand.com/fr/magazines/archives-of-womanhood-and-blackness-in-south-africa/
28
MAY

Avril Joffe: Engaging Arts Policy with Creative Methodologies

In this dialogue, Prof Christo Doherty of ARA speaks to Avril Joffe, currently the postgraduate programme coordinator and previously the Head of the Department of Cultural Policy and Management in the Wits School of Arts.
Under Avril’s headship the department was renamed to focus on cultural policy and management, and has developed a range of productive relationships with institutions in both the Global north and south, including Kings College, London; the Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries at Peking University, China; and in South Africa with Business Arts South Africa, the National Arts Council, and the Goethe Institute.
We explore Avril’s own trajectory from an MPhil in Developmental Economics at Sussex University to a career as a researcher in labour relations and urban development before moving into the field of cultural policy. In this field Avril is an internationally recognised expert, advising on policy to the South African government and an appointment as an expert member of UNESCO’s Cultural Policy and Governance Facility. We look closely at Avril’s interest in Creative Methodologies as a tool for researchers collecting data, and the ground-breaking international conference on creative methodologies and urban research that Avril co-organised in 2021. We also discuss the function of cultural policy, and whether or not government policy in post-apartheid South Africa has fostered or hindered the creative arts. We weigh up the challenges of working with cultural institutions in authoritarian states such as China, and finally we discuss the ways in which creative artists can productively engage with questions of cultural policy.
Check out the following links:
Dept of Cultural Policy and Management webpage: https://www.wits.ac.za/wsoa/cultural-policy-and-management/
Dr Nancy Duxbury's website with key papers on creative methodologies: https://ces.uc.pt/en/ces/pessoas/investigadoras-es/nancy-duxbury/apresentacao
19
APR

Interlocutor/halfie: Dr George Mahashe on being a Molobedu, an artist and an academic

In this dialogue, Prof Christo Doherty of ARA speaks to Dr George Mahashe, a lecturer in Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town, who was recently based at the Geneva Observatory as part of the Swiss Artists-in-Labs programme. George talks about his work at the Observatory and his perspective on the experience as a black African who has a acute awareness of his “distributed sensibilities” as a member of a specific African sociality, the Balobedu, and as an academic and an artist.
George was born and raised in Bolobedu in the rural north eastern part of Limpopo Province in South Africa. He first practiced photography as an assistant to a local itinerant photographer before going on to study for a BTech degree in photography. After working as a lecturer and practitioner in commercial photography his awareness of the implications of photography as a colonial representational practice led him into studying the intersections between anthropology, photography and fine arts practice culminating in a PhD in Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town. George used the space offered by PhD research to imagine the concept of khelobedu, from his own point of view, as a member of an African community whose knowledge practices have been studied and marginalised by the colonial academy. Using a combination of unorthodox methods, notably travel and the practice of "ill-discipline", within more established methods such as fine arts play and the participant observation techniques of anthropology, his PhD research challenges the western representational emphasis in photography while employing the film essay and developments of the camera obscure to recognise the dream as a Balodedu technology that can foreground Balobedu subjectivity.
Useful links:
The text of George's UCT PhD, MaBareBare, a rumour of a dream:
http://hdl.handle.net/11427/30544
AiL mini-documentary on George at Geneva Observatory: https://vimeo.com/56660581
Omenka interview:
https://www.omenkaonline.com/
23
MAR

Exploring the spaces between - Marcus Neustetter's playful interventions into art, science, and public engagement

In this dialogue Prof Christo Doherty of ARA speaks to Marcus Neustetter, the South African artist, cultural activist, and producer who has been working at the intersection of art, science, technology and public engagement for the last two decades since his graduation with an MAFA from Wits in 2001.

They discuss some of the collaborative projects that Marcus has undertaken across these intersections and will unpack key aspects of his critical and playful multi-disciplinary practice that has ranged from conventional drawing and painting to site-specific installations, mobile and virtual interventions, performance art, and socially engaged projects across South Africa and Africa, and internationally.

They focus on Marcus's work with the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) in Sutherland in the Karoo; his explorations with light and how he has deployed the concept of the "vertical gaze" in his imaginative involvement with Sumbandila, the first South African space satellite. They also probe deeply into how his understanding of the interrelationship between artistic practice, public engagement and science has evolved, and his most recent participation in the Vienna-based transdisciplinary project, The Zone.

