11 Nov Featured: MADEYOULOOK Re-look The Banal
MADEYOULOOK is the moniker under which Molemo Moiloa and Nare Mokgotho create work together. The works of MADEYOULOOK are, as the name suggests, tongue-in-cheek interventions that encourage a re-observation of and de-familiarization of the ordinary. The works engage daily urban routine, lived and practiced by people every day. In reworking and interrupting these, viewers and/or participants are ‘made to re-look’ and question societal relations. In 2012 MADEYOULOOK was nominated for the MTN New Contemporaries Competition. Currently, they have an exhibition on at GoetheonMain in Maboneng.
What are each of your ‘day jobs’, and do these relate to or influence your art-making in any way?
Nare is a creative researcher for Velocity Films and a freelance copyrighter, and Molemo is national director of the Visual Arts Network of South Africa (VANSA).
Working day jobs affords us some creative freedom and relieves some of the pressures that can come with having to make art for a living. Because we are occupied (and paid) by our day jobs, we can make art because we really want to, because we are absorbed by certain ideas. It also means we have the luxury of making work that isn’t so sellable – ephemeral and temporary works for which the form is dictated by the idea. It’s also had some affect in the way with think, we have different perspectives, different approaches influenced by where we spend our days.
How do you each balance the work/art ratio?
Do a lot of meditation.
What attracted you to working with each other, and what has the outcome of this been collectively and for each of you personally?
We started working together in art school when we found we were interested in similar modes of working and similar concerns. We worked on projects then, that would have been really difficult to do as just one person – often working in the public sphere and often with multiple collaborators or partners. It’s been like that ever since. We’ve been working together for about 6 years now.
It helps to work as two people because we have an immediate sounding board, a back and forth to develop ideas. Also, we can tell each other when an idea is a bit shit. The other person has a distance from your ideas – where you might get stuck in your own head. That’s really helpful.
Working collaboratively is quite rewarding. Telling someone a good idea and having them get super excited and help you build it, that’s so great to have. Sharing an idea is quite a vulnerable thing to do, so you need a person who will respect that.
What are the underlying concerns that inform your joint work as MADEYOULOOK ?
We have always been interested in everyday acts, relatively public acts, and unpacking and rethinking them. We are interested in defamiliarizing the ordinary, to understand its motivations and broader significance for society. Things like fluiting, or sermons on trains, or gazating. We are also interested in broader ideas of production of knowledge and meaning, who has the rights to determine how things/places/actions are understood, and who has access to them.
Several MADEYOULOOK works interrogate and engage with the politics of place. Can you tell us more about this and share a few examples…
Our work has initially stemmed from urban settings, mostly because we were both born and raised in hyper-urban settings in Johannesburg. And because we take from everyday actions, a number of these have been place based. But it’s by no means the majority.
Those that have interrogated the politics of place – do so particularly in how the meaning of certain places are determined, and by whom. Wish you were here was a project we did in Cape Town. It took the form of different tourist backdrops of iconic Cape Town landmarks pasted onto the vitrines at Adderley Station. These were provided as possible backdrops for commuters and passers-by to take photographs in front of on their cell phones. A description of the project’s intentions and a request for participation in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa were also provided – and indicated clearly what our intentions were.
The work functioned as a parody of Cape Town and its elitism, highlighting who has access and who does not. The work also cites the daily influx of people into the city centre on the trains from the city’s outskirts and the movement of black people from the Eastern Cape and much of the rest of the continent post 1994. These migrants are amongst the most marginalized and the ‘snapping’ and cell phone dissemination of touristy photos speaks directly to the aspirations and problematics of migration in South Africa. Sending the photographs ‘home’, a kind of ‘wish you were here’ exercise, alludes to a particular statement of having ‘made it’ in the big city – likely an extension of the truth; that calls the glamour of Cape Town’s image into question. Furthermore, the cell phone images become a kind of record that the participants take with them, that we – as MADEYOULOOK – have no access to. The artwork survives then, only on the cellphones of participants and anyone they send the photo to.
