The second iteration of SOLO at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair (ICTAF) addresses a familiar concern with “the effects of digital space on lived realities.” To the fair’s credit, however, the interface does not devolve into a craven fetishisation of the digital, which, as we are increasingly realising, can not only cripple individual lives but also nation-states. The genie is out of the bottle. However, while it is useful to exaggerate when dealing with emergencies, one need not fan hysteria. Which is why the ICTAF has chosen a softer approach.
The big questions are there – globalisation, migration, trade, labour – but their exploration, by Ibrahim Mahama, is emphatically analogue-based, the artist using jute sacks, wood, and other repurposed materials to generate his alarms. Jake Michael Singer shares Mahama’s eclecticism, combining photography and digital collage with materials less mediated and raw. While both artists recognise the fait accompli that is digitisation, they also know that life cannot and must not be wholly defined thereby.
Compromise, or appeasement, rather than resistance, defines the five artists’ engagement with digitisation. All, in one way or another, seek to understand the impact of the tech revolution on art. None, however, are wholly reconciled to this revolution. This is because, today, we are all too aware of its corruptibility and its threat to our freedoms, despite all the claims to the contrary. Which is why Khanya Mashabela, the galleries and special projects manager of the fair, curator of SOLO, emphasises the importance of ‘sincerity’. The works selected are not ideological critiques but human interventions within an increasingly inconsolable problem.
A lack, as we have increasingly come to realise, that is built within our digital platforms.
Of Sitaara Stodel’s contribution, Mashabela impresses upon me its ‘autographical’ nature, the singularity of the artist’s ‘experience’. Stodel’s work is “inspired by a sense of lacking a real home,” she says. This lack, intrinsic to desire, is something which the artist transforms into a strength. Her family’s struggle “to keep up a middle class lifestyle without being able to afford it,” reveals the glitch within Capital, the desire to misrepresent one’s social station, but also the lack that stalks it. A lack, as we have increasingly come to realise, that is built within our digital platforms.
Which is why, amongst the artists selected for SOLO, we also have Tabita Rezaire, an intersectional preacher and health practitioner. If in architecture we speak of ‘sick buildings’, then in the digital realm we have innumerable sick platforms. However, this withering of our being and the investments we make are not intrinsically the fault of technology. Rather, the problem is existential. Lack is wired within us, as is our devastation.
Bleak though this may seem, it is a difficulty that, for Mashabela, allows for a greater sincerity on the part of the artists. Contra Stodel, who draws us into the fold of psychic loss, Kyu Sang Lee’s video work is pointedly “surreal, staged, constructed, but still sincere” – a sincerity that comes with an exaggerated sting. The contrast between these artists, indeed across the spectrum of all five artists, is reassuring. In enshrining an artist’s singularity, SOLO reminds us that subjectivity, sincerity, and authenticity in art-making is critical, and, moreover, that it can also be rewardingly nurtured by the artificial and inauthentic.
In its second iteration, SOLO has decided not to contain its five artists within a designated zone, but to pepper their works across the fair. This makes sense when one considers Mashabela’s view that SOLO consists of “fragments of an idea that is shared.” It is, then, this greater convivial connectivity, and its anxious inverse, which best conveys the temperament and the temperature of the ICTAF in 2019. Nothing can be resolved at this point in time. It is not only the art world that is flat-lining, but the world as a whole. Which is why, all the more, in this radically relativised and morally anarchic moment, we need sincerity and authenticity. Fulfilling this need via a digital realm catastrophically skewed by fakery is a big yet necessary ask, especially within the cultural context of the cacophonic and dangerously complacent art fair model. “We need to get into an idea in depth,” says Mashabela. But we also need ‘restful moments’. Indeed.
An article by Ashraf Jamal
Featured image : Jack Michael Singer, “Whirl and Conflict”, 2018. Giclee Epson enhanced matte. 33 x 26.5 in. Courtesy Matter Gallery.
This article was written for The Art Momentum | Cape Town Art Fair Artpaper. [French version inside]
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