Links: See Marcus's artist's website: https://marcusneustetter.com/

The Zone project website: https://the-zone.at/
22
FEB

Irène Hediger & Artists-in_Labs: exploring the unknown across diverse disciplines

In this dialogue, I speak to Irène Hediger, the director of the Artists-in -Labs programme based at the Zurich University of the Arts in Switzerland. The programme, which has now been running continuously for the last nineteen years, is one of the most successful Arts-Science initiatives in the world and has initiated and managed over 50 creative engagements between artists and research labs, ranging from CERN to Aquatic Research.
The programme is part of the Department of Cultural Analysis (DKV) at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) and it works to build sustainable collaboration between artists and scientists of all disciplines, not just in Switzerland but, under Irène’s leadership, has been expanding its field of engagement all around the world, including China, Saudi Arabia, and most recently South Africa. These long-term interdisciplinary and cross-border collaborations provide artists with an opportunity to critically engage with the sciences and their experimental and aesthetic dimensions. This includes explorations of the site of the laboratory, as well as a range of scientific topics, methods and technologies.
In this podcast, we discuss the personal path that brought Irène to join Dr Jill Scott as co-director of AiL; the lessons learnt from the first pilot projects; the way that the AiL project has evolved and the lessons that have been learnt about time and how to manage such residencies; the selection process; and the importance of unknowing and creative thinking on the part of both artists and scientists in such collaborative projects.
The AiL home page:
https://www.zhdk.ch/en/researchproject/ail--artists-in-labs-program-418324
The project also has extensive documentation of all the residencies, with short documentary videos recording the artists and scientists experiences. https://www.artistsinlabs.ch/en/
For details about their current collaborations and projects see the AiL Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/artistsinlabs/
20
JAN

Art-Science engagements: Karel Nel's brilliant darkness

In this dialogue, I explore the challenging and increasingly important concept of Art~Science creative collaboration with one of the leading International practitioners in this field, the South African artist, Karel Nel. Until 2017, Karel was an Associate Professor in the department of Fine Arts at Wits, and is an internationally regarded artist as well as a curator and scholar of African, Asian, and Oceanic art from the late 19th and 20th centuries. This dialogue focuses on his work that crosses the boundaries between science and art and the relationship this work has to his deep interest in traditional, particularly African, art forms.

Karel has been the artist-in-residence on the COSMOS astronomical project since the launch of the project in 2004. COSMOS, one of the largest international astronomical projects ever conducted, is an investigation into the origins and evolution of the Universe and Karel has been an integral member of the scientific team. In addition, over much of his career as an artist, Karel has also worked in the field of palaeontology, inspired by the proximity of his family home to the Cradle of Mankind and his creative collaborations with world class palaeontologists at Wits such as Professor Phillip Tobais.
Some useful links:
Karel’s London gallery, with online versions of exhibition catalogues: https://www.artfirst.co.uk/karel_nel/exhibitions.html
The COSMOS project site: https://cosmos.astro.caltech.edu/
Nechama Brodies’s account of the Life of Bone exhibition at Wits Origins Centre. http://witspress.bookslive.co.za/blog/2011/06/17/nechama-brodie-visits-the-life-of-bone-exhibition-at-the-wits-origins-centre/. The exhibition catalogue is available from Wits University Press at the same link or from Wits Libraries.

The Feedspot survey of international art school podcasts - the ARA dialogues were rated one of the top 10 by Feedspot users - can be found at https://blog.feedspot.com/art_school_podcasts
23
NOV
2021

Re-centering Africa through artistic research and decolonial pedagogy: a conversation with Prof Samuel Ravengai

In this dialogue, I speak to Prof Samuel Ravengai, a leading exponent of artistic research into African modes of performance and theatre making, a multi faceted mode of enquiry that he theorises as Afroscenology.
Samuel is a Zimbabwean born, South African based, scholar and theatre director with a doctorate in Theatre and Performance from the University of Cape Town. He was most recently the head of the Department of Theatre and Performance in the Wits School of Arts, and has just been appointed as the editor of the South African Theatre Journal. He has also just co-edited, with Owen Seda, an important collection of essays in the Palgrave Macmillan Contemporary Performance Interactions series. Entitled Theatre from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe with the subtitle Hegemony, Identity and a contested identity the collection encompasses many of Samuel’s interests which span both research and creative work in the areas of theatre making, directing, theatre historiography, critical theory, post-colonial/ de-colonial theory, performance analysis, cultural studies, performance art, installation, site-specific theatre, curation, race, cultural identity and African studies.

