Definitions of Home
Engaging with Space
Lucinda Jolly | Cape Times, 22 September 2014
“Home is where the heart is, Home is so remote “–Lene Lovitch, New Wave singer.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a Burner, a grey nomad, a snowbird or a PT or whether your reasons are to avoid taxes or follow the sun; the authorities will construct you as having no permanent home and classify you as having “no fixed abode”. Interestingly, it’s a term also used to describe those who live on boats and, of course, the homeless living on the streets.
But this exhibition “No fixed Abode” isn’t about the destitute or the wealthy tax avoiders. Rather as curator Candice Allison explains, it “tells the stories” of “losing homes or having to move and letting go of homes in relation to the artists and their work”.
Allison “wanted to engage with domestic space” and The New Church Museum, a beautifully renovated Victorian house, is the perfect site. She was also interested in “looking at migration in contemporary art” and how it affects artists and their subject matter. Allison cites as examples the artist Mario Macilau, who, in the nine months they were in contact around the exhibition was always in a different place and the homeless but wealthy CEO following her on Instagram. There’s a personal resonance with the subject matter too, for Allison feels she “hasn’t put her feet down” yet, not considering one place, town or country her home.
No Fixed Abode starts outside on the museum’s exterior wall with James Webb’s neon light piece titled “There’s a Light that Never Goes out “. It’s a line from a late 80’s song by Morrissey (the vocalist for alternative British pop band the Smiths) and expresses the idea of home as a longing which burns constantly within us. This piece sets the tone of the exhibition. Written in Chinese characters, it’s aesthetically more appropriate to a supermarket or takeaway than the gentile high volume Victorian architecture with its broekie lace edging. And yet when the pairing is considered in relation to the post colonialism past and the current Chinese Africa context is it such an incongruous placing? Africa and China’s connection is a long one going right back to the 17th century and of course China also supported the ANC during the Struggle years.
Webb’s piece may introduce the exhibition, but Dineo Seshee Bopape’s little throwaway scrap of dark fabric with the embroidered words “i didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me” sets the tone. Found in the Spanish song “Somos Más Americanos “ sung by the Mexican American group Los Tigres del Norte ,these words are used by the immigrant rights movement to point out that Western U.S. was once part of Mexico. No matter their origin, they are particularly pertinent to South Africa when one considers that about 150 years ago at the 1871 Berlin conference , 14 European powers got together and carved up Africa into fifty irregular countries even though at the time 80% of Africa was under traditional and local control.
Although the exhibition raises political and social implications, it’s really about personal experience and interpretations of home and the borders that define home by artists from the African diaspora.
Zimbabwean artist Dan Halter, who no longer considers his birth country home, exhibits a sculpture titled “The ears of the Hippo” which continues the ethos of Webber’s “There’s a Light that Never Goes out”. Halters soap stone sculpture, carved by a nameless Zimbabwean craftsman, depicts a lone woman with a baby on her back and a large bag on her head making a hazardous crossing over the Limpopo River infested with hippos and crocodiles. Once again the impact of China is represented in the large plastic weave bag on her head used. These are familiar in countries all over the globe. The woman’s woven wrap (made in Scotland while the artist was on residency) mimics the weave of the bag.
But land is not the only demarcator of home or its absence. “In Echoes (from Indian Ocean)” a photographic series, Malala Andrialavidrazana considers the Indian Ocean a connection between disparate places such as Reunion islands, India and Durban. By refusing to title these middle class interiors she challenges the notion of the stereotypical island.
Although it was not intentionally conceived, what could be seen as the “spiritual” core of the exhibition is found in the museums largest room. Here the ritualised and sacred interface. Whether it’s the feeling of a communion with nature as in Jacques Coetzee’s “Weekend Cathedral” a series of images of his spired tent set in the picturesque Scottish highlands as an escape for the urbanised -out soul, the unravelled blood red threads of Igshaan Adams’s “ 69 “ which hints at grappling with religious beliefs and sexuality or Haroon Gunn -Salie’s photographs “Half full “and “Homecoming “ both suggestive of organised religious rituals and those where the artist has responded with a ritual of his own.
One of the simplest and yet most poignant works is Dineo Seshee Bopape’s installation piece “tell me….can you dispossess a void” Made from a piece of dark torn cloth hung on a metal hook it is on the button suggestive of a loss of home, as an interior place, to a mental condition. In this instance it is Alzheimers, a condition, affecting at least 35 million people worldwide. This piece also talks to a series of photographs by Mauro Pinto called “Untitled (Visão Desintegrada)” which explores how petty thieves and drug users are being picked up by police and held in a post-colonial mental asylum by Mozambique’s authorities.
On a light note and one which travels beyond earths boundaries is Gerald Machona’s “People from Far Away” a fun video involving a romance between two space people wearing decommissioned money space suits featuring a flower which references Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book the Little Prince.