Corner loving does this quite differently, in that it explores a utilitarian space and attempts to unpack the extraordinary ways in which corners are used and under such intricate circumstances. In the case of Corner loving, the place becomes symbolic for a much broader and infinitely more complex set of relations and societal circumstances.
In each of your practices and together as MADEYOULOOK, you question conventions of what art is, where it should be exhibited, and who should ‘look’ at it. Why, and what are some of the ways you do this?
Because we are interested in knowledge production, and in many ways the creation of art is the creation of meaning, art becomes an area of issue for us. We first did this with Sermon on the Train, where we got Wits University Lecturers to give lectures on the Metrorail. In one sense it was a challenge to the Ivory Tower about public knowledge production, but on the other hand it was also about the potential to engage new audiences. There was a similar intention with Extra Extra, in which we mass produced posters by Serge Nitigeka and Musa Nxumalo and handed them out the way people hand out flyers on street corners – a play around new art audiences and the potential for new art collectors – and the extent to which many working class homes have art on their walls already in the form of popular imagery, and yet art seems to remain this elitist and exclusive thing.
Leading on from this, how do you each interpret notions of value and prescribed value in relation to your own art?
Eish. Value is a really abstract idea for us. And we struggle with it a lot. While we often have tried to challenge an idea of an art establishment, we also don’t think we have particularly good answers.
How does the current exhibition, Corner Loving, continue on from previous MADEYOULOOK works?
We have always been interested in working with acts that are seemingly inconsequential, and relooking them in such a way that reveals a far more complex set of underlying social issues and interpersonal relations. Corner Loving started about four years ago for us, when we began speaking about why couples meet on corners as opposed to other more ‘private spaces’. It’s taken us about four years to get to the point where we feel we can really start to unpack that.
It also takes on the idea around knowledge production – in multiple ways. One of which is the pseudo-scientific research presented on the corners, a kind of attempt to make ordinary acts ‘scholarly’, and to therefore elevate them to their rightful place in knowledge production.
What are the different components that comprise Corner Loving, and how do they fit together?
There is the exhibition, which is a set of architectural studies of corner loving corners. These studies include notation of the multiple calculations and complex factors that are taken into account by a couple, when determining a corner as good for corner loving. Many of these calculations, and the fact of corner loving in itself, reflect part of the reason why the practice exists – lack of private space at home, shared and overpopulated residences, strict parents, discouraged relationships.
Part of the exhibition is also texts by contemporary writers as well as a number of archival texts. Because the architectural studies have this ‘scientific’ aspect and were based more on the space itself rather than the action, we felt they denied the tenderness and intimacy of actual corner loving. The texts balance this, as narratives of loving and complex life around love. But even further they normalize and contribute to a broader conversation around ‘black love’ which is otherwise hushed or entirely distorted. Particularly with the historical texts, which trace and express love between black people in the early 20th Century, these texts challenge tropes of the hyper-sexed black body, but also reference the extent to which colonialism and apartheid have impacted on even the most private spaces of black life.
There is also a lecture series, which extends this conversation of ‘black love’ more broadly. The series is given by Danai Mupotsa, Ashraf Jamal and Thembinkosi Goniwe. Thembinkosi was in fact pivotal to our early thoughts around corner loving. The lecture also looks specifically at why love is an underexplored theme in the arts, and often considered soft and uncritical. We are interested in thinking about the affective as a powerful tool for making meaning.
Can you please tell us about the layers of metaphor in Corner Loving and what functions they serve…
Eh? Metaphors? We’re not sure we see them as metaphorical so much. Because we have always looked at actions that already exist, everyday, and tried to understand them – we work with actions that reflect broader ideas. But they are real actions, they aren’t really metaphors.
In Corner Loving the focus is, as in previous works, on the ordinary acts that make up the everyday. Do artists play a role in shifting interpretations and creating new experiences?
What’s next, individually and for MADEYOULOOK?
Nare is trying to get over his existential crises, so we’re waiting on that.
Corner Loving is on at GoetheonMain, Arts on Main, Maboneng until 14 December 2014.