In this ARA dialogue we discuss Samuel’s personal background in Zimbabwe, his studies and professional work. We unpack his theory of Afroscenology and its application in the Wits School of Arts where Samuel led the transformation of the old department of Drama into a department of Theatre and Performance. We also look at his new book on the emergence of Zimbabwean theatre in the context of the postcolony and how the iconoclastic writer/poet Dambudzo Marechera can be understood through Afroscenology. Finally, we explore Samuel’s perspective as a Zimbabwean on the possibilities of pan-African engagement and the kind of networks necessary to foster artistic research on the continent.
Further reading: Artistic research in Africa: Formulating the theory of Afroscenology - https://wiredspace.wits.ac.za/handle/10539/29246
18
OCT
2021

Taking contemporary art practice into the forensic lab: a conversation with Dr Kathryn Smith

Dr Kathryn Smith is an interdisciplinary visual artist and curator who has moved from an initial education in Fine Arts (with a BAFA and MAFA from Wits) to actively explore applied sciences at the University of Dundee where she earned an MSc in Forensic Art, and a PhD from the Liverpool John Moores University. It is a journey that has taken her from advanced contemporary art practice, she was winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 2004, to a deep engagement with the practicalities and theoretical and ethical challenges of forensic facial imaging.
In this dialogue, we discuss the trajectory of Kathryn's career from "crime artist and muse" - starting with her MA on Joel-Peter Witkin - to applied forensic facial reconstruction projects such as the recent Sutherland Reburial Initiative.

We also discuss the postgraduate work Kathryn did at the Dundee Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification and the challenges raised by the "Laws of the Face" which she explored in her PhD; as well as her contributions to the Face Lab research group, including the development of the MA Art in Science degree at Liverpool John Moores University.
We talk about her return to South Africa and how she is establishing resources to promote forensic imaging skills through VIZ.Lab, as well as new understandings of this scarce skill in the African context, most recently for the Charting the Uncharted exhibition.

Finally we explore Kathryn's thinking about the relationship between art and science practice; the management of "pracademic" exchanges between operational, institutional, and research environments; and the notion of knowledge generation in arts-science-technology research.
Links:
VIZ.Lab:
http://www0.sun.ac.za/visualarts/projects/
Stellenbosch University profile of Kathryn:
https://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7858
The Sutherland Reburial Initiative:
https://theconversation.com/how-art-and-technology-helped-bring-faces-of-the-dead-to-life-127844
12
AUG
2021

ARA Podcast - A ludic approach to artistic research - a conversion with Prof Margarete Jahrmann

In this dialogue I speak to Professor Margarete Jahrmann, the internationally renowned media artist, artistic researcher and games theorist who has just been appointed head of the new department of Experimental Game Cultures at the Vienna University of Applied Arts. Margarete was previously a Professor in Artistic Research at the Vienna University of Applied Arts and was a Professor of Games Design at the Zurich University of the Arts. We discuss how her background in Game Design led her into the realm of Artistic Research; the different ways in which Artistic Research has been taken up across "Europe"; the challenging relationship between games, contemporary art, and commercial game design; her approach to developing the new Experimental Games Cultures programme; and the challenging work which she has been pursuing during the lockdown.
Two of Margarete's recent publications, which we discuss in the podcast, are accessible at:
Margarete Jahrmann, 2021. Ludic Meanders through Defictionalization: The Narrative Mechanics of Art
Games in the Public Spaces of Politics. In: Narrative Mechanics
https://doi.org/10.14361/9783839453452-014
Jahrmann M (2021). Ludics: The Art of Play and Societal Impact. In Franke, B. (ed.): NOT AT YOUR SERVICE. MANIFESTOS FOR DESIGN. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel. pp.319-329.
http://www.margaretejahrmann.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/manifestos_200910_jahrmann.pdf
Margarete's own website, containing links to all her work is
http://www.margaretejahrmann.net/

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