As part of the Foreign Neighbors initiative, Jana + Koos will be presenting a collection of work titled City of Gold Diggers, JHB Hates You in New York City. The show consists of mixed media photography, graphic design digital prints as well as installation and video art – of which Jana + Koos had the following to say:
“Like many people living in Johannesburg, we’re not from here. We came here to make something, make some money and try to break into the city that can very easily just break you. It’s not an easy place to make it but it’s rewarding in unexpected and sneaky ways. It’s the place in Africa where you go to get rich or die trying. It’s the place where the gold diggers unite. You end up loving it as much as it seemingly doesn’t try to love you back. It’s a jumble of contradictions as it tries to figure itself out and it is this flux that inspires us daily, and is the root of most of the personal work and side projects we do.
The gold we’re talking about is more of an attitude that we’re trying to capture. City of Gold Diggers is ugly, it’s diverse, it’s penis enlargement, it’s skylines, mine dumps and buses stuck in intersections. It’s daylight robbery, it’s secret meetings in public places, high contrasts, far away beats, dry knuckles and streetfights that almost happened. It’s champagne & pangas, coco-channel & mos-sien-jy-nou. It’s Indian zulu muti, capped teeth, always pushing for the bokke/skille/bones. Maneki-neko waves at you. It’s now and its 1970, it’s getting drunk on Tuesday, and Wednesday. It’s kak soapies and fake celebrities, it’s beautiful sunsets over tuscan villas. It’s walking & talking, and getting lost.”
Considering the parallels between Johannesburg and New York City, Jana + Koos felt that this was the perfect place to launch. We chatted to the duo to learn a bit more:
Tell us about your upcoming show, City of Gold Diggers.
This exhibition is an evolution of the first City Of Gold exhibition we did in 2012. The first show was so well received and we just felt JHB had a lot more to explore. The work is a mix of design and photographic digital prints as well as some installation and video pieces. It’s a Jana + Koos take on a place that we really love, with all its faults and idiosyncrasies. It’s a funny place, one that generally leaves us laughing (often as a reaction to shock or being uncomfortable) and in such our take on it is will always be a tongue in cheek one.
One of the first ideas we had was take the famous “I Love NY” slogan and localise it to say “JHB Hates You”. It kind of kick-started the whole exhibition and encapsulates the tone and spirit of the city and this project. Because of this it feels right to take the exhibition to NY and we really like that it’s come full circle and we’re able to bring the JHB t-shirts to New York.
How did the exhibition and your involvement with Foreign Neighbors originally come about?
We met Nader Rajab who started the Foreign Neighbors initiative a couple of years back when he visited South Africa and immediately got along very well. We helped him develop the Foreign Neighbors brand identity and he asked if we would be keen to be the next Neighbors. It’s one of those great opportunities that pop up and we obviously just couldn’t say no.
How long has the body of work been in the making, and what forms of research did you undertake to create it?
Some of the pieces have been ideas we’ve had for years but never knew where it fitted in, and so this exhibition has been a nice incentive to explore those ideas further and expand with a lot of new ones. All of the work is inspired by our day to day experiences in and around the city. Once we knew the direction of the exhibition we spent loads of time just traveling through the city looking for places and found objects to incorporate into the work.
What did you come to realise or discover throughout the process?
As always the process has been the best part of experience. We work very well together but still have very diverse thoughts and opinions which means we fight a lot to get to the point that we’re both happy, but when we get to that point we know its right. We let ourselves play around a lot, rather than having a strict direction in the beginning – and despite the fact that a lot of the work is quite diverse in terms of theme and execution, it was always about a certain tone and attitude and it’s satisfying to see that start coming together as you near the end.
The works are influenced by a mixture of things historical and current, but what is clear is that they aren’t a typical depiction of Johannesburg. Why do you think it’s important for alternate views of the city to be shown, particularly to foreigners?
JHB is cool exactly because it isn’t what you expect it to be and because it’s constantly changing and moving. It also doesn’t always take itself too seriously – and this is the aspect that we love and wanted to explore and convey. When we approach projects like this, it’s about capturing the spirit of Johannesburg- but importantly also, it’s about doing it in our style and with our approach, which in this case is a playful one.
What does the phrase ‘City of Gold’ mean to you?
We liked the idea of changing it to City Of Gold Diggers because we reckon the new “Gold” is the people here, and the things they are doing, and that this is new magnet drawing people here. This common thread of trying to make it, and the energy that this never ending hustle brings is what binds everyone, and everyone in the JHB sense is an extremely wide and otherwise disparate bunch of individuals.
How do you imagine this exhibition will position you in the art world?
For us as designers, doing exhibitions is less about being positioned in the art world and all about forcing ourselves to do personal and explorative projects, free of briefs, and just for ourselves. We hope that people will start to recognise our attitude/approach and personal aesthetic – which is a big part of building our own brand, because as designers it’s never about forcing our aesthetic or style as much as doing what’s strategically right for your client.
We have always been accidental artists and the kind of things we end up making are ideas that we reckon would be fun to execute. None of our art is very serious and so it doesn’t need to be over explained. We’re probably somewhere in between artist and designers but like that fact that we don’t really know where it fits into art world or if it even does at all. Hopefully people who like art and who don’t generally like art will get to see some of it and make up their own minds.
Are you planning to bring the show back to South Africa?
Yes. We’d love to bring the show back and expand on it to have it both in JHB which would obviously make sense, but then also in CT. For now we are in NY just pulling this together so will have to start planning the SA shows as soon as we’re back and have a bit of breathing space.
City of Gold Diggers, JHB Hates You opens 5 June 2014 at the EVA NY Open Gallery Space.