Initiated by a collective group of artists, writers and curators, The Johannesburg Pavilion is a programme of contemporary African film and live performance that will travel to Venice during the first two weeks of the 56th Venice Biennale. It encapsulates the spirit of the expansive and mythical city of Johannesburg; both in its provocative title as the non-official ‘city pavilion’ and as a temporary intervention in the everyday urban fabric of the city of Venice.
“Hermetically sealed in its history, and marked to a series of points in the distance, its surface today approximates that of a beautiful theme park. As such, it is host to the single most important event in the art-world calendar, and the launch of the Johannesburg Pavilion,” says Lucy MacGarry, FNB Joburg Art Fair curator and The Johannesburg Pavilion 2015 organiser. “The lived experience of Johannesburg’s complex history and present-tense is the focus of this civic Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale. Inherent to the idea of a Johannesburg Pavilion is the impossibility of recreating or representing a holistic environment. This Pavilion does not purport to that. Instead, it is an examination of the city — the cartography of which, as evidenced in the works of the chosen artists, manifests a multitude of attendant dichotomies and micro-narratives. Part political statement, part response to this year’s Biennale theme, the Pavilion’s programme is, at the same time, constituted of a series of singular and idiosyncratic meditations on life in this disruptive and fantastic African metropolis. There is no desire to create the city in facsimile, but rather to explore the personal and the oblique within it, and to examine how this exploration can be used to forge fresh, alternate spaces.”
The selected artists work largely in the mediums of film and performance. Each has an affiliation with and claims (or disclaims) a unique connection with Johannesburg, Joburg, Jozi, Egoli, City of Gold:
Investigating Joburg’s underbelly, albeit on opposite ends of the income scale, are Sibs Shongwe-La Mer with his film Necktie Youth and the directorial team of Arya Lalloo and Shannon Walsh with Jeppe on a Friday.
Sibs Shongwe-La Mer
In a performance piece titled The Swing, Donna Kukama swings from one of the concrete highway’s bridges while throwing money to the street traders beneath, before an unexpected fall results in a broken leg. Riaan Hendrick’s lens in The Bridge observes the human traffic on the Nelson Mandela Bridge, suspended across the railroad tracks separating the CBD from the North. Unwaveringly on the heels of untrained actors re-enacting real-life stories; Nicolas Boone and his camera transverse the highly contested urban spaces of the inner-city in Hillbrow.
As Farieda Nazier and Alberta Whittle investigate and challenge perceptions of beauty and race, Athi-Patra Ruga is (re)writing the future history of The White Women of Azania.
Farieda Nazier and Alberta Whittle
Anthea Moys attempts to break the rules of the game, injecting chaos into its structure, as she explores the intersection of art and play and questions the meaning of failure. An ascent, a landing, an arrival, a departure, a recollection, the description of a scene, the flashback, waiting, scrolling, falling, watching, the reversal…this is Bettina Malcomess in a meditative motion. Blurring the boundaries between street performance and theatre, Jemma Kahn and Roberto Pombo act out various narratives through drawings and storytelling, while Mandi Poefficient Vundla delivers powerful spoken work poetry that speaks to the heart and gets close to the broken bone.
Jemma Kahn and Roberto Pombo
Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi and The Dulibadzimu Theatre Group along with Dan Halter trace the meaning of the river separating South Africa and Zimbabwe. Born in Zimbabwe and now resident there again, Kudzanai Chiurai explores a utopian notion of statehood in his second home of South Africa.
Michael MacGarry meditates on the new scramble for Africa, investigating the banal poetics of instant, empty cities built by Chinese migrant workers in Luanda, Angola. His work is instantly localised when a Hong Kong-based Chinese company announces its intention to build a new financial centre “on par with cities like New York and Hong Kong in the Far East” – a gateway for Chinese firms investing in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Senzeni Mtwkazi Marasela embodies the genealogical narratives of subjugated black women through her current performative persona, Theodora Hlongwane. In the five minute sequence Itchy City where, together with Jyoti Mistry, elements of Kgafela Ao Magogodi’s live performance are superimposed with real and painted views of Johannesburg to create a powerful commentary on everyday life and absurdities in a city with an “itching soul”. And finally, If This Be a City by Nduka Mntambo pushes discursive and aesthetic choices offered by the film.
The Johannesburg Pavilion was created in partnership by the 133 Arts Foundation and the FNB Joburg Art Fair with the view to be a “virtual institution” that operates and exists in a third space – between the domestic and the foreign, the physical and the mediated. This ongoing platform exists fluidly, reflexively, ready to be installed, inflated or popped-up in various guises and contexts. It is a pavilion fit for our times and, according to Lucy, “one that intends to mark its phantom stake in the ground well beyond the temporal limits on this Venice Biennale.”